Christopher Little

Haute Hatch: 2020 Mazda 3

The all-new Mazda 3, introduced for 2019 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, debuted a more mature interpretation of Mazda’s Kotdo design language. It also brought i-Activ all-wheel-drive and i-Activsense driver assistance technology to the platform. With Mazda’s growing focus on upmarket appeal, the Mazda 3 seeks to bring an air of sophistication and thoughtfulness to the small sedan and hatchback market. We spent a week with the 2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback AWD to see if it can make it’s mark in a shrinking segment.

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback 4

Debuted under artificial light on a dark convention display, the new Mazda 3 looked awkward. Spend some time with one out in the wild, however, and your perception may change as ours did during the course of the week. Intentionally designed with no character lines, the gently curved body panels are a curiosity in today’s overly-stylized cars. Even the lighting elements have been shrunken, with narrow headlights barely breaking the shape of the front end and tail lights that blend into the Soul Red paint. Our Premium Package hatchback features black trim and new-for-2020 gloss black 18″ wheels. The sedan gets chrome trim and brighter wheels for a slightly different look. Both sedan and hatchback feature Mazda’s 2.5L Skyactiv-G engine producing 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft torque. A six-speed automatic is standard, but a 6-speed manual is also available. Our tester arrived with the auto box and the optional i-Activ AWD. A first for the Mazda 3, this is the same system found in Mazda’s CX-3.

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback 1

Inside, a minimalist and driver-centric design is enhanced by exceptional ergonomics and quality materials. For the driver, a three crisp and clear gauges display information without overwhelming the eyes with data. The thin-rimmed, three-spoke wheel sits perfectly in-hand. Vents flank the cluster and are integrated smartly into the dash above a single, horizontal plane. Centrally, a simple set of HVAC controls sit below that line. The gear lever and infotainment interface have been moved further forward from the armrest, leaving them in perfect reach. We also really enjoyed sitting in the comfortable front seats. But our tester’s black interior let down the overall design. Opt for the red leather interior and you get a bit more color on the seats, dash, and door panels to elevate the interior above the monotone.

A literal and figurative bright spot in the cabin is the 8.8″ display. I haven’t experienced a brighter, crisper display in any other vehicle close to this price point. The screen is controlled by a revised and simplified command control on the center console. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are standard. We’ve made a big deal about the availability of these technologies in other reviews, and it’s nice to see them here. What’s more, the Android Auto integration is the best we’ve ever experienced. Snappy responsiveness and a layout that allows for both audio and navigation to be displayed simultaneously makes me wonder why manufacturers continue to develop their own onboard systems. If I can run Sirius XM, Pandora, or Spotify with Waze or Google Maps and see content from both at the same time, why would I ever need anything else? But that’s not the only tech present in the new Mazda 3. A head’s up display and Mazda’s suite of driver assistance tech, dubbed i-Activsense, make keeping your eyes on the road easy. Blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, and adaptive radar cruise control are all here. Another bright spot came from the listening experience of the Bose sound system. Mazda paid special care to place speakers and subwoofers where the sound would most naturally resonate from in the cabin, resulting in a great listening experience. The higher audio quality from the phone stream instead of the compressed satellite signal to the on-board system plays a big part in this, another win for Android Auto and Apple Car Play, but the Bose system impressed even when listening to terrestrial radio.

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback 2

While rated at 186hp and torque, the Mazda 3 feels on pace with the lesser-powered Toyota Corolla hatchback. Gone are Mazda’s Zoom Zoom days, and the 3 has lost a bit of character because of it. A much more grown up 3 has taken its place. With superb suspension tuning, the rough and uneven roads of Upstate, New York in January were nicely filtered out while keeping excellent body control. Bridge junctions and pot holes don’t transmit harshly into the cabin, either, which gives the Mazda an up-market road demeanor. It’s also pleasantly quiet, another hallmark of a luxury experience. Our week of testing brought a deep cold and snowy road conditions. Our tester arrived wearing Toyo Proxes A40 all-season-tires with a M+S rating. These tires, plus the all-wheel-drive system provided confident traction, even in tricky conditions.

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback 6

The 2020 Mazda 3 delivers the best cabin experience in it’s class. The 3 has a a simple, modern interior design executed with upscale materials, improved ergonomics, and the best Android Auto integration we’ve ever encountered. The NVH and ride quality also contribute to a luxury car vibe. But you do pay for the experience. With an as-tested price of $32,065, this checked-every-optional-extra Mazda 3 is competing with the likes of a nicely-equipped VW GTI or a fully-loaded Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line. And while neither of those options deliver the refinement and maturity of the Mazda, they are more fun to drive. But if real-world practicality and everyday usability is more your style, the Mazda 3 bests the Subaru Crosstrek and Imprezza by an all-wheel-drive mile in terms of overall experience.

-Christopher Little

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback AWD w/ Premium Package
$28,900
Cargo Mat $100
Illuminated Door Sill Trim Plates
$425
Soul Red Crystal Paint
$595
Framless Auto-Dim Mirror $275
Navigation SD Card
$450
Rear Bumper Guard
$125
Wireless Charging Pad
$275
Destination Charges $920
As Tested MSRP $32,065

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