2019 Mazda3 Hatchback Premium Pack: Zooming Upward By Cliff Leppke Hatchbacks in the USA are like old silverware; they’ve lost their luster. Part wagon, part sedan and totally sensible, they’re no longer must-have vehicles. That’s a shame. Mazda’s 3 proves bright ideas have liftbacks. Mazda’s compact cars have a happy heritage. They’re the energy drinks of everyday motoring. They generate automotive buzz like TMZ does celebrity gossip. Those who’d rather sit back in a leather chair and, say, sip Scotch whiskey neat, looked elsewhere. Things change. For 2019, the Mazda3 coddles you with a cab-back stance, eager 2.5-liter 186-hp engine and sensible size. All-wheel-drive is optional. Refinement is standard, too, as if Mazda went to an Ingolstadt finishing school. Sheet metal resembles taut Saran Wrap stretched over several tent-like poles. Black alloy wheels shod with 215/45R18 Toyo Proxies fill the fenders. LED lighting adds depth and character with 3D effects—parking lamps “float.” Inside, the two-tone theme looks like an Ekornes showroom. Burgundy vinyl covers the dashboard’s fascia. Mazda tastefully employs gloss black or carbon fiber-like panels. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and slick switchgear feel expensive. The metallic Bose branded front-door speaker grilles look rich, too. A heated driver’s seat offers friendly relationships with the pedals. Mazda’s interior decorators used too much tinsel. Take the steering wheel’s switches. Please! Some are silvery. You cannot read their labels, during the day. Mazda’s knobs resemble a vintage Nikon camera. Lovely. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen rests atop the dashboard. You operate it via a rotary control and adjacent switches. Radio tuning involves more steps than Hitchcock’s set in Notorious. In contrast, the navigation unit says state-by-state travel info such as speed limits. Enter addresses by voice. This one found commercial buildings that stump other units. An onboard voice utters turn-by-turn directions. You focus on the road; not the screen. Mazda offers several front-cabin power sources with two USB inputs. There’s an optional phone charging pad, too. It’s under an awkward-to-move center armrest. Sun visor cards blot out Sir Mick Jagger’s sun. Those in padded aft pew confront tight knee room. Mazda’s soda-jerks scooped out the front seat backs for more space. Nice try. Rear-row riders enjoy pliable door upholstery and armrests. Stowage area rug isn’t Karastan but it’s better than most. Lighted door sills embellish the environ. The fastback roofline cuts into the trunk’s vertical space. Nonetheless, after folding seat backs, I inserted two bikes with their wheels detached. This Mazda’s luxurious demeanor is a notch above the typical compact. The AWD Premium Package with its various “Activs” lives up to its appellation with an array of driver amenities for $32,055. The 3’s non-turbo four-cylinder mill and a six-speed automatic transmission work purposefully. This fluid powertrain restrains engine rpm (1,800 rpm at 60 mph; 2,000 rpm at 70). Due to Mazda’s quiet treatment, it’s calmer than Xanax. A virtual speedometer warns you when you’re speeding. There’s a head-up display with directions, forward vehicle-to-vehicle gap and lane assist status. This Mazda’s steering is a tad slow with weak road sense. Effort is moderate with good accuracy at higher speeds. Handling is secure. The brake pedal is high and firm. Ride is velvety. Big bumps punch through, however. Mazda’s driver assist has pushbutton defeat. What it does proved opaque. The car’s lane keeping fought my swerve to avoid someone’s flotsam—a wayward sofa. Mazda’s nannies are intrusive and purposeful. Instrument panel pictures prompt you how to turn the steering wheel. Assists include forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, backup camera, forward cross-traffic assist and blind-spot detection. Doors automatically unlock when you tug their handles, a pushbutton starts or stops the engine and the car locks itself after you depart. Set the cruise control, then drive into a Chicagoland Tri-State Tollway traffic jam. Mazda’s radar cruise takes the angst out of backups. It stops when necessary. It resumes forward motion, when there’s space ahead and you nudge the go pedal. Mazda’s 3 represents a paradigm shift from swift to dignified. The EPA numbers: 24 mpg city, 32 highway and 27 combined. I saw 33. A base hatchback lists for roughly $25,000.