2020 Mazda MAZDA3

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2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
November 15, 2019

Buying tip

All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option on all but the base 2020 Mazda 3 sedan.

The Mazda 3 punches above its weight class with an upmarket interior, good handling, and optional all-wheel drive.

Few small cars balance frugality, practicality, and verve like the 2020 Mazda 3. The compact Mazda is offered in sedan and hatchback configurations, all powered by thrifty inline-4 engines that can be paired with automatic and manual transmissions as well as front- or all-wheel drive. The 3 puts its best foot forward in an effort to lure buyers not totally sold on crossovers and SUVs. 

We reward the latest Mazda 3 for its good looks and versatile blend of utility and performance, though we concede that its infotainment interface is due for an overhaul. On our scale, the 2020 Mazda 3 scores 6.7 out of 10 points. (Read more about how we rate cars.

The Mazda 3 sedan comes in base, Select, Preferred, and Premium trim levels; the hatchback does not offer Select. This year, the full suite of collision-avoidance tech previously standard on Select and above trims is included at every step of the way. 

Review continues below

The 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 186 horsepower is unusually powerful for a compact car, and it sets the stage for a lineup with aspirational intentions. The Mazda 3 delivers ride and handling characteristics of a more expensive car paired with features not available on most compact cars and an interior ambience that bests some entry-level luxury cars. Linear, predictable handling isn’t as entertaining as before, but the Mazda 3 boasts a grown-up feel and a refined demeanor. All-wheel drive costs $1,400, but is not available on the base sedan. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard on every trim except the range-topping Premium hatchback, where a 6-speed manual delivers power to the front wheels. Fuel economy isn’t a big selling point, though 30 mpg combined in most configurations with the automatic is reasonably miserly. 

Inside, the 3 has a stylish, low-slung dash and comfortable, well-bolstered seats up front. Rear-seat riders will find just average space, and even the hatchback isn’t especially utilitarian. The standard 8.8-inch screen is bright and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is standard on all but base models. Mazda skips a touchscreen in favor of a bulky center console-mounted knob to toggle through a menu-intensive system. 

Mazda’s entry-level model isn’t perfect, but it impresses on many levels. Its price is on the high side, its infotainment interface a chore to sort through, and the hatchback’s styling is polarizing at best. Still, small-car buyers would do well to add this zoomy compact car to their shopping lists.


7

2020 Mazda MAZDA3

Styling

The 2020 Mazda 3 is divine as a sedan, but a little awkward as a hatchback.

Mazda tried hard to differentiate its latest sedan and hatchback. The sedan’s proportions are smart and clean, while the hatchback is best described as quirky. We’re typically fans of practical hatchbacks, but the sedan gets our nod here.

Overall, we rate the lineup at 7 out of 10, with two points above average for its terrific interior design.

Up front, the 3 has a wide grille and narrow headlights tacked onto a conventional silhouette. The sheet metal follows soft, gentle contours, and the roofline is unusually long and gives the car nearly mid-size sedan proportions. The design is formal without being frumpy, and it’s a knockout in person.

The hatchback is eye-catching, but not for all the right reasons. Its front end is shared with the sedan. The design diverges toward the rear, where the long roof dives awkwardly into the tailgate. The pillar itself is massive, and it draws unwanted attention away from what is otherwise a well-wrought design.

It’s inside where the two cars feel the most harmonious, however. A low beltline and just the right combination of light and dark hues gives the car a spacious feel. Hints of brightwork don’t overwhelm and instead suggest a more expensive car. Even in base guise, the 2020 Mazda 3 outdoes some luxury cars costing twice as much.

Review continues below

7

2020 Mazda MAZDA3

Performance

Sporty handling, balanced ride, peppy enough powertrains earn the 2020 Mazda 3 a 7 out of 10.

The 2020 Mazda 3 is more refined but has lost a touch of its playfulness. We rate it 7 out of 10 for its good handling and balanced ride. 

The 2.5-liter inline-4 is a big engine compared to its rivals, and it’s powerful at 186 horsepower. Mazda has resisted putting a downsized turbo engine into its 3, so the car delivers linear power, though it requires a heavy foot to access the best performance. Premium versions feature a cylinder-deactivation system to conserve fuel during highway cruising. 

The 6-speed automatic transmission standard on all but a high-spec version of the hatchback slips its way through the gears effortlessly and can be shifted manually at a tap of the lever. 

The gearbox clicks down a cog or two quickly and predictably enough that the limited availability of the 6-speed manual isn’t a deal-breaker for most enthusiasts. Those who opt for the manual will be rewarded with Miata-like precision.

The latest Mazda 3 doesn’t have the perky tossability we recall so fondly about its predecessors, though this grown-up small car has a quiet, refined feel and can still entertain on a winding road. Its steering is well-weighted and highly accurate. Once a line is selected, the small car stays planted and handles confidently. Uniquely, the Sport mode serves only to hold gears longer. It doesn’t modify the car’s steering heft. Good thing Mazda got it just right in the first place. 

Underneath, the stiff chassis is paired with a compliant suspension that gobbles up big bumps even with the largest wheels available. Armchair critics may decry the car’s switch to a twist-beam rear axle last year, but in routine driving the setup delivers a poised ride. The latest 3 may not endear itself as quickly on a test drive as its predecessors, but it strikes a fine balance between comfortable and sporty. 

Adding all-wheel drive doesn’t change the car’s personality, though it adds some confidence in cold-weather states as it shuttles power rearward with a quickness when needed.

Review continues below

7

2020 Mazda MAZDA3

Comfort & Quality

Premium appointments, a sports car-grade seating position, and comfortable seats set the 2020 Mazda 3 apart from the compact car norm.

Compact cars aren’t supposed to be this comfortable or well-finished inside. Nobody told Mazda.

The 2020 Mazda 3 is proportioned like a small car but outfitted like a larger, more expensive one. It earns points above average to a 7 out of 10 for its form-fitting front seats, quality feel, and excellent driving position.

The front seats are manually adjustable in base trims, and power adjustment is optional. A beefy steering wheel—leather-wrapped on most versions—awaits the driver and affords a fantastic, sports car-grade seating position. The seats themselves are well-bolstered with a good range of adjustment.

Rear-seat space is acceptable by small-car standards but nothing special given the 107.3-inch wheelbase, and the car is relatively easy to get into and out of. Hatchbacks are more utilitarian than sedans, but not by as much as you might think. The Mazda 3 hatch is designed for European buyers and is nearly 8 inches shorter than the sedan, which helps explain the just-average 20.1 cubic-foot cargo area behind the rear seats. The sedan version has just 13.1 cubes of trunk capacity, however.

Interior materials are excellent for the price, with low-sheen surfaces covering doors, dash, and console. Matte silver trim has a dressy look, too. We would like to see more interior hues than the near-white and all-black shades Mazda offers, though.

Review continues below

7

2020 Mazda MAZDA3

Safety

The 2020 Mazda 3 has done well in crash tests and this year all versions come loaded up with collision-avoidance tech.

For 2020, the Mazda 3 lineup comes standard with a wide array of collision-avoidance features. All versions now come standard with a previously optional camera-based suite of features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts. Adaptive cruise control is also standard across the line.

A full complement of passive safety features including knee airbags, stability control, and anti-lock brakes is standard fare. A head-up display is included on the range-topping Mazda 3 Premium trim. 

The lineup earns an IIHS Top Safety Pick award thanks to “Good” scores in every instrumented crash test. Headlights rated “Acceptable” prevent it from earning a Top Safety Pick+ designation.

The NHTSA has not yet crashed the 2020 Mazda 3.

Review continues below

7

2020 Mazda MAZDA3

Features

The 2020 Mazda 3 offers good features, as it should for a price that is a tick or two above the compact-car norm.

The 2020 Mazda 3 is not a bargain small car, but it doesn’t feel like one.

We rate it at 7 out of 10 on account of its good standard features and surprising options. The latest version of the automaker’s infotainment software doesn’t offend as much as its predecessor, though most rivals deliver better setups. 

The Mazda 3 starts at about $22,400 this year, a $500 bump over last year thanks to more standard features on the base trim. Features include cloth upholstery, power windows and locks, active safety gear in line with most rivals, and an 8.8-inch display. Though its price is right, we’d skip this trim in favor of the $23,620 Mazda 3 Select that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, and 18-inch wheels. That’s a lot of kit for $1,200. Add another $1,400 for all-wheel drive.

Hatchbacks start in Select guise for $900 more than the sedan Select. 

Tick all the options and the Premium trim crests $30,000 with leather upholstery, adaptive LED headlights, Bose audio, a head-up display, and more. The Premium is also the only trim available with a manual transmission, and even that gearbox is restricted to hatchbacks only. 

The 8.8-inch screen that rests on the small car’s dash has a crisp display, but that’s where our praise ends. We don’t so much mind the control knob located on the center console as much as we do the menu-intensive display that requires a steep learning curve. Even tasks that should be as simple and commonplace as sorting through audio station presets is a chore. 

Review continues below

5

2020 Mazda MAZDA3

Fuel Economy

The 2020 Mazda 3 delivers just so-so fuel economy.

The 2020 Mazda 3 isn’t the greenest compact car lineup around. Fuel-economy estimates are as high as 30 mpg combined in sedan and hatchback configurations with front-wheel drive, but many competitors sip even less fuel.

Overall, we rate the 2020 3 range at 5 out of 10 for its fuel efficiency.

Front-wheel-drive cars with the available automatic transmission are the most frugal of the bunch at 27 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined, though models with larger wheels and the less-aerodynamic hatchbacks rate 26/35/30 mpg.

Stick with the manual transmission and the 3 will drink a little more fuel, to the tune of 25/35/29 mpg.

All-wheel-drive versions are heavier and rate 25/33/28 mpg in sedan form and 24/32/27 mpg as hatchbacks.

The Mazda 3 runs on regular unleaded fuel. 

Review continues below

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6.7
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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2020 Mazda MAZDA3 Pricing Insights

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