2019 Mazda 3 AWD Review - Promotion and Relegation

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2019 Mazda 3 Sedan AWD

2.5-liter inline four, DOHC (186 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)
Six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
25 city / 33 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.2 city / 7.2 highway / 8.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
31.1 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $28,410 US / $32.226 CAD
As Tested: $29,415 US/ $32.676 CAD
Prices include $920 destination charge in the United States and $1,826 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

While professional sports in America are generally the envy of the world – especially when it comes to the variety of high-level team sports available to the fan – soccer (football to the rest of the world) does wonders for maintaining a competitive balance amongst teams due to the system of promotions and relegations. For those uninitiated, the last-place teams in the top level of the various soccer/football leagues are relegated to the next lower league, while the top teams in the lower levels move up a rung on the ladder.

Imagine this system were in place in mainstream American sports. The Cleveland Browns would be competing against high school teams by now.

I can see eyes glazing over already. “Stick to cars! Stay in your lane!” – just like every sports reporter hears any time they venture into politics. I’m getting to that. Basically, Mazda has long been compared to other mainstream Japanese brands – Honda, Toyota, Nissan. But now, they’ve put forth efforts to be promoted to an entry-level luxury brand, and the newest 2019 Mazda 3 AWD sedan seen here is ready to play in that league.

Yes, you indeed are reading the below data panel correctly. This compact Mazda sedan is priced just under thirty thousand dollars. Of course, my tester was packed to the gills (with the Premium package) at that price, but I dug into how the European competition stacked up on paper, as I was skeptical about Mazda’s assertion that the new 3 is a legitimate competitor.

[Get new and used Mazda 3 pricing here!]

The numbers seen below are culled from publicly available data from both the manufacturers and from the EPA for some dimensional data not listed on the manufacturer websites. I was surprised.

Other than front headroom, where the Mercedes-Benz A220 has a whopping 2.7 additional inches, the Mazda either beats both the A220 and the Audi A3 or is mere tenths of an inch smaller. I’m not here to knock either of the Germans – I haven’t driven the Audi, but I rather enjoy the A220 (review coming soon). I’m simply pointing out that in all but price, the Mazda 3 is a valid competitor with traditional luxury marques.

The materials used throughout this Premium-package Mazda 3 are stellar. Every surface, save obviously the metal trim bits, is lined with soft-to-the-touch leather, leatherette, or plastic. The white trim across the dashboard is beautifully stitched, and adds a lovely contrast to what could be a rather dull dark grey interior. Controls will be familiar to anyone who has driven a recent Mazda, though the switches on the steering wheel have seemingly been upgraded to a more premium (that word again) metal-feeling plastic.

The seats, both front and rear, are perfectly comfortable at the four outboard locations. The middle rear seat is a bit tight, as the central hump for the all-wheel drive driveshaft affects legroom. Put the smallest kid there. As I’m six-foot-four, I certainly couldn’t “sit behind myself” without pressing my knees well into the back of the front seat, but normal-sized passengers will be plenty comfortable.

The infotainment system is still controlled by a pair of knobs just aft of the shift lever. The main dial spins, clicks, and rocks in four directions to control the screen, while the smaller knob simply handles volume – and pressing it mutes the audio. The system itself has been upgraded over prior years, with snappier responses and a more pleasing font. However, it still oddly truncates song titles at times, occasionally to humorous effect.

Driving the Mazda 3 shows the trade-offs Mazda made to move upmarket. While the handling is still quite good, it’s not quite as willing to rotate when driven aggressively as the old model was. Some of that may be down to the all-wheel drive system, which naturally adds traction to the rear, but when Corey drove the front-drive edition, he noted a similar reservation. The ride, however, is luxury-car plush, with only a muted thud when nailing potholes. Wind and road noise are greatly improved over prior years, and feels on par with the luxury competition.

The styling of the newest Mazda 3 is evolutionary. It doesn’t seem radically changed from last year’s model – at least on the four-door sedan – but remains quite handsome. It doesn’t hurt that Mazda insists on painting damned near every press fleet vehicle the extra-cost ($595) Soul Red Crystal, which would make a Trabant look stylish, but this newest 3 is a looker.

Yes, it’s fair to say I enjoyed my drive in the newest Mazda 3. It’s a clear example of what can be accomplished when an automaker locks onto building the best car possible, price notwithstanding. Whether luxury compact buyers will follow is another story. Mazda engineers have done their job to promote their team into the Premier league. It’s time for marketing and sales to put the ball in the goal.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 73 comments
  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Aug 07, 2019

    Is it just me, or does it look like the infotainment screen is stuck coming up out of the dash instead of fully deployed? I know it doesn't retract, it just looks that way.

  • Danny Ray Danny Ray on Aug 07, 2019

    Own 2017 3 till the end of February 2020. I am out of the Mazda world. Change in rear suspension has a negative effect on handling. Made Mazda go to another tire manufacturer, (TOYO) that has a poor wear rating but absorbs the harsher ride. Manual should be offered at all trim levels. They went in the wrong direction and a 30% drop in sales for the first 5 months are the result.

  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.