Mazda’s entry to the compact car segment is more competitive than ever.
This is the 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD. It was nearly seventeen years ago that Mazda replaced the Protege with the Mazda3 and from day one, they had an immediate hit on their hands. The Mazda3 was economical, looked great inside and out in both sedan or hatchback forms, with driving dynamics that perfectly mirrored Mazda’s motto of “Zoom Zoom” at the time. In 2004, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla looked vanilla in comparison. Mazda was rewarded with over 150,000 sales worldwide in the car’s first year of production and for a smaller car company, this was a huge win.
Flash forward to 2020. Mazda’s entry to the compact car segment is more competitive than ever. The current Honda Civic (reviewed here) and Toyota Corolla have both returned to form with outstanding driving dynamics and styling that is no longer forgettable. The US Big Three have basically abandoned the market in North America and have been replaced by Hyundai and Kia who happen to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. Mazda decided to bring their “A” game to the compact car segment in 2019. To make it interesting, why not add i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive to the Mazda3 to create a rival to the Subaru Impreza?
Mazdas have been associated with more dynamic driving experiences than their competition and this continues with the 2020 Mazda3. This was hard to imagine when word came out that the rear multi-link suspension that had been a staple in the Mazda3 was being replaced with a torsion beam. The engineers at Mazda were able to alleviate the concerns fans had about this significant change. As a daily driver, most consumers will hardly feel the difference, as bumps and potholes are absorbed quite nicely with very little intrusion to passengers.
While some of the rivals have upgraded turbo engine options, Mazda has opted to stick with two naturally aspirated four-cylinder options for now. The base 2.0-liter engine in the GX pushes 155 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 150 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM. My advice; skip the base model entirely and jump to the GS or the GT we have here for a much improved 2.5-litre engine with 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft. of torque. With the AWD option, you are going to need as much horsepower and torque as possible to move the car along confidently.
The additional weight of the AWD system does slow down the Mazda3 significantly. The weight of the all-wheel-drive system can definitely be felt, and drivers can expect a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.4 seconds. For those wanting more power, Mazda has recently announced that the 2021 Mazda3 will have the optional 2.5-litre turbocharged-four found in the CX-5 (reviewed here). No, it will not be the Mazdaspeed model that enthusiasts have been begging for.
Mazda matches a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission to either engine, however with the all-wheel-drive system, the only choice is the automatic. The transmission seems a bit confused at times, especially when it’s asked suddenly for a burst of speed. It also lacks a cog or two that could assist with fuel economy and keep the RPMs down when cruising on the highway. The available Sport mode helps slightly with performance but only affects throttle response; steering and suspension feel remain unchanged. Drivers can take solace knowing that steering is typical Mazda; responsive and with great feel.
Due to the automatic transmission and extra weight, Mazda’s fuel ratings are 9.8L/100km city and 7.4L/100km highway, with cylinder deactivation. Over our test week, we achieved a combined 8.9L/100km in mostly city driving. The 1,483-kilogram curb weight includes almost 100kg extra for the all-wheel-drive system. The Mazda3 is perfectly happy on regular 87-octane fuel. In comparison, a similarly-equipped Subaru Impreza is rated at 8.4L/100km city and 6.6L/100km highway, a significant improvement.
Mazda did put much of their focus on the interior and exterior of the latest Mazda3 and that shows. The driver and passengers are treated to soft touch premium materials throughout. The door panels are outfitted with metal speaker covers, the dashboard is modern and clean, the steering wheel and controls are of the highest quality in this segment. The seats up front are well bolstered for spirited driving. To be honest, the interior of this Mazda3 would feel right at home under a luxury brand.
To top it off, Mazda partnered with Bose for the sound system for that extra touch. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. With this being the top trim, navigation is also standard on the 8.8-inch infotainment screen. Controls for the infotainment are via a rotary controller on the center console. This interface is one area that Mazda can improve upon. In order to change stations or navigate through any of the apps, multiple inputs are required, and in order to do so safely without taking their eyes off the road, drivers can really only operate the control system at stop lights or while stuck in traffic.
Mazda’s exterior styling is bold and elegant. Whether you choose the sedan or hatchback, both look fantastic especially in the optioned Soul Red Crystal Metallic ($450) and with 18-inch Satin Black Wheel Package ($1,109). The Kodo “Soul of Motion” design language that blends emotional appeal and dynamism is present here; the Mazda3 is the lively, energetic one in its segment.
Cargo capacity behind the second row of the 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD comes in at 569-litres which trails behind the Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Honda Civic Hatchback and Subaru Impreza. Front leg and headroom for my 6’3 frame was excellent, however entering and exiting was slightly difficult due to the low roofline. If you are not paying attention and anywhere near my height, prepare to hit your head. Smaller passengers will find little to complain about in the rear.
From a safety perspective, the base models for 2020 were given more standard features that were previously only found in the higher trim levels. This includes gizmos such as blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Our GT was also fitted with Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go, Smart City Brake, Pedestrian Detection and Lane Keep Assist. The 2020 Mazda3 is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and received a Five-Star Rating by the NHTSA.
Pricing for the base Mazda3 Sport GX rings in at $23,181 while the top-trim GT starts at $30,381. Our tester this week came equipped with the Premium Package (standard with i-ACTIV AWD), wheel and paint upgrade for a total of $33,059. Keep in mind, those wanting to save some cash while retaining the majority of the Mazda3’s features can skip the all-wheel-drive, or even sacrifice some utility and forego the Sport five-door hatchback for the sedan.
The 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD has matured into a stunning car inside and out. With cars such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla leading in sales, Mazda looks to have the Subaru Impreza in its sights this time around. If it were my money being spent and I had to choose which compact car to purchase, I’d select the Mazda3 Sport GT with front-drive, a manual transmission and have the dealership work out a discount on a winter tire package. It’s a true refresher to see Mazda retaining the enthusiast-spec car while offering the right package for every buyer.