Dan Wiese is a freelance automotive writer. He is a regular contributor for Brand Ave. Studios and to AAA Midwest Traveler magazine's online Web Bonus.

Perhaps surprisingly in this day and age, among the available features on the all-new Mazda 3 is a Millennial Anti-theft Device.

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For the first time, Mazda3, now in its fourth generation, offers both front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive. Photo provided by Mazda

More commonly known as a manual transmission, this rapidly disappearing, woefully under-appreciated, less-and-less understood three-pedal driving choice is on the endangered species list, and it's to 3's credit that it bucks 21st-century automotive trend and continues to offer one.

One more reason to like this guy.

All-new for 2019, this fourth-generation 3 is offered in four "packages," as Mazda dubs its trims: base, Select, Preferred and Premium. In addition, 3 also can be had in sedan or hatchback livery and with optional all-wheel drive -- a first for the front-drive 3. Regardless, power in every 3 is courtesy of a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated "Skyactiv" I-4 that makes 186 hp and a digitally identical 186 lb.-ft. of torque.

We drove a top-of-the-line Premium hatchback equipped with the $1,400 all-wheel drive option and the sole transmission compatible with that option -- a six-speed automatic, so we'll concentrate on that.

While the sedan is handsome, the hatch is daring, more emotional and, consequently, more polarizing with raptor-eye headlights, big, six-point grille, teardrop profile riding our Premium's 18-inch rims, fast backlight and above-the-rear-glass spoiler. We loved the look, even if the robust C-pillars do play havoc with rearward visibility.

Inside, our Premium-Pack hatch was sumptuously decorated, proving Mazda's compact econo-car isn't afraid to go upscale.

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Photo provided by Mazda

Cabin materials are first-class while decor is impeccable. Our Premium included two-tone, red-and-black leather, red seats, satin-metal accents and piano black touches. Very sumptuous for this class.

Alas, the infotainment control knob on the center console is vexing, so plan some owner's-manual sessions and practice time.

Passenger room is aces up front in supportive bucket seats that offer robust side bolsters and long, supportive cushions.  In back, head room is good, although those beefy C-pillars make the space feel tighter than it is, while leg room, not surprisingly in this class, is utterly dependent on the kindness of front passengers.

On the road, the carried-over I-4 provides only OK acceleration. This hatch feels peppy enough around town in the red-light grand prix, but is just average in its north-of-7-seconds zero-to-60 run and leisurely during at-speed acceleration. Plan two-lane passing maneuvers in advance.

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Photo provided by Mazda

That said, handling is marvelous. Among the features of 3's new platform is a torsion-beam rear suspension, which replaces the outgoing car's independent, multilink setup. That may give fans pause. The more sophisticated multilink arrangement would appear preferable. But, in practice, we found that the new rear suspenders enhance cabin quiet and tame the ride without negatively impacting handling. It's all good, just as you'd expect from a Mazda.

Add drive modes of Normal and Sport, plus G-Vectoring Control Plus -- the latest version of Mazda's torque vectoring technology -- and this 3 hatch is as athletic as a gymnast. Another plus: in 135 miles of mixed city/hwy driving, we realized 28 mpg -- 1 better than the EPA expected.

Standard hatchback safety nannies in 2019 include the Mazda i-Activsense suite of driver assist features, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.

With a new hatchback that looks this good, drives this athletically and pampers so impressively, it's unsurprising Mazda is somewhat proud of this thing. The base price is almost 25 grand while our nicely turned-out Premium went north of 31 large.

Finally, at press time Mazda had not announced 2020 updates, but word on the street is that the hatchback's changes will be minimal while the sedan will get, as standard equipment, the i-Activsense suite, already standard on the hatch.


This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios. The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@stltoday.com.