Completely redesigned last year, the 2020 Mazda3 pretty much carries over, continuing to be the connoisseur's choice for a compact car. For starters, its elegant sedan and unique hatchback body styles are considerably more stylish than expected for this segment. Park it next to a similarly priced Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla and people are likely to think you paid far more than you did. The same goes for the cabin, which is functional yet stylishly minimalist (if a bit cramped).
Then there's the driving experience, which continues to delight those who value sharp responses and a driver-focused character. The switch to a less sophisticated rear suspension for this latest generation has dulled some of its corner-taking capability at the limit, but that's a low-percentile complaint. The bigger dynamic beef is perhaps that Mazda doesn't offer a hotter version in the vein of the Civic Si or VW GTI. Yet, that falls under the category of "wishes" not "problems," which the 2020 Mazda3 has scarcely few. Perhaps it won't be for everyone in the market for a compact car, but everyone should at least consider it.
What's new for 2020?
After being completely redesigned last year, updates are light for 2020. The base trim level now comes standard with the Mazda i-Activsense suite of accident avoidance tech and driver aids that continue to be standard on every other trim level.
What's the interior and in-car technology like?
The interior quite simply makes you go "wow." A Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, which are actually quite nice, look and feel like they should cost substantially less – especially when comparing top trim levels. Whatever trim level of 3 you’re considering, however, the key to its wow factor is how the Mazda’s design removes visual clutter by reducing switchgear and effectively hiding air vents and door handles. It just looks special.
It's also functional. The steering wheel, which looks sensational, is an absolute treat to hold. There's considerable center console space and Mazda's tech interface, which had lagged behind its competition due to key usability issues, has been cleaned up. The dashtop screen is large and easy to see. The knob that controls it is large, not unlike BMW's iDrive, and ergonomically placed on the center console. It's not a touchscreen, though, as Mazda engineers determined that hunting for touch-operating icons can be distracting. They're not wrong, and the higher-mounted screen is certainly easier to read at a glance. Now, the lack of a touchscreen does make it harder to select icons in Apple CarPlay, but the knob controller also makes scrolling through playlists or podcasts easier. It's an acceptable give and take, then. And since the latest Android Auto was designed with non-touch screens in mind, the rotary controller isn't a major problem for those locked into the Google ecosystem, either.
How big is it?
The Mazda3 is just barely on the large size in terms of its exterior dimensions. It's longer than the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra, but a bit shorter than the lengthy VW Jetta. It's close to the heaviest car in the group, with every iteration tipping the scales at more than 3,000 pounds. It boasts about the longest wheelbase in the segment, but strangely that wheelbase doesn't pay dividends inside.
Front occupants will have space right on par with compact competitors, and with nice seats and seating position, it's plenty comfortable. The back seat, by contrast, has the least amount of legroom in the segment. Admittedly, it would've been OK 5 or 10 years ago, but today it may feel cramped compared to a Civic. The hatchback's avant garde roofline also makes rear headroom tight and the unusually fat rear pillars make things a bit dungeon-y. Of course, some may consider that an acceptable trade-off for the 3 hatch's unique look.
The sedan's trunk is useful and has enough space for couple of large rolling suitcases, but is not among the segment's largest at 13.2 cubic feet of space — the Jetta and Elantra have 1 cu-ft more, while the Honda Civic has 2 more. The Mazda3 hatchback jumps up to 20.1 cubic feet, a substantial improvement, and although it's down by over 5 cubic feet to the cavernous Civic, it's nevertheless very good for the segment and better than most subcompact SUVs (especially Mazda's tiny CX-3).
What's the performance and fuel economy?
Every 2020 Mazda3 comes with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four good for 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. That makes it the most powerful and torquey engine in its class, with the exception of performance variants. You can feel that when driving, as the Mazda3 provides sprightly acceleration, and being naturally aspirated, throttle response is excellent. It may feel a tad slow for people accustomed to sportier vehicles such as the VW GTI, but most customers will find the Mazda3 plenty quick.
Most versions come standard with a six-speed automatic, which is wise about gear selection and avoids the annoying characteristics of rivals that have higher gear counts or continuously variable transmissions. Front-wheel drive is standard with the automatic, but unusual for the segment, all-wheel drive is an option.
The top-of-the-line Premium Hatchback can be outfitted with a six-speed manual (front-drive only), which will be the enthusiast's choice. They'll be pleased by the excellent pedal placement for rev-matched downshifting, and although the shifter is smooth and the gates easy to find, the throws are a tad long and not especially crisp.
Fuel economy is 30 mpg combined for most versions with the automatic and front-wheel drive. The manual dips down to 29 mpg combined, while all-wheel drive lowers it further to 28 mpg (sedan) or 27 mpg (hatchback) combined. The most efficient variant is the front-wheel-drive sedan that gets 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined.
What's it like to drive?
The Mazda3 is so much fun. We've already talked about the Mazda's strong powertrain, but its ride and handling really make it something special. The steering weight is pretty much smack in the middle of the spectrum from light to heavy. It builds resistance incredibly naturally and even delivers a bit of road feel. And every input returns exactly the amount of steering you desire.
The chassis then follows in kind, and it's amazingly neutral. Even under power, there's hardly a hint of understeer. Body roll is very restrained. Even over bumps, the car doesn't get nervous, which is impressive considering its torsion-beam rear-end. It's a car that begs to rip around corners.
Thankfully, the Mazda's ride quality doesn't suffer much for its handling prowess. It's certainly on the firm side, enough that some people used to particularly cushy cars might be put off. But the firmness is couched in excellent body control. There's very little movement from bumps, and it feels downright European. Road noise and engine noise are hushed, too, making for a refined cruising experience.
What more can I read about the Mazda3?
Find out what's new about the 2019 Mazda3, including its engineering, styling and feature content. Also included are our first driving impressions.
Our first drive of the all-wheel-drive 2019 Mazda3, the only vehicle in its class not made by Subaru that isn't front-wheel drive. We find it's a legitimate alternative to entry-level luxury sedans.
"The Mazda3 is the sportiest in the segment and, as far as I'm concerned, it's dead-even with the Honda Civic for the top spot in the looks department."
We test the range-topping hatchback and walk away incredibly impressed.
What features are available and what's the price?
The 2020 Mazda3 pricing starts at $22,420, including the $920 destination charge. That's for the base 3 Sedan, which comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, air conditioning, an eight-speaker sound system, two USB ports, an 8.8-inch infotainment display and a full suite of accident avoidance tech (see safety section below).
The base hatchback with front-wheel drive has a base price of $24,620 and is better equipped with 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity entry and push-button start, leatherette seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. These features are all included on the next highest sedan model, the Select trim, which starts at $23,620.
For information on other trim levels, you can check out the breakdown of their features, specs and local pricing here at Autoblog.
- Base FWD: $22,420
- Select FWD: $23,620
- Select AWD: $25,020
- Preferred FWD: $26,520
- Premium FWD: $27,420
- Premium AWD: $28,820
- Base FWD: $24,620
- Preferred FWD: $26,120
- Preferred AWD: $27,520
- Premium FWD: $28,420
- Premium FWD Manual: $28,420
- Premium AWD: $29,820
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
Every 2020 Mazda3 comes standard with the modern car basics (a full complement of air bags, ABS, traction and stability control and a rear-view camera) as well as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high-beams and automatic windshield wipers. Turning headlights come with the top-level Mazda3 Premium.
The Mazda3 sedan and hatchback were named Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They got the best possible crash scores as well as the best possible ratings for their frontal crash prevention system and LATCH child seat ease of use. They got an Acceptable headlight score. The government had not yet crash tested the 3 at the time of this writing.