Base price for a 2020 Mazda3 sedan is $18,000. The 2020 Sport starts at $21,300.
The tested 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD is a bargain Audi.
Refinement, design, and quality for comparatively little money.
Mazda, and you might have noticed, stepped outside of the conventional Japanese automotive appliance almost twenty years ago. The first Mazda3, introduced for the 2004 model year set the tone that brings and links us to the current 2020 Mazda3; a superior compact car.
Sixteen years ago, I recall driving the new Mazda3 and its competition from the day, and most compact cars were depressing and all failed miserably at matching the 3 in design, performance, and perceived quality.
Superior design and build
At the time, the Mazda3 thrived in some markets, in Quebec and Canada for example, and nothing could touch it. Except rust, that is, but that beside the point. Since that faithful year, the Mazda3 has continued to evolve and it is now still now a superior car. Unfortunately for it, the competition has improved dramatically. And those who could not compete are long dead and forgotten.
Visually, the 2020 Mazda3 is stunning. Draped in Soul Red, the car’s lines pop, the sun’s reflection dances on all its incredibly smooth surfaces – it’s beautiful. While I once thought the sedan to be more attractive, the 5-door Sport has won me over. So clean and unobstructed is the Mazda3’s body that it makes all other cars in the segment look kitschy and visually burdened. Case in point: The 2020 Kia Forte5 GT.
Designed for a pair, or loners
Slide aboard the Mazda3 and the sense of elegance and purity of form continues. Premium shapes, materials, and surfaces are everywhere – no corners were cut in the designing and assembling of this car. Upfront, the occupants are ensconced in a cockpit that is high-end, comforting, and sporty. The standard 8.8-inch screen, non-touch-sensitive, is controlled via the HMI Commander switch. Figuring out menu navigation is a quick learn, especially if you’ve never used a touchscreen interface. If you have, this might be frustrating.
The list of features in the car is just right and includes the screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, keyless entry with push-button start, and much more. The 2021 trim and package structure has been revised and is now better equipped, however, the price has increased accordingly.
The situation goes from delightful to dismal when considering the 3 Sport’s rear quarters. The rear bench is adequate for two however legroom is at a premium. What’s more, the rising beltline, the extremely large windowless “C” pillar, and the shape of the roof all give the impression that the car is closing in on you – this can be claustrophobia-inducing for some. As well, the trunk’s opening is small and the lift-over is extremely high. None of this is helped by the boot’s rated 569 litres (20.1 cu ft) of available volume.
The tested Mazda3 Sport GT AWD is the top model in the 3’s lineup. At $31,500 ($31,950 with Soul Red) Canadian (Soul Red Premium AWD for $31,445 US), the car is delivered with navigation, Bose audio, satellite radio, leather seats, heated steering wheel, a head-up display, and more. Essentially, with the possible exception of cooled front seats, it’s all there. And for the price, it’s a relative bargain.
That’s because the Sport GT AWD also includes the 2.5-litre engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, and Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system. With 186-horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque at its disposal, the Mazda3 is zippy, when only the front wheels are working. The AWD driveline adds about 145 lbs. to the 3’s curb weight and its presence is felt. The car does not accelerate quite as hard but the upside is that you’ll never be at a loss for traction.
Mazda’s i-Activ is impressively responsive and efficient. The system feels psychic as it preemptively sends power to the right wheels no matter what the driver’s about to do. Leaning on the throttle as you enter your favorite local on-ramp will see you coming out the other end with a grin on your face. This is also made possible by the standard G-Vectoring Control Plus which will seamlessly slow an individual wheel down to help you maintain the desired line. Another upside to the AWD is that fuel economy is no better than fair at an average of 8.5L/100km or 27 mpg.
On top of this. Mazda engineers have tuned the 3’s electric steering to load up without delay and never display a dead-zone. As well, the brakes are strong with pitch-perfect pedal feel. And finally, the Mazda3’s chassis is designed to work with all the car’s driving aids to deliver both a comfortable and sporty ride. In contrast to the Kia Forte5, the Mazda3 is luxuriously refined.
The bargain luxury car
And this is it: The new 2020 Mazda3, especially when decked out like my tester, is a bargain Audi A3. Somehow, instead of being an advantage, it seems to be playing against the Mazda3 as sales continue to drop. In fact, deliveries have dropped by nearly 50% between 2013 and 2019.
In the Mazda3’s heyday, it crushed the competition, namely the 7th generation Honda Civic (possibly the worst ever Civic), the Toyota Corolla, the Nissan Sentra, the Chevrolet Cavalier, and nearly all others. At the time, only the aging Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus delivered a similar driving experience and build quality. It still outclasses them all.
Mazda’s own SUVs are in part to blame for the 3’s decline as is the continued presence of strong Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra sales (2019). Of the three mentioned here and the Mazda3, it’s a toss-up between the Corolla and Mazda3 for our favorite small car. Despite being the best-ever, most well-rounded small car ever from Mazda, the current Mazda3 is unlikely to recover and beat the top 3 sellers in the future.
Speaking of the future, the upcoming GT Turbo AWD versions will be bargain Audi S3 fighters. We very musk look forward to sampling it.