New Mazda3 packs AWD to tackle heavy snow

John Gilbert

Sleek lines of redesigned 2020 Mazda3 convey a compact that no longer concedes any luxury refinements to larger cars. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Sleek lines of redesigned 2020 Mazda3 convey a compact that no longer concedes any luxury refinements to larger cars. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The blunt rear of the hatchback Mazda3 houses extra room and a different silhouette. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The blunt rear of the hatchback Mazda3 houses extra room and a different silhouette. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It took me a while to become a Mazda fan. I liked the old RX-7 sports cars with their rotary engines, but I never wanted to own one, just because having the only rotary engine in the industry was not appealing to me. The Hiroshima, Japan, company made some good little “normal” 4-cylinder engines a short time later, and the Protege compact earned my appreciation.

Over the last 20 years, however, Mazda has won me over with exceptional engineering. My favorite is the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, because it seems to have almost as much oomph as the 2.5, but gets 8-10 miles per gallon more fuel economy, thanks to the splendid SkyActive engineering. In the last couple of years, Mazda has also

added G-Vectoring, a brilliant engineering trick that encourages you to steer as precisely as you should, and is unnoticeable to your driving instincts. All you know is that you corner sharply and never have to correct for over- or under-steering.

It always has amazed me that Mazda can pack so much technology in such a bargain-priced array of vehicles, with the 2.5-liter 4 taking care of larger midsize vehicles, and my favorite 2.0 being limited to the compact Mazda3 and the CX-3 compact SUV.

This past week, I had the chance to test drive a 2020 Mazda3 in Polymetal Gray Metallic, and it was the hatchback model, which I prefer. My wife Joan, prefers the sedan shape, but to me, the hatchback shape has a bit of a bulbous rear roofline, which gives you more room for back seat passengers to bring along their heads and their luggage.

The most favorable thing about this test car, however, is that is has Mazda’s new all-wheel-drive system. With all the modern technology, it seems that AWD vehicles exact only about 1 mpg difference, which is virtually unnoticeable, and if that’s the only handicap, it’s no handicap at all.

A 29-inch blizzard can cover up any and all styling features. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A 29-inch blizzard can cover up any and all styling features. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Partially shoveled out, the Mazda3 showed signs of life. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Partially shoveled out, the Mazda3 showed signs of life. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Particularly up in Duluth, Minnesota, where the Gilbert Compound is perched on the long ridgeline that runs from Duluth into Ontario along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Sometimes we miss snowstorms that

hit the South Shore, but this current November and December it has caught up with us. We have, since Thanksgiving, been hammered with three huge snowfalls, which, in a two-week span, means we haven’t

thoroughly dug out from the first one when we got hit with the second, and then the third.

The first one was a glancing blow, leaving us with about 7 inches. The one that hit three days later was a beauty, leaving 23 inches on Duluth, and, as a bonus, 29 inches actual on our hilltop. uppercut. Now, I understand how folks living in cities to the south of us, or east of us, can be crippled by a 7-inch storm. Those folks can hardly

comprehend a 29-inch blizzard. And then the final touch — we hope — came in the form of another 6-8 inches less than a week later. It was sort of like a prize-fighter catching his opponent with a stunning left hook, then a roundhouse right that was a knockout blow, but, since his foe was still standing, left opportunity for one more punch, an uppercut that could flatten a gorilla.

We made it through all that, and the heavy duty shoveling involved just to get from our door to the parking area. There, as the photos show, there was a snow pile that was in the abstract form of a piece of modern art shaped something like a car. After we cleared off all the snow, and scraped the ice-sheathed windshield underneath it enough to see, we climbed aboard. There has never been anyone more happy to have all-wheel drive in a vehicle than I was in that little grey Mazda3.

With all four wheels churning, the Mazda3 zipped right out of our plowed driveway — where neighbor Greg has earned our region’s MVP award already — and down the road to our appointed rounds.

The 2020 Mazda3 with AWD is also armed with the 2.5-liter engine, which Mazda engineers figure is the better power plant than the 2.0. My disagreement doesn’t register in Hiroshima. With a perfectly matched 186 horsepower and 186 foot=pounds of torque, I’m not going to argue with them, although in the severe snow country we never approached the sticker’s 32 miles per gallon highway. We weren’t on the highway much, more scurrying up the snow pile-lined tunnels that pass for avenues in Duluth this winter.

Being a sompact, the Mazda3 has taken a lofty status up there next to the Honda Civic, and both of them appear to be a tick above the Corolla, Elantra, Jetta, and numerous other small sedans on the market these days.

Red leather seats, heated and cooled, set off the refined interior of the Mazda3. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Red leather seats, heated and cooled, set off the refined interior of the Mazda3. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The technical assets of the Mazda3 still stand out, with the SkyAciv engine, the G-Vectoring steering and handling, and the interior amenities, which win awards every year for their uncluttered and efficient design and appearance. I thought the new audio system was very good, too, although you might want to know a technician — or a neighbor kid — who could lend a hand to simplify the settings.

The 6-speed automatic works well, and you have little steering wheel paddles if you want to be in manual control of your shifts. The 18-inch wheels are another one of those design things which means the lower-profile tires look good, even though 16 or 17s with a bit more sidewall to the all-season tires might give you a better ride without reducing the handling.

The bright red leather bucket seats are worth the added price on the Premium package, and so are the brilliant LED lights for headlights, daytime running lights and taillights. Rain or fog or heavy snow will not prevent you from being seen, or seeing, thanks to those lights.

I also like the aggressive shark-like nose and grille, and all of the anticipated modern safety devices — rear cross-traffic alert, blindspot monitoring, the radar cruise control, and the 8.8-inch color navigation screen that gives you all the readouts, including for the 12-speaker Bose audio. All the connectivity is there, too, although the Mazda3 and I seemed too disagree over how simple it would be to connect my iPhone to the car. Some are easy, sone are complex, this one was just stubborn.

But those are just nitpicks. When you have the great handling and steering system built into the car, such things as lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist seem to be almost too much of a good thing. For a total loaded price tag of $31,595, the new Mazda3 has taken on a higher price because of all the technology crammed inside. And it’s still a bargain.

The all-wheel drive worked well in heavy snow, but we can only imagine how neat the Mazda3 will be come springtime. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The all-wheel drive worked well in heavy snow, but we can only imagine how neat the Mazda3 will be come springtime. Photo credit: John Gilbert