2020 Mazda 3 Review: Stick It To Me

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2020 Mazda3 Hatchback

2.5-liter DOHC inline-four (186 hp @ 6000 rpm, 186 lb/ft @ 4000 rpm)
Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
25 city / 35 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
32.9 (observed mileage, MPG)
9.2 city / 6.6 highway / 8.8 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $28,420 US / $30,381 CAN
As Tested: $28,420 US / $30,581 CAN
Prices include $920 destination charge in the United States and $1881 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2020 mazda 3 review stick it to me

The bad news comes at you daily, it seems. No, I’m not talking about the pandemic, the state of our economy, politics, or the dumpster fire that passes for public discourse these days. I’m talking about bad news that hits even closer to our hearts – the slow demise of the traditional manual transmission.

Pundits may wring hands. Activists may cling to Save The Manuals hashtags. But we know that automakers, while occasionally misguided by trends, are not collectively idiots. They only build what can sell – and very few cars with three pedals will sell anymore.

Mazda may be our last hope. The company that singlehandedly revived the affordable roadster market offers a stick in this, the 2020 Mazda 3 hatchback. Might it finally revive the enthusiast we hope lies deep within every compact car buyer?

The manual transmission was once the province of the loss-leader – the car advertised with the impossibly low payment in the Sunday newspaper, of which there might have been one buried somewhere deep on the lot. No more. While Mazda does offer a base Mazda 3 sedan starting at a reasonable $21,500 plus destination charges, the three-box (well, really, three-blob) compact cannot be had with a manual. Only this hatchback, and only with the Premium Package shown here, can be fitted with three pedals. At $28,420 delivered, it’s by no means a budget option.

Admittedly, if you’re looking at even that base car, it’s well equipped with standard adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings and assists, and blind-spot monitoring. Further, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, though the higher trims add the stellar Bose 12-speaker audio system found here on my tester.

Styling is emblematic of the upscale image Mazda is trying to project. The Mazda 3 hatchback is a handsome car from most angles – though some will object to that big C-pillar. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it’s growing on me. While I expected it to cause rear visibility issues, proper mirror adjustment and the blind-spot monitoring kept me from any tears.

Much like the sedan I drove a year ago, the Mazda 3 hatch is lovely to drive. It’s not fast. The handling isn’t aggressive. The 3 is simply comfortable and competent. The fast part will change soon: Mazda’s 2.5-liter, 250 horsepower turbo engine is coming next year, but only with the six-speed automatic.

But I’m okay with the 186 horses here. While the car doesn’t roar out of corners in a haze of de-vulcanized rubber, neither does it feel slow. I feel relaxed on the highway – and when, on a twisty two-lane, a passing zone appears, the lumbering, overstuffed crossover ahead can be dispatched by dropping a single cog. No waiting for a recalcitrant automatic to kick down – you do the kicking here. The shift action is buttery, with great feel from the clutch as well. Brakes, when you’ve passed that lazy crossover and spot the state trooper, are firm and responsive.

The steering is quite light, however, with little feedback from the front tires. After a few minutes behind the wheel, you know the rear tires will follow the fronts dutifully – there is no hint of rear roll stiffness that might make the handling any more playful. I’d love to see what lowering springs and a big rear anti-roll bar might do to awaken the soul within this car, but Mazda’s playing in the premium compact game now. All of the toys need to be swathed in leather.

And, my what leather – it’s red! I was actually expecting a more creatively-named interior color (unlike the exterior, which is a lovely Polymetal Gray Metallic) but these crimson hides are marvelous, with matching accents on door panels and atop the dash. It’s a great space to while away the miles, both front and rear. The rear seats are plenty comfortable, too, though at well over six feet I’m not getting back there behind anyone of similar height. The tweens were pleased.

Rear hatch room was plenty for a grocery run, with folding rear seats giving extra space should we stumble upon a need to raid a warehouse club. The extreme angle of that massive C-pillar does affect the ability to manage both tall and wide cargo, but careful planning and luggage Tetris can mitigate any problems.

It’s engaging to drive, but I can’t call the 2020 Mazda 3 hatch anything resembling sporty. It’s simply a nice car that can change up your commute just a bit. If you want both a left-leg workout and a genuine grin-inducing drive experience, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Maybe just across the lot at that lovely roadster…

[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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3 of 41 comments
  • Chris8017 Chris8017 on Aug 31, 2020

    I bought new and still own my 2011 Mazda6 with a manual transmission. The odometer is standing at 145k miles. Outside of regular maintenance it has only required a cleaning of the mass airflow sensor to clear a CEL, and a new bank 1 O2 sensor. Oh wait, it also had the front sub-frame recalled and replaced under warranty by the dealer. It was cracking and the dealer said it was unsafe to drive. That one was free. Oh, I almost forgot, the rear sub-frame has the same poor corrosion protection. One year after the front sub-frame was replaced, I noticed the rear sub-frame had significant corrosion issues. I blasted the rust off with a power drill and found holes in the sub-frame. The passenger side shock tower mount was half rotted away to the point where the springs were ready to break free. This one was not under recall because, well, at least you wouldn't lose steering and leave the roadway like you would if the front sub-frame gave way... A 9 year old car in North Carolina shouldn't rust out its front and rear sub-frames. I filed complaints with NHTSA and Mazda corporate and had the dealer send Mazda pictures. Mazda refused to help me. The dealer suggested I buy a new car, since the repair for the rear sub-frame was just over $4,000. I pulled a rear sub-frame from a junkyard Mazda6 for $125 and had a local shop install it for just over $500. I then slathered POR15 over everything to help save the new (junkyard) sub-frame. Mazda could have done the right thing and helped me cover the replacement of the sub-frame but instead they told me to go pound sand. They didn't stand behind their product and were fine with a 9yr old car going to the scrap yard. Never again will I buy another Mazda product.

  • RedRocket RedRocket on Sep 03, 2020

    The interior may be nice but it also appears to be harder to see out of than a current-day Camaro, which is saying something. Combine that with styling that makes it look like a hard-shelled insect waiting to be stepped on and it is no wonder these things are not selling except to the True Believers that are devoted to Mazda.

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