2024 Mazda3 GT AWD

The Mazda3 strikes a healthy balance between engagement, chassis compliance, and an interior that still punches in well above its weight
The Mazda3 strikes a healthy balance between engagement, chassis compliance, and an interior that still punches in well above its weight

by Nathan Leipsig | February 1, 2024

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This fourth generation of Mazda3 has been among our favorite little cars since its debut in 2019. With its inspired design and driving dynamics, augmented by a decidedly premium feel that punches well above its price bracket, it made — and continues to make — a hell of an impression by asking: why can’t an economy car be more than just economical? The 2024 Mazda 3 GT AWD we evaluated recently still answers that with a resounding yes.

A lot has happened since we were first introduced to this light-luxe Mazda3 in 2019, chief of which being very stiff new competition from the redesigned Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra, both of which very obviously took notice of Mazda’s aspirations and used the entirety of their much-more-massive engineering might to respond in kind. For 2024, the Mazda3 receives a few key tweaks that, combined with an already excellent set of fundamentals, helps it to remain competitive amongst its new peers.

On the safety front, rear side airbags are now standard equipment on all models, which certainly won’t hurt as the Mazda3 was already named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the automatic emergency braking system has been tweaked to work better at night. All models also now come with blind-spot monitoring as standard. It’s not all safety stuff, though, with some notable additions on the technology side that were very welcome in our GT trim tester.

First is a new 10.25-inch main screen borrowed from the CX-90, which — love it or hate it — still relies on a central knob for navigating. Along with more screen space, it displays at a higher resolution, with deeper black levels and better response. The big highlight of this new hardware is the long-awaited inclusion of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a wireless charging pad in the centre console. Mazda knows cell phone connectivity is just about everybody’s top priority, and they’ve finally brought the Mazda3 in line with its competition.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work fabulously on the new display, as Mazda has listened to all of our gripes over the years — the display now operates as a touchscreen while those apps are running, which is a huge boon for those that depend on their phone. The old-school 12-volt power outlet is gone, replaced with a pair of USB-C charging ports, and the 12-speaker Bose audio system remains among the best in this class. Personally, I was already a huge fan of Mazda’s infotainment system and its commitment to physical controls, and these new updates make both the native and phone-based software significantly nicer to use.

Our tester is also one of only a handful of mainstream vehicles offering all-wheel drive in a traditional three-box sedan with a separate trunk, if that’s your jam. Those three boxes are integrated beautifully in a design that still looks fresh and fancier than it is, and our tester’s 18-inch alloy wheels and stunning Soul Red paintwork look the business. It all goes a long way towards selling the Mazda3 as a pint-sized premium vehicle.

The premium feel continues in the cabin design of the Mazda 3, where it always had and continues to excel. The slightly large, thin-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel is soft and a treat to wield, and the flowing lines of the dashboard combined with tasteful material choices in the form of leather, soft-touch plastics, and little flourishes of metallic trim tie things together in a package that is cohesive, thoughtful, and stylish — at any price point. Honda in particular has come a long way towards closing this gap with the new Civic, but it’s still not quite as eye-catching as this Mazda.

While it is a very nice space, it is not a perfect one. The Mazda3’s plunging roofline greatly compromises rear-seat headroom, and rear legroom is merely adequate at best. Front-seat accommodation is more than enough even for tall drivers, and the seats are wonderfully supportive and comfortable with good lumbar and thigh support. While the rear seat may be a little tight, the trunk certainly isn’t. It measures in at a commodious 450 litres, and has a large opening.

The former, base 2.0-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engine has been dropped. This means your only powertrain options are now a pair of 2.5-litre SkyActiv four-cylinder engines; one with turbocharging and the other without. Our tester was fitted with the latter, producing 191 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. It’s a fairly smooth engine that’s impressively quiet most of the time, save for a not-insignificant intake snort at higher RPMs — where it tends to need to be to make power. Fuel efficiency seems to be unencumbered by the addition of the AWD system. We recorded an average of 8.6 L/100 km in our mostly-urban testing, and on more than a few highway runs, it reliably dipped down to an impressive 6.0 L/100 km. The normally aspirated inline-four doesn’t have nearly the same mid-range punch as its turbocharged variant, but it’s still more than adequate for confident highway merging, and just barely enough to be playful.

Driving dynamics have always been a Mazda hallmark, and along with its sophisticated style, this is where the Mazda3 really shines. The steering is communicative, perfectly organic and linear in its feel, the brake pedal is firm and reassuring, and the six-speed automatic transmission is responsive. The chassis is taught and fairly well-balanced, and turns in eagerly. The Mazda3 is fun to chuck around, more so than most.

While this may just have the base engine without as much muscle as its boosted counterparts, this relatively humdrum 3 still is blessed with Mazda’s old zoom-zoom, even if they’ve been trying to get away from that tagline. The addition of all-wheel drive means you can enjoy this zoom-zoom quality anywhere, anytime, without worry. We did observe a possible albeit very slight increase in ride harshness over a front-drive Mazda3, but overall it’s still a very comfortable and quiet vehicle that strikes a healthy balance of chassis coordination and compliance.

The little 3 is long enough into its life cycle to be in the precarious position of possibly feeling dated, but it still stands as an excellent little vehicle for someone who wants something that’s just a tiny bit nicer than your typical economy car, largely down its focus on carefully crafted fundamentals that don’t age out quickly. With excellent style, efficiency, safety, and practicality, the 2024 Mazda 3 GT AWD soldiers on proudly, even in this much more competitive market.

 

Vehicle Specs
Segment
Compact sedan
Engine Size
2.5L inline four-cylinder
Horsepower (at RPM)
191 hp at 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft.)
186 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
8.9/6.6/7.9
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
8.6
Cargo Capacity (in L)
450
Base Price (CAD)
$24,200
As-Tested Price (CAD)
$35,000
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About Nathan Leipsig

Deputy Editor

Nathan is a passionate enthusiast with a penchant for finding 80s and 90s European vehicles. He can typically be found messing about on his E28 5-series or on Kijiji looking for the next project.

Current Toys: '78 928, '23 MX-5 GS-P, '95 XJR, '86 535i, '99 New Beetle GLS 5MT

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