The Mazda3 has opened its doors to a greater buying demographic.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – The ever-popular Mazda3 is now in its fourth generation, winning over buyers in the compact segment since its inception. The first generation implemented sharp out-of-the-box styling that attracted Corolla and Sentra shoppers bored of beige, and while it was a great car when new, they have mostly all rusted into oblivion. 2019 marked the debut of the latest example, and we have mixed overall impressions of the latest example. On our annual voyage to California’s canyon roads, our support vehicle was a 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT, with the six-speed manual transmission.
Now available with all-wheel-drive, the Mazda3 has opened its doors to a greater buying demographic, and adding more competition for the Subaru Impreza (reviewed here). The all-wheel-drive model cannot be coupled with a manual transmission, so tested here is the full-jam GT, or Premium Package according to Mazda USA’s trim walk. The “Sport” moniker also signifies that this is the five-door hatchback, which is a real looker. The sharp styling cues work very well for the Mazda3, and gives it the premium edge the manufacturer was going for. While the sedan looks a bit more bland, the Mazda3 Sport is up there with the Corolla Hatchback (reviewed here) and is certain to attract younger buyers.
A 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G dual-overhead cam inline four-cylinder is under the hood, good for 186 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 186 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM. Throttle response is fairly good, though this engine isn’t fast by any means. The Honda Civic’s turbocharged 1.5-liter feels sportier and more eager to rev even without VTEC technology, and the Mazda3’s rev limiter comes in at 6,250RPM despite a 6,500RPM redline. As a result, the car feels considerably slower than it is, and a 0-100km/h time in the low-to-mid seven second range is nothing to brag about.
Pushing it around the canyon roads around Los Angeles, the Mazda3 is eager to dance around corners, with great engagement from the manual transmission’s shifter. The gearing is a little bit too long, also contributing to the slow feel of the engine, and the car requires more downshifting than expected when trying to accelerate out of corners or up hills. Mazda actually has implemented a rev-matching feature on upshifts to compensate for the long gearing. The clutch is feather-light, but provides good feel, and brake feel is also on the better end of the compact segment.
We’re now at a point that while the traditional automatic is usually better for both performance and efficiency than the manual. In the case of the Mazda3, the stick does provide engagement and is the enthusiast choice, despite the low volume take rate. While the front suspension is a conventional strut setup, the subject of controversy around the launch of this car was Mazda’s decision to go with a torsion beam rear suspension layout. Despite being a return to the past, the Mazda3 rides well and doesn’t exhibit any shortcomings here that will be noticed by the average consumer. Steering feel is fairly good, and the car behaves well in the corners.
The interior is the new Mazda3’s single biggest point of appeal. It’s lined with premium materials, including soft-touch materials everywhere hands would touch or eyes would see. Simplicity is the name of the game here, with all controls easy to find and clearly marked. The massive C-pillar makes for rather large blind spots, but other than this, visibility is fairly good all around. Of course, blind spot information is available to help overcome this. The driving position is very good as well, and two full-size adults will have minimal issues sitting in the rear quarters.
An 8.8-inch screen houses Mazda’s infotainment system. A rotary dial on the center console is similar to BMW’s iDrive, and the setup does evoke premium feel like the rest of the Mazda3’s cabin, also offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard fare. Still, there are some ergonomic flaws with the system, and menus are convoluted and not quite as easy to use as we’d like. The 12-speaker Bose sound system sounds great and surpasses available stereo setups in the comparable Honda and Toyota models for overall quality.
While this was a US-spec car, the pricing that follows here is in Canadian dollars. The Mazda3 Sport starts at $21,300, while the top-trim GT starts at $27,500. The GT’s unique features include 18-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlights, Bose audio, advanced keyless entry, and more. Our car also had the $2,300 Premium Package adding navigation, heads-up display, park assist, leather interior, and a power driver’s seat. The total comes to $30,250, and if you want the gorgeous Soul Red colour pictured, it’ll be an extra $450.
The 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT on its own is a lovely compact, with plenty of upscale garb and crisp handling. Its main issue is that the powertrain is not sprightly enough to match its looks, and falls short beyond the six-tenths drive. If you’re looking for a more involving weekend canyon carver, the Toyota Corolla Hatchback’s chassis is well-tuned for handling and the motor feels livelier, and the Honda Civic Sport is also a peppy option. If you’re seeking the most stylish hatchback in the bunch; the one that will get compliments on its looks inside and out, and with the highest quality interior, look no further than the Mazda.