Following a full makeover in 2019, Mazda’s Mazda3 returns for 2020 freshly equipped with critical new safety and driver-assistance technology.
Mazda is quietly building a reputation for building cars with so-called <ital>class above</ital> qualities. Its cars excel in matters of fit-and-finish, materials quality and layout and design. They go long on creature comforts and features, both standard and optional.
The 2020 upgrades include the addition of a Driver Attention Alert system as standard. It sounds an alarm when the driver shows signs of fatigue or begins paying less attention. It’s a great aid for sleepy drivers — and an effective warning for impaired drivers.
Standing among giants
Only a handful of compact vehicles offer it, most often as an element in an up-level options package. Mazda makes it standard.
Same goes for rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic high-beam assist.
Safety features include frontal collision mitigation, ith pedestrian detection; adaptive cruise control; lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning.
One of Japan’s smaller builders, Mazda has had to find creative ways to stand out among the giants that surround it. It has codified doing more with less into a less-is-more strategy.
Outside, fluid lines, sweeping silhouettes and unadorned body panels convey a simple elegance.
Inside, Mazda’s richly detailed cabins are free of needless ornamentation. Soft-touch surfaces dominate and switchgear operates with a consistent feel and heft. Noise-suppression measures make this the quietest 3 yet.
In its upper trims, the Mazda3 cabin rivals those of costlier European rivals.
The 2020 Mazda3 is available in sedan ($21,500) and hatchback ($23,700) body styles. They are by default driven by the front wheels, with AWD available on all but the base trim.
The 3 is available in four trims: Base; the sedan-only Select ($22,700); Preferred ($24,200; and Premium ($25,050). Hatchbacks add a thousand-dollar premium.
All Mazda3s are equipped with push-button start; an 8.8-inch central display; a rearview camera; LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; a driver information screen; a 60/40-split-folding rear seat; Bluetooth; and voice commands. An eight-speaker sound system includes HD radio and two USB ports.
Most engaging compact
One step up, the Select, adds keyless entry; automatic headlights and wipers; dual-zone automatic climate control; simulated leather upholstery; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 3 is the market’s most engaging affordable compact. It’s nimble, athletic and responsive. Despite its performance-tuned suspension, the 3 has a poised and comfortable ride.
Last year’s makeover included tweaks that softened suspension settings and boosted compliance. The 3 handles ruts and rough road surfaces with the composure of a larger car.
Some shoppers will find the 3’s ride a touch firm. Others will judge its cabin confining and its cargo hold too small. The rear seats are among the segment’s smallest and the space behind the second-row seats will hold a few shopping bags and not much more.
The rear seatbacks do fold flat in a 60/40 split, boosting cargo space to class-appropriate numbers.
It’s a Mazda trait; it builds its cars a half-size smaller than its competitors do, like they were left in the dryer for a few extra moments.
All 2020 Mazda3s are powered by a 186-horsepower 2.5-liter engine mated in most cases to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The exception is the FWD version of the Premium Hatchback, which gets a six-speed stick.
Equipped with the automatic, the 3 runs the 0-60 sprint in 7.7 seconds, which is quick for the class, and fuel economy is about average.
This is another family trait: Even Mazda’s performance models are built not for outright speed, but for balance, responsiveness and agility. They are spirited and easy to drive quickly.
Credit features like Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus, standard on all 3s. It reduces torque on corner entry, shifting weight to the front wheels. This stabilizes the 3 and enables safer and more precise cornering.
Doing more with less is a family value at Mazda. It means throwing out the cookie-cutter mold and delivering distinctive cars like the Mazda3.
2020 Mazda Mazda3 Premium
Vehicle base price: $21,500
Trim level base price: $27.900
As tested: $30,770 (includes destination and handling)
Options: cargo mat; illuminated door-sill plates; Machine Gray paint; frameless auto-dimming mirror; navigation; wireless charging pad; head-up driving display; adaptive headlamps; leather seats; LED driving lights; moonroof; paddle shifters
EPA rating: 28 combined/25 city/33 highway
Regular unleaded gas specified