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2019 Mazda3 AWD First Drive: All-Weather Sophistication

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2019 Mazda3 AWD snow course 1

During our First Drive of the 2019 Mazda3, we praised the car’s agile handling and superbly executed interior. Now that we’ve driven the new all-wheel-drive variant, we’re happy to report that the sporty compact car is even better to drive with four-wheel traction. The 2019 Mazda3 AWD handles better in all weather conditions, turning it into a sophisticated all-weather driver’s car that puts entry-level offerings from luxury brands on notice.

At a drive event for the 2019 Mazda3, we started the day on a snow course and an icy slalom section. We jumped into a front-drive 2019 Mazda3 sedan first and instantly found it lacked the traction to get up inclines without momentum. All-wheel-drive-equipped cars breezed through the course from a standstill. Mazda’s all-wheel-drive system sends torque where it’s most needed and works with G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC+) to maintain traction, taking into account weather and road conditions.



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In the snow, the all-wheel-drive system and GVC+ keeps the Mazda3 sure-footed in the slush by reducing engine torque ever so slightly and applying small amounts of braking to shift weight and power around to keep the car stable. With GVC+ disabled, you immediately notice you’re steering more to keep the car from getting unwieldy. The lack of stability instantly became obvious on a slalom course where a 20-mph lane change easily caused the car’s rear end to step out, forcing the driver to counter the skid with lots of steering input.

On pavement, the all-wheel-drive system makes the 2019 Mazda3 feel predictable when driving enthusiastically. Torque sent to the rear wheels pushes the car out of corners, minimizing understeer and allowing it to rotate. Superbly controlled body motions keep the Mazda3 neutral, and the sharp, communicative steering tells you exactly what the front wheels are doing. The Mazda3’s brilliantly tuned chassis soaks up broken pavement beautifully without disconnecting the driver from the road, making you question the need for adaptive dampers and suspensions on some cars that aim to improve handling without sacrificing ride comfort.



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The carryover 186-hp 2.5-liter naturally aspirated I-4 happily revs to redline; however, you feel it working hard at higher elevations. Mazda’s six-speed automatic upshifts quickly but takes a second or two to kick down. Sport mode offers quicker rev-matched downshifts and holds gears longer. We also drove a front-drive Mazda3 hatchback with the six-speed manual and found it to be the liveliest of the bunch. The free-revving four-banger works with the slick shifter and communicative clutch admirably to provide plenty of smiles behind the wheel.

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