Mazda is one of those magically marginalized car companies — through the years, the Japanese automaker has offered great products in America such as the RX-7, MAZDASPEED3, CX-9, and iconic MX-5 Miata (the best-selling convertible ever), but the company often gets overlooked in the maelstrom of motor vehicles for sale here. A perfect example is one of the latest models in the brand’s updated lineup — the Mazda3. Even though SUV and crossover sales continue to dominate over passenger cars, the compact segment remains competitive. The new Mazda3 can certainly hold its own among the competition.
We spent several days with the 2020 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback Premium AWD. The Premium is the top-level trim of the Mazda3. Our tester came with options including a frameless auto-dimming mirror, illuminated door sill plates, a navigation SD card, a wireless charging pad and a rear bumper guard. Total MSRP is $31,595. Competitors to the Mazda3 are numerous including the Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Nissan Sentra.
Although the Mazda3 Hatchback Premium AWD is priced somewhat high for a compact hatchback, it certainly brings plenty to the table. Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed sport seats, heated front seats, a power moonroof, LED lights front and rear, a Bose premium audio system, rain-sensing wipers and a rearview camera, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Mazda3 we drove was equipped with the latest advanced safety features that include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a lane departure warning system, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The Mazda3 is one of only three small cars to earn the highest rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — Top Safety Pick +.
Mazda introduced an all-new Mazda3 last year with styling in line with the rest of the automaker’s updated lineup. The most noticeable change is the clean signature grille that flows nicely into the sleek, narrow headlights. It’s our favorite view of the Mazda3, which gives a premium look to this entry-level player.
At the rear, the eye gets immediately drawn to the intricate, round taillights as well as the sloping fenders, which provide a look of power to this small hatchback.
Auto journalists are by no means design experts; however, we drive, examine and evaluate a lot of cars, and the silhouette of the Mazda3 hatchback looks a bit out of proportion. While we typically prefer the hatchback to the sedan, the hatchback version of the Mazda3 isn’t as appealing. That said, the Polymetal Gray Metallic paint and 18-inch black alloy wheels do look great together.
The Mazda3 really shines from the inside out. Our test car featured red leather trim with contrasting black trim that gave the cabin a premium feel. This compact hatchback has very little in hard plastics — even the dashboard is covered in soft leather. A chrome strip that runs across the dash adds to the clean style.
Front seats are both attractive and comfortable. The soft leather and decent side bolsters along with longer seat bottoms make this a good car for longer trips.
The 8.8-inch horizontal display screen is nicely integrated with the dash, but it requires using a control knob in the center console — it is not a touchscreen. Occupants use buttons to quickly access navigation and audio systems; the interface is a nice improvement over the previous generation with better menus and easier navigation. There are two USB ports as well as available wireless charging in the covered center console.
The Android Auto interface of the 2020 Mazda3 works well. Using Waze, the display showed the map in addition to what was playing from the audio system. The only drawback: the map ends up being somewhat small, so the labels are difficult to read. In our tester it was a bit more difficult to interact with Android Auto since it is typically used with a touch screen, but it didn’t take long to figure out how to move among the buttons using the control knob.
Getting into and out of the rear seat of the Mazda3 can be a bit of a squeeze, but once in we found it quite comfortable with a reasonable amount of legroom. The rear seats work fine for three children, but more than two adults would be cramped.
Mazda designers gave the 2020 Mazda Mazda3 hatchback a deep cargo compartment that offers a decent amount of space. With its lowered floor it’s possible to keep more cargo under the cover. Rear seats can be folded flat to handle larger items.
Powering the 2020 Mazda Mazda3 is a 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G 4-cylinder engine producing 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. A manual gearbox is available for front-wheel-drive variants; AWD versions such as our tester have a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy is rated at 24 mpg city / 32 mpg hwy and 27 mpg combined. Surprisingly, the trip computer reported numbers that were a bit higher. The computer read around 34 mpg on the highway, and overall we averaged better than 28 mpg during our few days behind the wheel.
One of our favorite ad slogans was Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom,” introduced in the early 2000s and replaced a few years ago. Driving the 2020 Mazda3 brought back thoughts of Zoom-Zoom since this small hatch is a great fun to drive. Steering is precise with good feedback from the road, and this little car handles a winding road with brio. Acceleration is decent — not super quick; we call it peppy.
We appreciate that Mazda hasn’t gone the way of the continuously variable transmission that many other car companies have adopted, especially for smaller, entry-level vehicles. Although driving enthusiasts would find a manual transmission more enjoyable, the automatic does well, especially when put in Sport mode so gears are held longer before shifts.
Cruising on highways in the 2020 Mazda Mazda3 is smooth and effortless. Rough road surfaces transmit some noise into the cabin, but for the most part the Mazda3 is pretty quiet inside. The Mazda3 is certainly a car that would work well for road trips.
Even with American shoppers opting for crossovers over passenger cars, it’s nice to see that Mazda hasn’t given up on the car. The Mazda3 Premium is priced a bit high for a small hatchback, but the interior is on a level with more expensive luxury cars, as is the list of standard equipment. With available all-wheel drive, great fuel efficiency, the latest safety technology, fun-to-drive characteristics and plenty of usable space, the 2020 Mazda Mazda3 would make a great alternative for those unwilling to climb on the crossover bandwagon.