The Mazda brand has always put the pleasure of driving first. Way out in front in some instances. With a mantra like ‘Zoom Zoom’ it’s a safe bet where the focus falls with a vehicle like the Mazda 3. What’s immensely impressive about the new 3 though, is how close in quality and attention everything else comes to the liveliness of the driving experience.
2020 sees a continued evolution of this quality and value for the price. Before, only the high-trim models offered a plethora of standard driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, auto high-beams and lane-keeping assist. Now these helpful features can be found on every Mazda 3. This is especially impressive considering the base model is priced at just $22,420.
My 3 came in hatchback form. Visually, a very tempting option as very few cars on the road have a similar shape. Another appealing reason to opt for the hatchback is that it’s the only one with an available manual transmission option in the Premium model. While the big backside may satisfy your hatchback cravings, it does compromise visibility out the rear quite a bit. In the front though, the Mazda 3 serves serious face. The new design direction from Mazda is stylish, aggressive, classy, modern and fancier than most rivals. They’ve done a wonderful job of producing something far from boring at such a good price.
On the inside, the attempt to wring as much quality for as little a cost continues to be evident. Color choices are intentional and tie in to each other wonderfully. Plastics look and feel upscale, while padded panels and leather wraps the wheel and shifter. My model came with the upscale Premium package. Included are leather seats, an adaptive front lighting system, a heads-up driving display and a beautiful black finish on the alloy wheels. Interior finishes range from gloss to matted. Surfaces contain a mix of hard and soft padding. A color palette of black and dark red, like deoxygenated blood, pair perfectly together. Especially against the poly metal gray metallic paint.
Dials, switches and controls are trimmed in shiny metal. They have a high-quality feel when operated. Heavy and buffered. Instead of being added-in as an after-though, the infotainment display organically integrates into the dash. Graphics are sharp and bright, cleanly laid-out and easy to operate. Infotainment and media controls are placed down near the shifter. Right at your fingertips for easy operation. This also helps declutter the central console to keep things looking especially clean and edited. The B-pillar felt a little too far forward, which made for a small doorway and difficult entry for tall passengers. Aside from this though, The interior matches the exterior as an accomplishment that would suggest a car much more expensive than the Mazda 3 actually is.
So the new Mazda 3 looks great on the outside, has a wonderful cabin and all the necessary driving and safety aides to keep you comfortably on the road. As we mentioned at the start though, its when the road starts to twist and bend that it really starts to shine. Powered by a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine making just under 200 hp, the Mazda 3 has enough power to please most. Especially with the Sport mode. Gas-pedal inputs are promptly responded too with gusto. Sufficient acceleration pairs with a surprisingly refined ride-quality. The fun-to-drive aspects haven’t been engineered away.
The chassis is as responsive and neutral as ever. Turn-in is quick, body-control tight, steering communicative and braking strong. While Sport mode tightens things up for a firmer ride, it never overly punishes occupants. The Mazda 3 still doesn’t have a Performance-focused model though. A Mazda Speed version would be incredibly welcome in the line-up. Perhaps a turbo engine with more power.
Mazda has once again proven with the 2020 3, that the end-product can somehow be greater than the sum of its parts. Careful selection of affordable materials with a luxurious look and feel, combined with wonderful execution, and Mazda has delivered one of the best compact-car experiences available today. It looks and feels higher-end than most of its rivals, has the same features, and beats many with the lower price as well. With it, we see the kind of pure value we should demand from more auto manufacturers.
Price as tested: $31,470