2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD – A Legitimate Subaru Impreza Competitor?

If you were in the market to purchase an AWD hatchback under $30k in the past, your only option was the Subaru Impreza. A car that for years seemed adequate enough to meet the demands of consumers in colder climates, now faces new competition that offers more than just year round practicality. The 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback is here to challenge it’s Japanese rival, and with a redesigned exterior and face-lifted interior it just might change your perception towards compact cars. Stated many times by dozens of people for the past few years, popularity in cars is on the decline as Americans prefer crossovers, but for the remaining percentage of buyers bucking the current trend, the Mazda3’s improvements from last generation could certainly sway consumers in this segment.

15 years ago, vehicles in this price range and market could have easily been seen as disposable cars, but one quick walk around of the new Mazda3 gives you the impression that this hatchback is here to be more than just a daily commuter car. Mazda has strived this decade to provide an entry level luxury appeal to set themselves apart from other Japanese manufacturers. A primary example is the 2019 Mazda3 hatchback, as both inside and out it’s overall design certainly grabs attention.

With a new model year comes less body lines, making this hatchback look more futuristic and almost concept car-like, rather than being just another face in the crowd. A restyled and more aggressive front fascia that’s more enhanced with the black mesh front grill and chrome delete for the Premium Package is an aesthetic improvement from the 2018 model year. Something we don’t usually talk about with redesigns that is actually one of the more notable differences from last generation is the restyled C-Pillar. From the rear, the Mazda3 hatchback looks almost like a subcompact crossover, and it could be argued that it looks like a lowered CX-3. We don’t usually see this from brands when it comes to the road presence of hatchbacks, as they usually get a distinctive rear end. Instead, Mazda reshaping this car has blurred the lines to a certain degree, giving their hatchback styling that fits right in with the popular crossover trend.

Standard on all Mazda3 trims are 18″ alloy wheels, with the Premium Package receiving a sportier wheel design with black finish. Signature LED headlight and taillight illumination along with an Adaptive Front-lighting System will also be equipped on this trim, which is becoming common for most cars in this segment.

Under the hood of the Mazda3 is a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that puts out 186 hp and 186 lb ft of torque and is paired with a 6 speed automatic transmission. However, what deserves the spotlight is that Mazda now offers AWD as an optional drivetrain, which now gives consumers an alternative to the Subaru Impreza. Mazda also becomes a viable option for drivers in the northern parts of the United States where AWD is a priority when shopping for a new car. FWD does come standard however, and not surprising is that fuel efficiency is better, whereas you will sacrifice economical practicality for improved driving during the winter with AWD. In the city you can expect to receive 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

Mazda3 Hatchback Interior
Mazda3 Hatchback Interior

Starting with the last generation of Mazda vehicles, the detail and design of the interiors significantly improved from what we were used to receiving. While competitors in the class and price range are joining in on the entry level luxury feel, Mazda was one of the first. For 2019 they improved the interior by going more simplistic especially with the dashboard and center console, while also paying close attention to quality.

The most notable difference from last year’s model is that the infotainment system has been placed further back. With Mazda attempting to go more premium, this resembles what you’d see in Acura or Lexus where the infotainment system doesn’t function as a touchscreen, and instead to access different features you’ll have to use a touchpad or trackpad. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are offered on the Mazda3, and overall the slight improvements made to the infotainment system are good, but definitely not great as the monitor is rather small compared to competitors.

Unlike other vehicles in it’s class, Mazda offers different interior color options with Black, Red, and White. Heated leather seats come standard on the Premium Package, and what you’ll notice is soft touch materials are found throughout the interior giving the Mazda3 a luxury feel that provides additional comfort. One minor takeaway from last year is that your leather wrapped steering wheel won’t be heated, but the buttons would suggest that other markets will have this feature. While it’s not a major loss some competitors do offer a heated steering wheel, and with Mazda going with AWD for this model year I was hoping this small comfort features would carry over from 2018.

For rear cargo space the Mazda3 Hatchback gets 20.1 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is seven cubic ft bigger than the sedan variant. It does however fall just a bit short when compared to the Subaru Impreza hatchback, but if you can live with a minor discrepancy of seven tenths of a cubic foot then that can be overlooked.

Overall if you’re in the market for a compact car that offers AWD at a price right around $30k, then the Mazda3 is now an option if the Subaru Impreza was on your short list. It provides more comfort and horsepower, while also having a striking road presence. The compact car market may be dwindling, but in the meantime, brands are still putting out viable alternatives if you refuse to join the crossover frenzy.

Are Consumers’ Demand For Luxury Interiors Driving Prices Up?

In an age of living a luxurious life, even for those living well beyond their means, we’re seeing prices gradually moving up, pinching middle class consumers in the process. The automotive market is one of those industries in which we’re witnessing the inflation of car prices. Vehicles that shouldn’t be priced any higher than $16,000 – $18,000 are nearing $20,000+, and consumers are beginning see how buying a 1-2 year old used car is a better fiscal decision than walking into the dealer and driving off the lot in a brand new car. But are consumers partially to blame for the uptick in vehicle prices?

Europeans are known to prefer luxury and driving experience over flat-out performance, which is why European auto makers produce more expensive cars that capture the very best in what the automotive world has to offer. Over the years we’re seeing this trend beginning to grow in the United States as flat-out performance is not selling as quick as luxury, something Cadillac refuses to see as they’re marketing performance first and their sales figures are dropping because of that. Muscle cars have made a slight rebound with the emergence of the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats, the new fastback Ford Mustang, and the Chevrolet Camaro which will be sporting a new look next year.

If you’ve been to car shows recently you’ve noticed that interiors of low-end cars now have an upscale appeal. The Mazda3 and Mazda6 have very comfortable and luxurious interiors, which is a slight shock considering that they’re not a luxury brand. The Honda Civic EX-L, priced around $25,000, has an amazing interior, and if you forget about the engine that it has, you’d have to say that it’s a very impressive car. This leads me to the Toyota Yaris, which some trims cost near or exceed $19,000. That’s absolutely outrageous as this is the Hyundai Elantra GT’s price range territory. True, it gets less gas mileage than the Yaris, but why buy a micro hatchback when you can buy a full size for the same price?

The interiors and their infotainment systems are partially to blame, but so are the consumers. Bluetooth, navigation systems, electric sunroofs, touch displays, and premium cloth or leather seats all factor into the price. The reason why cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are considered economical cars is because they’re supposed to be cheap while also offering great gas mileage. Not in 2015. While you have the option to buy the base model, $16,000 is still no drop in the bucket either. Which raises the question as to why consumers would buy new in this current market? Leasing offers have become more appealing than buying, and you actually end up with a better car for 24-36 months than if you bought a car for $18,000.

The luxurious lifestyle is great, but are we living way beyond our means? The Mazda3 was once affordable, a rival to the Ford Focus. Now a top trim Mazda3 is impeding on the Chrysler 200’s territory. For those who do have the money to buy a $25,000+ car, this is a great time to buy. Instead of spending $40,000 on a Mercedes Benz or BMW, you can get an upscale interior for a fraction of the cost. In the sure sense of practicality, a top trim Mazda3, Subaru Impreza Premium, or a Honda Civic EX-L is a much better option, and you don’t break the bank buying a car that offers every infotainment system on the market.

Car companies have their reasons for spiking the prices of cars, but consumers’ demands for luxury interiors and infotainment systems have been a cause for more expensive cars that were once affordable. Whatever happened to the days when we’d get in our cars, turn on the radio, roll the windows down, and enjoy the driving experience? Owning a luxury car is by no means a bad thing, but we’re continuously outdoing ourselves by demanding luxury in cars that are nowhere close to being upscale.

Making A Case For The Kia Forte Hatchback

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting a good long look at the redesigned Kia Forte5 SX. Needless to say, it left a lasting impression. The hatchback market is extremely competitive with the Volkswagen Golf and GTI leading the way, Ford bringing their Focus RS over to the United States, the Fiesta’s dominance in the compact hatchback market, the fresh design of the Mazda3 which is turning heads, and Hyundai’s Elantra GT. Where does Kia’s Forte fit in, and can it hold it’s own against the competitors?

The Forte hatchback comes with two trims: The EX and SX. For performance, you would most definitely want to go with the SX, which is turbocharged, packing 201 HP. Unfortunately to get all the bells and whistles, which includes front and rear heated seats, you’re looking at spending $28,000, but it’s worth it. A sporty interior that will grasp the attentions of young millennials and will certainly get them noticed. A spacious interior that has more cargo volume than the Golf and GTI will make it easy for college students to move in and out of dorms, while also making room for passengers when it’s a late night on the town.

The EX on the other hand is more practical, getting much better gas mileage (25 MPG in the city, 33 MPG on the highway), but not lacking in power. With a 2.0L engine, you’ll still get 173 hp, 0-60 in 7.5 seconds (only two tenths of a second slower than the GTI). With a base price of $19,960, it’s much more reasonable, but if you’re looking for leather interior and other comforts, the price could hover around $25,000.

The Kia Forte is definitely a car worth looking at getting if you don’t want a Golf or GTI. While you’re not getting the fastest hatchback with the SX, you’re still getting a turbocharged engine, cargo space, a sporty interior, and a car that will turn heads. It’s the kind of car you want to get if you want to be different and not buy a car your friend owns.

If you’re a fan of Top Gear UK, you’ve probably already seen the Forte make it through a grueling challenge of rugby. The car is no doubt durable, and even for Top Gear, was an eye opener. The Forte is by far one of the most impressive cars I’ve seen in the hatchback market. I wasn’t expecting to see premium features such as backup assist, heated seats, navigation system, leather seats, and sunroof from a car that’s been flying under the radar for so long.

As someone who goes against the trend and leans more towards something different, the Kia Forte5 would certainly be in the top 5 cars under $25,000 I’d choose as a daily driver.