2019 Mazda 3 de­buts with con­cept­car styling, all-wheel drive.

Mazda’s bread-and-but­ter com­pact now packs four-wheel trac­tion and a trick four-cylin­der en­gine

Calgary Sun - Autonet - - DRIVING.CA - Nick Tragianis Driv­iNg.ca

What is it? Ar­guably one of the more stylish and fun com­pact cars out there, the Mazda3 en­ters its fourth gen­er­a­tion pack­ing some trick pow­er­trains, all-wheel drive and con­cept-car styling. It’s al­most as though Mazda took the Kai con­cept and sim­ply added street-le­gal light­ing and smaller wheels.

Why does it mat­ter? These days, most au­tomak­ers find them­selves in an awk­ward po­si­tion. With the in­dus­try trend­ing to­ward crossovers, pickup trucks and other util­ity ve­hi­cles, some are culling and out­right aban­don­ing cars.

But ev­i­dently, not Mazda. As the Ja­panese brand’s bread-and-but­ter com­pact, the Mazda3 plays a key role in Mazda’s lineup. Granted, the CX-5 dom­i­nates Mazda’s sales charts, but the Mazda3 is still big money. It’s among Canada’s top five best-sell­ing cars so far this year and Mazda has sold about six mil­lion of them since its in­tro­duc­tion 15 years ago as a 2004 model.

As part of Mazda’s push to­ward mak­ing its cars more up­mar­ket, the 2019 Mazda3 most cer­tainly de­liv­ers. Still avail­able as a five-door hatch­back or a four-door sedan, the Mazda3 is es­sen­tially a Kai with street-le­gal head­lights and tail lights. Al­though the hatch ap­pears a bit hunch­backed at first glance, it’s nonethe­less cleanly styled and min­i­mal­is­tic, do­ing away with such fri­vol­i­ties as char­ac­ter lines and creases. This is one el­e­gant-look­ing car.

In­side, min­i­mal­ism is the name of the game. Ma­te­ri­als are top notch and two new in­te­rior colours are avail­able: Greige, which is ex­actly what you think it is, and a fetch­ing Bur­gundy, ex­clu­sive to the hatch. An 8.8-inch dis­play, con­trolled by a knob on the cen­tre con­sole, han­dles in­fo­tain­ment, and the sys­tem it­self is eas­ier to use. An eight-speaker sound sys­tem is stan­dard, while a 12-speaker Bose sys­tem is avail­able on higher-end trim lev­els. Mazda’s Ac­tive Driv­ing Dis­play — a.k.a. a head-up dis­play — lives on for 2019.

As far as pow­er­trains are con­cerned, the lat­est Mazda3 is pretty trick. Mazda’s all-new 2.0-litre Skyac­tiv-X pow­er­train makes its de­but in the Mazda3. Es­sen­tially, the new en­gine uses both spark and com­pres­sion ig­ni­tion, re­sult­ing in a higher com­pres­sion ra­tio; it’s kind of like a diesel en­gine, ex­cept it runs on reg­u­lar gaso­line, trans­lat­ing to bet­ter fuel econ­omy with no sac­ri­fice in power, torque, and re­sponse. The X puts out 178 horse­power and 164 pound-feet of torque. Of­fi­cial fuel econ­omy fig­ures are still un­der wraps, but Mazda says we can ex­pect a 20 to 30 per cent im­prove­ment over the cur­rent, non-X en­gines, and equal to the cur­rent Skyac­tiv diesel, which is not sold in North Amer­i­can mar­kets.

If you’re not will­ing to bet on new, cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy — at least, ini­tially — Mazda will of­fer up­dated ver­sions of its 1.5-, 2.0-, and 2.5-L Skyac­tiv gaso­line en­gines, as well as its 1.8-L Skyac­tiv diesel, which is avail­able in other mar­kets. Power num­bers for the up­dated 2.0 L haven’t been de­tailed, but the 2.5 L is rated at 186 horse­power and 186 lb-ft of torque. Six-speed man­ual and au­to­matic trans­mis­sions — and for the first time, all-wheel drive — will be avail­able.

When is it com­ing? Of­fi­cial pric­ing hasn’t been an­nounced just yet, but ex­pect non-X cars to hit deal­ers in early 2019, fol­lowed by the Skyac­tiv-X later in the year.

Should you buy it? The out­go­ing Mazda3 was al­ready a good car: stylish, rel­a­tively fun to drive and well equipped. The new model prom­ises to be much the same, and even ad­dresses the short­com­ings of the out­go­ing car with its re­worked in­fo­tain­ment. Mazda claims that ride and re­fine­ment are vastly im­proved, thanks to a hand­ful of chas­sis tweaks.

In other words, it comes down to this: Car, or cross­over? The lat­est Mazda3 is at­trac­tive, stylish, packs an im­pres­sive in­te­rior, and prom­ises to be re­fined and ef­fi­cient. The fact that all-wheel drive is now avail­able is sim­ply the ic­ing on the cake. Re­ally, un­less ride height is an ab­so­lute re­quire­ment, who needs a cross­over?

Derek McNaughtoN/Driv­ing.ca

2019 Mazda3.

Derek McNaughtoN/Driv­ing.ca

Derek McNaughtoN/Driv­ing.ca

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