The sky is barely lit with the new day, the first day of spring actually, and I’m already behind the wheel of a 2019 Mazda3, putting its all-new i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system through its paces on a snowy course. The snowbanks are taller than me.
Welcome to California.
Snow and all-wheel drive are not things one normally associates with California. I left warm Sacramento and wound my way out of the verdant Central Valley into the rugged landscape of one of North America’s most significant mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada.
I thoroughly enjoyed the drive in the 2019 Mazda3 through the switchbacks, climbs and descents in varied road and weather conditions. The drive traced the route that in 1849 brought an influx of more than 300,000 people to California when gold was discovered near Sacramento.
I certainly did not face the hardship those intrepid miners endured when crossing this mountain range. In the handsome Mazda3 Sport, the hatchback version of Mazda’s best-seller, I felt firmly planted in my seat and on the road as I blasted around hairpin turns, confident in how easily and precisely I controlled the vehicle, thanks to Mazda’s relentless pursuit of smooth transitions when braking, turning and accelerating.
The brand’s goal has always been for the driver to feel unified with the vehicle, as if both become one. I have to admit I almost forgot I wasn’t alone in the Mazda3, having so much fun in my own driving bubble with a silly, joyful grin plastered on my face as I plied the Mazda3 over the mountains and into the wooded valleys.
Besides the exhilarating driving experience through the Tahoe National Forest that I didn’t want to end, I appreciated the new interior, exclusive to the Mazda3 Sport, with seats in a tasteful red, showing a classic sports-car influence. Mazda developed the layout of the cabin with the well-being of the driver in mind, creating premium surroundings with thoughtful improvements in the ergonomic layout of the cockpit.
The 2019 Mazda3 has a driver-centred display and gauge cluster with a slick 8.8-inch centre infotainment screen.
The visual display is four times larger than in the previous Mazda3 and, in an effort to decrease driver distraction, the view immediately in front of the driver is much cleaner.
The “active driving display” embedded in the windshield is now 2.3 metres away, reducing the amount of time required for the eyes to alternate focus from the instrument cluster to the road ahead.
Driver distraction is not only caused by visual and audible factors but also by manual ones. Mazda has lessened the amount of movement the hand and arm have to make to access climate controls, media, and navigation features. The centre console has been moved forward by 20 millimetres and offers increased storage capacity and an available charging pad.
The touch screen is gone and all functions are now controlled by the command knob in the centre console. Steering wheel controls are streamlined and grouped intuitively.
Everything you touch in the vehicle feels good, with refined materials like soft-touch rubber and sleek metal accents.
A new driver attention system in the Mazda3 helps the driver stay alert.
As if the invigorating twisty-turns of the mountain drive weren’t enough to keep me alert, I also had the help of the all-new Bose 12-speaker sound system, making its global debut in the Mazda3. The bass speakers have ingeniously been placed near the kick panels in the driver and passenger footwells instead of their traditional placement in the doors, minimizing speaker buzz and vibration. The system is phenomenal with so much lush detail at low volumes and absolutely no distortion at ear-bleed volumes.
Without music, the cabin is quiet and soothing, probably due to the 49 hardware improvements in noise, vibration and harshness Mazda has made on the Mazda3.
For the first time ever, Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system is available on the Mazda3. The latest version of the system uses 27 sensors to forecast changing road conditions 200 times per second, helping to predict possible loss of traction by analyzing the slope of the road, the speed of the front wheels in relation to the rear wheels, outside air temperature, whether the windshield wipers are on and the driver’s steering and braking patterns.
With this elegant system, all I felt as the driver was the Mazda3 responding the way I expected it to, with added rear torque, giving me the confidence to really push the vehicle in and out of the corners, despite some snowy, slippery sections in the wintry mountains near Lake Tahoe.
The all-new Mazda3 is a premium package and a fine-looking piece of hand-crafted art. The lines of both the sophisticated sedan and the sporty hatch are fluid and energetic.
Now, with all-wheel drive, both vehicles stand tall in a crowded sea of sport utility and crossover vehicles and, I think, are perfectly capable of handling whatever Canadian winter and California mountain roads dish out.
- Model: 2019 Mazda 3 AWD
- Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque (six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission); 2.5-litre four-cylinder 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque (six-speed automatic transmission)
- Price range (depending on engine and trim level): Mazda3: $18,000 to $30,400: Mazda3 Sport: $21,300 to $31,400