By Shari Prymak
The increasing popularity of crossovers has forced other car categories to become a bit more creative and strategic in order to remain relevant to consumers. Mazda has taken this approach with its Mazda3 model by making it available with all-wheel drive. This feature, which is extremely popular among crossover buyers, helps open up the Mazda3 to a wider audience by giving it more capability and a unique selling point over its competitors. In most other respects, the Mazda3 remains what it always has been; which is an affordable compact with a sporty character and a premium edge.
The Mazda3 is available as both a sedan and hatchback. The hatchback model, which is known as the Mazda3 Sport, offers more practicality than the sedan with a spacious cargo area similar to that of a small crossover. The downside is that some may find the Sport model’s appearance to be less attractive than that of the sedan. Outward visibility is also less than ideal with a narrow rear window and chunky C-pillars that create significant blind spots. Other than that, however, both versions are just about identical.
The interior of the Mazda3 is one of the most upscale and premium-feeling in its class. The build quality and use of materials, from the metal speaker grills to the stitched leather trim, is all quite impressive to the eye and not far off from what you would find in an entry-level luxury car. The infotainment system works with a rotary dial system in the centre console which is used to scroll through the menus of the 8.8 inch display. Although the use of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto helps with the system’s usability, the standard interface could certainly use some work. Simple tasks such as changing radio stations just take far too many steps and can be distracting on the move.
The Mazda3 has always been one of the sportier-feeling cars in its class and the latest version is no different. Handling is crisp and well-balanced thanks to the precise, weighty steering feel and well-damped suspension. The entry-level GX model come with a naturally-aspirated 2.0L engine matched to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The GS and GT models, however, get a more powerful 2.5L engine producing 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for the 2.5L stands around 10.0L/100km in the city and 7.0L/100km highway. All versions come standard with front-wheel drive, however, all-wheel drive is optional on the GS and GT.
Pricing for the Mazda3 Sport starts at $21,300, which represents a small upcharge over the equivalent sedan version. It is probably worth spending the extra money, however, for the $24,000 GS model with its more powerful engine and available all-wheel drive. The GT model goes for $27,500 plus an extra $2,300 for the optional Premium Package. As equipped, the Mazda3 includes nice features such as a Bose premium sound system, a windshield-projected head up display, leather upholstery with a 10-way power driver’s seat and 2 memory settings, and additional active safety tech such as traffic sign recognition, rear parking sensors, and rear crossing smart brake support.
For those looking for an affordable, reliable, sporty to drive compact, the Mazda3 Sport is hard to fault. Although it competes with some pretty impressive hatchbacks including the Honda Civic Hatchback, Toyota Corolla Hatchback, and the Hyundai Elantra GT, the available all-wheel drive helps keep the Mazda at the top of the pack and gives it a real draw to crossover buyers. Compared to Mazda’s own CX-3 crossover, the Mazda3 Sport AWD offers more space, features, and performance for similar money. The sporty driving dynamics and premium-feeling interior are the icing on the cake that makes this not only a credible small crossover alternative, but an alternative to a few premium choices as well.