Mazda3 AWD — Stylish and feature loaded

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

With a refinement above its class and sophisticated driving manners, the 2020 Mazda3 is one of the most satisfying mainstream compact cars on the road. Available as a hatchback or sedan, the Mazda3 is a viable alternative to rivals such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. For 2020 Mazda has added all-wheel drive as an option for just $800, and the previously optional engine — a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder — is now the standard powerplant across the lineup endowing all Mazda3's with a segment-topping 186 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

Mazda introduced a new generation Mazda3 in 2019 and while retaining its basic shape. Designers revised the front of the car with thinner headlights and a more rounded signature grille with chrome surrounds that extend under the headlights. The side was cleaned up with stylish bends and creases. The result is a handsome car in both sedan and hatchback configurations.

The Mazda3's standard 186 horsepower is considerably more than the standard offerings on virtually every other compact sedan including the Toyota Corolla (169), Honda Civic (158), Hyundai Elantra (147), and Kia Forte (147). What may sway some would-be buyers is that nameplates such as the Civic and Elantra have bigger optional engines available. 

Where the Mazda3 trails much of the competition is in gas mileage, which is EPA-rated at 25 city, 33 highway and 28 combined for the AWD sedan on regular gas.  The front-wheel drive sedan is rated slightly better at 27/36/30. By comparison the 2020 Corolla is rated at 31/40/34 and the Civic has an EPA rating of 32/42/36.

We found the non-turbocharged 2.5-liter four an eager companion in all driving situations. We were pleased with the performance in our Premium AWD sedan, which has been measured at an excellent 7.0 seconds from 0-to-60, and we found t
he shifts from the six-speed automatic smooth and responsive. To get the most out of the transmission, switch from normal to sport mode. The Mazda3 has been known for its excellent handling, and our test car did not disappoint on our rural paved rural road "test track" taking the twists and turns in a confidence-inspiring manner, displaying quick and precise steering with good road feel.

We also drove an AWD Premium hatch with a fun and aggressive six-speed manual that outran most of the competition. 

While the suspension aided our aggressive driving, it also offered a generally compliant, comfortable ride that should please most passengers. We like the quick stopping performance as well, which has been measured at a short 112 feet from 60 mph.  The pleasing performance and a relatively quiet cabin gave the Mazda3 a premium car feel.

We think Mazda shines best with its new interiors. The color combinations are striking and the material is first class befitting an entry-level luxury car such as an Audi A3 or a BMW 3 Series. The cabin detailing is important and Mazda has grasped that fact better than any other mainstream brand.

The dashboard is conservatively handsome and the switchgear is intuitive.

Gauges are easy to see and understand. The infotainment screen is attractively imbedded at the top of the dash and the icons are clear and easy to access by a control wheel behind the shifter. Climate controls in the center stack are also clear and easy to use. And we like the placement of the radio volume knob on the center console. We did find the learning curve a bit too steep in some areas like accessing and saving favorite radio stations. After the first run-through we found the system adequate, but we think Mazda has complicated what should be a very simple task.

A footnote — On the first day of our test week the entire center screen went dark making all entertainment and navigation operations impossible. By searching the Web we found that this is not an uncommon problem with Mazda3 and Mazda6 vehicles dating back to 2015. If this happens we recommend taking the car into your dealership where they can do a reboot — probably in a matter of minutes.

The front seating area delivers decent leg, head and shoulder space, and the broad, expansive dashboard styling enhances the feeling of spaciousness.  But rear legroom and headroom are below average. Cargo capacity is also on the short side with 13.2 cubic feet of trunk space. But the rear seatbacks fold down in a 60-40 split for more hauling space.

The Mazda3 has a comprehensive selection of safety features across all trim packages including adaptive cruise control. But to get blindspot monitoring with cross traffic alert you will have to move from the Base trim to the higher trim packages that include Select, Preferred and Premium.

Our test car came with the Premium package, which has such nice features as power driver's seat, heated front seats, adaptive headlights, a sunroof, head-up display, leather upholstery and paddle shifters. Our test car with the optional AWD carried a base price of $28,820 including destination charge and a bottom line of $30,645 with a handful of small options.

The base price of the Mazda3 is $22,645, but we think the sweet spot is the Select package because it comes with most of the features needed and desired including a full slate of safety technology and such things as keyless entry, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and simulated leather upholstery starting at $23,845 in front-wheel drive.

2020 Mazda3 Sedan


Base price: 22,645; as driven, $30,645
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 186 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 186 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 107.3 inches
Length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,071 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 25 city, 33 highway, 28 combined
0-60: 7.0 seconds
Also consider: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla

The Good
• Luxury-looking interior
• All trims get top 186 hp engine
• Excellent handling traits

The Bad
• Mediocre legroom in back

The Ugly
• Small trunk