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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I am coming off a lease (AWD Subaru Legacy) and will be buying/leasing my next car by the end of August.

The current contenders are a preferred trim automatic FWD Mazda3 hatch or a preferred trim AWD sedan (not a bad second choice). So that brings in the debate, a FWD hatch is about the same purchase price as an AWD sedan (hatch is $1,000 more, AWD is a bit more than $1,000 more, kind of a wash price wise).

MPG's will be slightly better in the FWD, obviously, though gas is currently cheap, and not a major factor for me.

Forgoing the hatch vs sedan debate (I think they both look fine, I think the hatch will be a little more practical, but both will meet my needs) that brings me to search to find out if AWD is worth the premium for me and my commute.

Having previously lived in hill towns outside of Albany NY where AWD with snow tires was a requirement, I understand that some commutes are better and safer with AWD. But I moved into more suburbia with easy commuting on well maintained roads, so my current car (Subaru AWD) kept all season tires and was 'good enough' in the 10 or so snow events we get annually.

I imagine if I get the FWD hatch I will buy a set of mounted dedicated snows, and if I get an AWD sedan I will just keep all season tires on it.

Looking for 'expert' opinions, I found three main sources.

Car and Driver:

Test drove both (from their spec sheets), the difference between the two is almost negligible, the AWD is just slightly slower, and in return provides only slightly better results on the skidpad.


  • FWD sedan 0-60 at 7.0 seconds and on the skidpad 0.87g
  • AWD hatch 0-60 at 7.2 seconds and on the skidpad 0.88 g

However, at least two reviewers who have driven/tested both have stated that the AWD version was or felt significantly slower:

Alex on Autos:

He tested the AWD hatch and his 0-60 time was 7.8 seconds (in comparison, his test time in a FWD sedan was 7.1 seconds).

f 7.8 seconds is accurate I will buy a FWD mazda3, my current car is kind of a dog acceleration wise (2.5 liter Legacy with CVT, boring and too slow) and I want ~7.0 seconds for my next car.


Then he drove a FWD manual hatch, and fell in love again, saying the FWD was lighter, nimbler and his pick:


Of course enthusiasts love manual transmissions, but his review isn't only about the transmission but the general feel of a lighter car.

So what to do? I am currently shopping a FWD hatch and pricing snow tires/wheel packages on Tirerack, I wonder how others are making this decision and if there are sources I am missing comparing the USA 2.5 liter automatic Mazda3 with FWD vs AWD?
 

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I test drove the automatic 2.5l hatch in both AWD and FWD before settling on the FWD. Here in Charlotte, NC there isn't really a need for the AWD and I could definitely tell the car was heavier with the AWD and let's be honest the car isn't a super fast to begin with so any bit helps. I think you should just go test drive them and see what you think. The difference might not be that noticeable for you and you might prefer the AWD.
 

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Just my opinion but if you live somewhere that gets snow like NY, and like a vehicle that has AWD as an option, then it's an easy decision to get the AWD. As an added bonus, AWD is nice in the rain as well and I believe the brakes are slightly bigger on the AWD models (like .6in, nothing major). I've been lucky enough to enjoy many nice cars over the past 28yrs of driving and I've learned to not listen as much to the magazines and YouTube guys over the years. The more you read/watch them you learn they have biased opinions a lot. Sometimes tend to really like cars manufactures that advertise on their channel/magazine or loan them cars to review more than others. Sometimes they focus more on numbers rather than fun to drive or looks. Sometimes they get hung up on interiors or cargo room and maybe you could care less about interior or cargo room. Sometimes get hung up because they like infotainment to be a certain way and you could care less. I like watching the YouTube stuff and reading magazines to see the cars myself before going to a dealership (where I have no will power) but their opinions mean nothing to me since it's my car and my money and my opinion that matters. These are not fast cars at all, not even what I would call quick cars. I've had cars that would destroy this car, but I'm older now and tired of risking my life racing boy racers and driving like an idiot. This is a fun to drive car that I really like the looks of and how the hatch is different looking than most of the vanilla looking vehicles out on the road nowdays. So for me the performance difference of a 300lb AWD system means nothing since car is slow either way. In a lot of ways if a car has a sporty feel it's more fun driving a slow car fast than driving a fast car slow. I can floor this thing a good bit where my Mustang GT I could only floor when had a long straight away since hit 100+mph fairly quickly and it handled like a tank. As a side note that review that had 0-60 way higher that you noted, my guess is he didn't have in sport mode was part of the difference. My Maxima barely feels any different in Sport mode where my Mazda 3 hatch is a very noticeable difference in Sport mode. It keeps revs high and where you want them, it destroys your gas mileage but I could care less, it's still way better gas mileage than any SUV or truck I've owned and I don't put a lot of miles on vehicles. Also just my opinion but where I think these cars shine is in value of the Base model. For $25,000 you have a very fun to drive AWD car that is loaded with stuff in that price range. Bottom line though, you've probably already made up your mind, go with your gut not what others say and it will be a lot easier living with your decision.
 

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FWD with snow tires is way better than AWD with all seasons. I've been driving to work sites all over the Catskills, Adirondacks and Vermont in all kinds of weather for 50 years, but if all I had to do was commute to an office in Albany, I could get by with all season tires on FWD or even RWD, because traffic is so slow when it snows. You really only need the same thing everyone else has, and snow tires are not very common around here anymore. AWD just makes you a little faster on the uphills, and makes parking on the street easier, but otherwise it doesn't add any stability or control.

OTOH AWD + snow tires is a good choice for the hilltowns, but you really don't need AWD.
 

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When I test drove both the AWD and FWD Premium hatches, I noticed a distinct lag in throttle response and 'heaviness' in the steering with the AWD. The FWD just felt lighter and peppier, so I ended up going with it. I live in the SF Bay Area and my CX-5 is already AWD, so perhaps it was an easier decision for me. My $0.02 would be to definitely test drive both.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
I guess the other caveat is that if I go for AWD, I would buy the sedan to keep the cost approximately the same, so either a AWD sedan or a FWD hatch...

but I think I really want a hatch, so peppier.... better mpg's, same upfront cost....

I do my own basic maintenance, so having a set of mounted snows isn't something I worry about, my car before the Legacy was a WRX and that is only sold with summer tires, so I had a set of winters for that car as well that I swapped out in my garage.

Thanks for the replies, so far the input pretty much duplicates what the reviewers are saying. I am lucky to have two dealers within 10 miles of my house that will compete for my purchase, as well as about 4 other dealers within a 2 hour drive that I will get quotes from, to make sure I get the best price.

Because I don't own a Mazda now I don't qualify for any current incentives, and since I do my own oil changes, etc, I won't pick a dealer based upon loyalty or convenience for service, so that gives 5-6 dealers a shot at giving me their best deal...

The other thing working for me is that my Subaru is financed through Chase, which is the bank that does Mazda lease financing, so I can drop my Subaru off at the Mazda dealer when I drive the new Mazda3 home, and they complete the lease return for me, meaning switching cars over will be relatively painless.
 

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I own a 2016 Mazda6 (FWD) and a 2019 Mazda3 AWD HB. The two cars share an engine and transmission (except for the pointless cylinder deactivation tech in the HB). Both cars feel about the same in terms of acceleration off the line. That's one data point.

However, I test drove both the FWD and AWD 2019 3 and I didn't notice a significant difference. Granted, the drive was not back-to-back. But if there is a difference, I believe it's rather subtle, as the C&D 0-60 results would suggest.
 

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I have the AWD and even though its slower and gets worse MPG in real life than the base Impreza I crosshopped I never worry about sprinting through wet intersections or onramps.
 

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The whole reason have a 3 is AWD. I live in Vermont and I commute about 30,000 miles a year. I love AWD. The negatives of AWD are not an issue at all for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The whole reason have a 3 is AWD. I live in Vermont and I commute about 30,000 miles a year. I love AWD. The negatives of AWD are not an issue at all for me.
If I lived in Vermont (or in the hill towns where I used to live) I wouldn't be asking whether FWD or AWD is the right choice for me, and weighing the pros and cons. Of course the same thing if I lived south of Maryland.

But I live where I live, and that means I am thinking about which might be better for me, overall.

I have also test driven an Elantra GT N-Line, and if they discount that enough it is still a contender (it handles great, has more power and compares well to a mazda3 in some ways, though this year they are not discounting nearly as much as they did with the previous generation Elantra GT sport). When I test drove it I already came out a winner, I got a $50 gift card.

That car only available with FWD, so I am not an AWD or nothing shopper right now.
 

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If you are not shopping for AWD, then maybe take a real close look at Honda and Toyota. I'd be focused on frequency of repair records. These cars are all good daily drivers. The Mazda 3 might stand out if you are looking for a bit more plush experience in the interior.

I think you need to make an initial decision, AWD or FWD. After you decide that the other issues will clarify. I will say, from my perspective, the 2.5 Skyactive with auto trans. has plenty of power for a daily driver. I feel no need for more power.

For me, given my circumstances, I absolutely love AWD for my daily. AWD and high quality snows all around. Like a tank. I drive my S2000 when I am looking for performance fun in the summer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
I looked briefly online at the new corolla hatch, while an improvement in design (and suspension) the 2 liter engine with a CVT is a non starter, and while I can and have owned manual transmission cars (and motorcycles), those are no longer on my shopping list.

On my list as required: updated safety tech including full range adaptive cruise, LED headlights that are Acceptable or better (Good) according to IIHS testing, at least 180hp, hatch or small sedan and sub $30k.

I have three kids with honda civics (two of those are the current gen) and I think they are kind of ugly with their plastic centric modernist design, the turbo engines are fine, but again, CVT, ugh, done with those for a while, and to get one with LED headlights (that are not very good per IIHS) you have to buy a top trim loaded civic.

I drove an Acura ILX and like the redesign looks-wise, but overall the car felt boring to drive, and the adaptive cruise is not full range (my wife has an Acura RDX and it also shuts off ACC below 20mph, that annoys me). I watched for VW to finally offer a GTI at a lower trim level with all the safety tech, but the only trim that has what I would want is the $36k autobahn GTI, which is ridiculous (in Canada, you can get a Rabbit edition with all the safety tech which would be an awesome thing in the USA).

So my various research led me to Mazda3 or Elantra GT N Line (though it has to be top trim with tech package to have the safety features I require), and that is what I have tested so far (and am soliciting dealer offers).

I originally thought I would go full premium trim, but the preferred trim offers everything on my list, and costs a lot less, and due to the fact that I will probably lease I would want to see what else is on offer in 3 years I decided to defer on the Premium trim. Maybe in three years Mazda will offer some additional colors in the US, right now I am considering the Silver (sedan only) or Blue (hatch), though my top color choice would be a silver or polymetal gray (in preferred trim...)
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
So I took the opportunity today to drive an AWD sedan back to back with a FWD hatch.

My conclusions? The AWD sedan feels a bit more solid, steering feels weightier, acceleration is completely acceptable, and after driving it I think it would be the car my wife would most like me to buy.

Then I drove the hatch, and comparatively the visibility is about the same (rear window, mirrors), the steering feels lighter, the handling is comparable, and it 'feels' both smaller and quicker, which it probably is by just a hair.

After driving both, I fell in love with the hatch and the FWD feels to me a bit more fun to drive, less mature, perfect for me.

I am now pricing out either a blue/griege in preferred or a premium in Polymetal gray, it looks like a difference of about $40 monthly on a 36 month lease payment, but as I now qualify for a $750 Mazda incentive (prior to this month they were only for current Mazda owners, that has apparently changed) and the relatively low cost for this car (they are discounting a minimum of $1,100 on the preferred and higher on the premium trim) I think I am going to get Polymetal FWD hatch...

coming off a Legacy this car feels much sportier, more fun to drive, and just a better fit for me.
 

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So my various research led me to Mazda3 or Elantra GT N Line (though it has to be top trim with tech package to have the safety features I require), and that is what I have tested so far (and am soliciting dealer offers).
I am shopping these 2 options as well, along with a Jetta GLI. The only thing giving me pause on the Elantra GT N-Line is the face that they removed rear cross traffic and blind spot monitoring. To me, these are the best (most useful daily) of all the newer safety features. I would give up lane keep assist and radar cruise for those. It bums me out. That pano moonroof keeps me interested though :).
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
I am shopping these 2 options as well, along with a Jetta GLI. The only thing giving me pause on the Elantra GT N-Line is the face that they removed rear cross traffic and blind spot monitoring. To me, these are the best (most useful daily) of all the newer safety features. I would give up lane keep assist and radar cruise for those. It bums me out. That pano moonroof keeps me interested though :).
The elantra GT-N Line felt very solid during my test drive, more like the AWD mazda3 than the FWD mazda3 in terms of the stiffness and weighty feel of the steering and suspension, with the dual clutch and the turbo it should be significantly faster at lower rpms.

If they were discounting heavily it would have been in the running, though I agree I really like rear cross traffic and blind spot monitoring, and for the same price (significantly less according to the first Hyundai offer they put in front of me) I am getting a premium trim mazda3 with adaptive headlights and a heads up display and my color of choice, so I won't look back at the GT-N Line. Maybe someday they will bring over the actual full on N trim with a dual clutch and tech package and price that at 30k and I will be all in (that will be a GTI killer)

I looked at the new GLI (my mazda dealer is also a VW dealer), that car is just way too monstrously long for me -- I drive solo most of the time and don't need all that space behind me (I ended up in the 3 hatch, a better fit for me).
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
follow-up related to the GT N-Line, I had asked several times for the dealer to give me their best lease offer while shopping the Mazda 3.

for comparison I ended up in a Mazda3 FWD premium hatch, 12k year, 36 months, $2k down and $340 a month (best offer from a dealer further away for the same car was $336 a month)

the Hyundai dealer finally called me with their best offer, $450 a month.

I think I got a better value with the Mazda3...
 
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