2020 Mazda3 Hatchback Drivers' Notes | Luxury with a manual

We're in love with the Premium Hatchback

2019 Mazda3
2019 Mazda3 / Image Credit: Mazda
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The Mazda3 is a blast to drive and has an interior that rivals entry-level luxury cars. It's only real weakness is a slightly tight interior.

  • Trim
  • Engine
    2.5L I4
  • Power
    186 HP / 186 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Manual
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,022 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    20.1 Cu-Ft
  • MPG
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price

The new Mazda3 wowed us when we got behind the wheel for the first time last year. Today, just one year further along, the 2020 Mazda 3 is still a delightful, premium offering in the compact segment. We happened to spend a week in the 2020 Mazda3 Premium Hatchback with a manual transmission, the most engaging and luxurious variant available. Mazda is sticking to its guns of only offering the manual transmission on the top-of-the-line Premium trim this year, and the only notable change is a $100 price increase. The manual also remains available only with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is optional but must be paired with the six-speed automatic.

We’re expecting to see the magical Skyactiv-X engine show up on our shores eventually, but for now, the 2020 Mazda3 continues on with the 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder. It makes 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. The manual transmission is a six-speed unit and contributes to a fuel economy rating of 29 mpg combined. Honda is challenging the Mazda3 manual in the new model year with its premium Civic Hatchback Sport Touring model that is newly available with three pedals. This Mazda3 is still rather expensive in this class, though, with our tester coming in at $30,665 after a few options were tacked on. That equipment is as follows: Soul Red paint ($595), navigation ($450), illuminated door sill plates ($425), auto-dimming mirror ($275), wireless charging pad ($275), rear bumper guard ($125) and a rear cargo mat ($100).

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: I love this car so much. I love the design. I love the materials. But most of all, I love the way this car steers and handles. Every fraction of a degree of steering input yields exactly as much change to the eager nose. The steering wheel gives you a high-definition picture of what's happening between the tires and the pavement. The chassis feels neutral and has plenty of grip. Even its simple torsion-beam rear suspension stays planted over slightly bumpy corners. There's hardly any body roll. This car constantly begs you to take it corner carving, and even on short errands I found myself zipping up and down on-ramps and off-ramps that were out of my way, just because it was fun. With a turbo engine (hint-freaking-hint, Mazda), it could be a killer hot hatch.

Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: This car might just be the perfect daily driver for someone with a reasonable budget and no large hauling needs. When I first saw the new Mazda3, the sedan felt like the one to get. Now that both the sedan and hatchback have been out for a year, I’m squarely on the side of the hatch. Paint it in Soul Red like our tester, and I'm completely sold. It shimmers and shines like no other red paint, highlighting the curvy body panels and slick design. I like the dark-painted wheels, but I wonder how a traditional, silver wheel would work here instead. Walking out to it in the parking lot every day after work and seeing it would make me happy. Stepping inside, the Mazda3 manages to get even better.

Since our tester is the manual hatchback, it’s the highest trim level on the books. And despite being priced far below luxury compacts, this interior is able to run right alongside those cars in terms of quality and design. There are a few notable compromises, though. Mazda says it wants to be considered a premium automaker, but there’s no heated steering wheel available on its most serious effort yet in this class. Nor are auto-dimming side mirrors an option. You have to pay $275 to get the auto-dimming rearview mirror, because it’s not included in the Premium trim level. A native navigation system is an extra $450.

Little things like these end up being important to buyers in the long run, and their absence from the standard features list is a head scratcher for me. Still, I don’t think any of these nits are worth picking for such a truly wonderful car. Joel is 100% spot on. It’s downright joyous to drive, and with nary a downside, I’d recommend the Mazda3 to anyone. Do yourself a favor, and get the manual.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: Gone are the days when the Mazda3 felt like a rental car inside, pretty much regardless of trim. Zac mentions it above, but there are a couple details that really stood out to me. One was the illuminated tread plate that greeted me when I opened the door — such a subtle but impressive detail (it's a $425 option, though). The dash is covered in a soft, stitched leatherette constructed in interesting layers, and the well-placed infotainment display looks much more at home than other monolithic style screens do in some vehicles. The heated seats are hotter than Hades, too.

I liked the manual transmission. The clutch feels natural right away, and there's no learning period of getting used to its level of firmness or catch point. The shifter throws are just a smidge on the short side of average, and despite being light, there's no guesswork getting it to fall into the correct gate.  The tachometer is on the left side of the instrument panel, and this is just my preference, but I'd find it easier to monitor visually if it were to the right of the speedometer for those times when I want to look in addition to listening to the revs. In all, it was pretty great to use, and easy on me even when I got caught in stop-and-go freeway traffic.

Mazda Mazda3 Information

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