I was surrounded by bright white snow in the morning light that was crisply topped with ice. A line of red and gray cars was primed to tackle a short, slick course dug into the shady side of a mountain.
“Do you feel comfortable driving in snow?” a woman asked me.
“I grew up in the Midwest,” I answered. “I’m pretty comfortable driving in snow.”
“Well, OK. Just don’t go over 15 mph on this first lap,” she said.
And with that, she put me behind the wheel of a front-wheel-drive Mazda3 before she hopped in the jump seat.
Mazda had designed a twisted loop with sharp turns and elevation changes to showcase the difference between the front- and all-wheel-drive models.
And while the FWD model didn’t handle badly – especially since we weren’t going more than 15 mph – it had a couple of slips when I pushed it toward (gasp!) 17 mph, and at one point, I had to reverse to gather more momentum after a calculated stop in the middle of a hill.
During the second lap, we swapped into a Mazda3 with the i-Activ AWD system and all-season tires. I noticed that the vehicle became much more sure-footed, allowing me to edge closer to 20 mph.
The final laps continued with the AWD model and added snow tires – as well as an engineer who turned G-Vectoring Control Plus on and off.
While I couldn’t tell too much difference between the snow tires or lack there of, there was a slight change when the GVC went on and off.
With the GVC on, it was like a better version of me was driving, avoiding the slip before it even happened.
I thought maybe I was driving better, but my co-pilots assured me that each of my loops were driven in a remarkably similar manner.
So, what is this GVC thing?
In technical engineer speak: It adds direct yaw moment control with the brakes.
In Jill speak: It anticipates slip and emergency maneuvers, allowing the vehicle to aid the driver without taking control.
The driver might not notice a huge difference, but passengers definitely do, as an added benefit is less jostling and head bobbing.
While I’m just skimming the surface, there was a lot of thought and planning that went into ensuring the AWD system and GVC work together to create a balanced driving experience.
As Dave Coleman, manger of vehicle dynamics at Mazda, put it: “There’s all this crazy stuff going on to make sure the car feels completely natural.”
And it does. Like I said above, these two systems work in concert to create a best version of me as a driver.
The Bottom Line:
AWD adds a $1,400 premium and is available on every model except one – the Premium Hatchback with the manual transmission.
Growing up in the Midwest – and still living there – I appreciate a vehicle with all-wheel drive. And Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system is both natural and efficient.
I truly appreciate that you won’t experience a huge ding to fuel economy if you opt for this powertrain. In fact, Mazda estimates a less than 2 percent difference between FWD and AWD models, which will equal about 1 mpg.
Overall, I liked how the Mazda3 with AWD handled – both on and off the snow – and if you ever encounter inclement weather, the added cost is well worth it.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this first-look experience are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Mazda covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.