Redesigned for 2019, the 2020 Mazda 3 makes our 2020 list because drive opportunities weren’t available until earlier this year. It was worth the wait. The Mazda 3 compact sedan and hatchback is one of our perennial Best Cars due to its sporty handling and available features list.
Mazda tweaked the formula, but the 2020 Mazda 3 is still an excellent choice for small car shoppers looking for a more premium feel without paying for the premium upcharge. The biggest mechanical change was the switch from an independent rear suspension to a torsion beam axle that provides a much quieter ride and opens up more interior space. It might not respond as dynamically on the track or in super tight twisties, but the vast majority of Mazda 3s weren’t going there anyway.
That’s one reason why the excellent 6-speed manual transmission is only offered on one variant, the hatchback in Premium trim in front-wheel drive ($28,420). Otherwise the familiar but aging 6-speed automatic transmission is paired to the potent 186-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 in front- or all-wheel drive ($1,400 extra) as a stylish compact sedan or spacious hatchback.
About that hatchback. Mazda redesigned the 3 with a European vibe. Our editors were split on the style merits between the sedan and the hatch. The hatch has 20.1 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, while the sedan offers 13 cubic feet of trunk space. That should win, but the long nose, short overhangs and long flowing roofline of the sedan look proportionately more attractive. The mouse-like rear curve of the hatch looks pinched from the sides and dramatically cut off in the rear, which is one effect of the hatchback being eight inches shorter than the sedan.
The biggest difference in the Mazda 3 is inside, where Mazda reaches for premium status in all but the base model ($22,400), which we would skip. Low sheen and predominantly black soft-touch surfaces swaddle the cabin, offset by matte silver trim pieces. The controls are neat and spartan, dominated by a standard 8.8-inch display screen operated by a controller dial on the console. We’d recommend bumping up to the Mazda 3 sedan in Select trim ($23,620) or the similarly equipped base hatchback ($24,520), which has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, keyless entry, synthetic leather seats and door trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a rear roof spoiler, and 18-inch wheels.
Standard active safety features include automatic emergency braking, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise control, which is an extra charge from the automakers Mazda appears to be targeting.
If you visit the Mazda website and click compare cars, the Mazda 3 will automatically be compared against Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. That’s ambitious, but so is the 3. That's why it contends for our Best Car To Buy 2020 nominees.