The Best-Looking Compact Hatchback
Mazda caused a minor stir at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show with the debut of the all-new 2019 Mazda3. Hundreds of eager automotive journalists got their first up-close look at this completely redesigned compact, offered in both a sedan and hatchback. The sleek new shape was a far departure from the previous Mazda3–or any competitors in this category–and savvy car enthusiasts knew it would catch the eye of consumers. Allowing a year for the car to settle in, Clean Fleet Report got behind the wheel of a 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Premium to see if this car is all show. Guess what, there is some go with it too!
Mazda offers two sedans, the 3 and 6, with the latter being a midsize five-passenger model. The 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD is fun to drive, which is no surprise. If you have ever driven a Mazda, you know that, top-to-bottom in their line-up, they make the best-handling cars and crossovers that aren’t marketed as a “sports” model.
The Mazda3 hatch and sedan are offered with one engine and one transmission. The Skyactive-G 2.5-liter is a smooth and responsive four-cylinder engine producing 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. The Mazda3 comes with a six-speed automatic for either the standard front-wheel drive or the i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) that Clean Fleet Report drove for a week throughout Southern California.
The EPA rates the Mazda3 Hatchback AWD at 24 mpg city/32 highway/27 combined, which are okay fuel economy numbers. In 493 miles of city and freeway driving, we averaged 29.6 mpg, so a bit better than the EPA. However, two 150-mile all-freeway runs with the adaptive cruise control set at 65 mph (aided by cylinder deactivation), we saw an average of 40.1 mpg, which is very good. The fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience.
Driving Experience: On the Road
While the Mazda3 is not offered in a high-performance model, that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most fun compact cars to drive. It is agile, responsive, wants/begs you to seek out curves, and has a compliant ride when on the highway. The accurate steering begins with independent MacPherson struts front and rear, dynamic stability control, traction control and 215/45 tires on 18-inch alloy wheels. The key suspension technologies are the G-Vectoring Control system, and the i-Active AWD, which uses instantaneous driving data to anticipate wheel slippage, resulting in smooth traction in all conditions. When cornering, the G-Vectoring Control adjusts engine torque to shift weight, increase steering response and apply a bit of brake to seamlessly aid in making cornering easier. How well does the 3,255-pound Mazda3 AWD handle? In its own way, it gives the 2,493-pound Mazda MX-5 Miata a run for its money.
There is one driver selectable drive mode of Sport, where the automatic transmission shifts are quicker than the default Normal mode. If you choose, paddle shifters and a manual option allow you to control all the shifting. When tromping the accelerator in Sport mode, the engine noise is not obnoxiously loud, but it becomes quiet at freeway speeds. The acceleration hits its maximum pull starting at 4,000 rpms, producing zero-to-60 times in the low-seven seconds.
We did not test the Mazda3 with the six-speed manual transmission, which is only available with front-wheel drive. But improving much on the low-seven second range should not be expected, as automatic transmissions are so good now that manuals usually don’t improve the zero-to-60 times (Ed.–and automatics also usually deliver better fuel economy). However, as big fans of manual transmissions (and Mazda makes a great one) you can expect your driving fun to increase as there just isn’t anything that can match slamming through the gears on mountain twisties.
Driving Experience: Exterior
Following their “Kodo–Soul Of Motion” design language, Mazda says the “Mazda3 is leading the way for a bold new era for the brand.” When you see the Mazda3 hatchback up close, you will agree that it is the most unique compact car on the market–and also the sexiest.
The flowing design beauty of the hatchback is dominated by the back half of the car, where the large C-pillar styling is the only one of its kind on the road. Some may not like the bulbous nature of it, but most people I encountered did like it. The distinct appearance on the Mazda3 hatch begins with the blacked-out front grille with black chrome trim, and slender LED head and daytime running lights. The Mazda designers did something that Clean Fleet Report wishes other car company’s would adopt–they eliminated the clunky faux air scoops on the outer corners of the fascia, replacing them with curved panels. This one little thing makes all the difference in the car looking smooth and not bulky.
Mazda has a “car as art” philosophy where terms like “handmade design,” “sleek and bold” and “interplay of light and shadow” play a major part in getting the proportions and design right. Design cues for the Mazda3 hatchback include a long hood, laid-back windshield, short overhangs front and rear and the distinctive rear hatch with an integrated spoiler. Clean Fleet Report’s Mazda3 was painted in Polymetal Gray Metallic with the only chrome found on the Mazda logo badges front and rear, some petite side window trim pieces, and the twin exhaust tips. The only color on our car were the red LED tail lights, and the bright red brake calipers popping-out from the black finished alloy wheels.
Driving Experience: Interior
The interior materials and build quality give the Mazda3 Premier an up-market look. The two-tone color scheme of red and black with aluminum accents was pleasing to the eye. Cloth is standard, but on the Premium trim level the leather seats were firm and comfortable. The tilt and telescopic, heated steering wheel, with cruise and audio controls, made a comfortable driver seating position easy to find. The driver seat on the Premium model gets power adjustments, including lumbar, along with heat and memory, while the passenger gets heat and manual adjustments. The power glass moonroof, carpeted floor mats, illuminated door sills and the cargo cover were nice features.
Remember that cool-looking C pillar that makes the Mazda3 hatchback look so great? From the inside, it is a problem–lack of visibility out the rear of the car, causing large blind spots. So what to do? You can use your exterior mirrors and also rely on the blind spot and lane departure technology. Or, you could opt for the Mazda3 sedan, which has excellent visibility and retains all the fun-to-drive nature of the hatchback. The sedan will give up the extra cargo space a hatch delivers, so if hauling things is your thing, stick with the hatchback.
Up front, the dash layout is simple and logical–and a big thank you to Mazda for the head-up display. The three round gauges, with black faces and white letters, were easy to read, with the round knobs for the dual-zone automatic HVAC conveniently placed above the center console. The leather-covered shifter is joined by the Sport mode selector, the electronic parking brake, auto hold and the infotainment controllers. Other convenience features include rain-sensing windshield wipers, power side mirrors with memory, keyless entry, push button start/stop, 60/40 folding rear seat and an accommodating cargo space when the rear seats are folded flat.
The 8.8-inch color display, that is not a touchscreen, rises from the dashboard and is home to the Bose premium audio system. With 12 speakers, the sound quality is excellent for the AM/FM//MP3/AUX HD radio, SiriusXM, Pandora, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Mazda Connect connectivity system includes navigation and Bluetooth.
Mazda’s audio system interface has been updated and is a bit easier to use, and we especially like the 50 channel presets. But we found the operation to be cumbersome compared to many of the audio systems we test. It still requires multiple steps to control a single function, and the need to use the center console-mounted selector knob resulted in diverting the driver’s eyes from the road. In time, as an owner who is using it daily, it may become an easy operation that can be done all by touch. With the excellence of the Mazda team, its engineers could easily design a more user-friendly interface.
The 2020 Mazda3 comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including front, side and knee airbags, rearview camera, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking sensors, an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.
The 2020 Mazda3 has been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and received 5 Stars, its highest safety rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Mazda3 its Top Safety Pick.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2020 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback base prices, including the delivery, processing and handling fee of $920, range from $22,420 to $29,820. Clean Fleet Report’s Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Premium, with the $920 delivery fee and $1,650 in options, had a final MSRP of $31,470.
The 2020 Mazda3 comes with these warranties:
• Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
• New Vehicle – Three years/36,000 miles
• Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles
Observations: 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Premium
The 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Premium is not aiming to be a hot hatch, but maybe more a sporty hatch, which it accomplishes nicely. Competing with the Toyota Corolla hatchback, Honda Civic Sport and the Hyundai Veloster 2.0, the Mazda3 holds its own for build quality, handling, fuel economy and design uniqueness.
The front cabin is spacious with the rear seat capable of carrying two adults (under 6-foot) comfortably. The storage capacity with the rear seats up is 20.1 cubic feet; with the rear seats folded, it expands to a surprising 47.1 cubic feet. When behind the wheel, you will appreciate the i-Active AWD system and the G-Vectoring Control that make the Mazda3 AWD a pleasure to drive.
This is a very fine vehicle. If you are looking for a sporty small car, with attention-getting design, then the 2020 Mazda 3 hatchback should be on your shopping list.
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Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!
Story & photos by John Faulkner. Additional photos from the manufacturer.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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