By on August 26, 2020

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.

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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41 Comments on “2020 Mazda 3 Review: Stick It To Me...”

  • avatar

    Every time I see one of these or read about them I get so angry that FCA didn’t pursue their Fiata partnership farther.

    For a time there were verified rumors that FCA was considering a re-badge of another OEM’s compact car to replace the Dart. I have a high level of suspicion that it was the Mazda 3. And because this theory ticks all my personal boxes I choose to believe it, because that’s what people do in 2020.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Nice offering!

    My only problem however is that I currently drive a 2015 Mazda6 with this exact same engine and manual transmission. I paid $24.5K for the middle trim level (Touring).

    While the interior and stereo on this new 3 are much nicer, the car itself is smaller, and that back seat looks like a cave, albeit nicely trimmed.

    5 years and 120k miles have shown my 6 to be a reliable car which meets my needs very nicely, and the 3 isn’t nice enough to make me want to sign up for $30k of debt.

  • avatar

    I guess there is a niche for this, but I’d have a hard time going with it over the VWs on the “fun” end or the Corolla on the “drive it into the ground” end.

    • 0 avatar

      For me that is what always put Mazda in the sweet spot. I wanted VWs for years, friends all had them, friends all had issues, friends all dumped them. I bought Mazdas because they were slightly more fun than a typical car in its class, but less costly than a VW, and something that not everyone else on the block already has.

      • 0 avatar

        The normal Golf hatch is no longer an option, as when the new one arrives it’s GTI only.

        • 0 avatar

          That’s true, but $28K is GTI money (at least for the current gen). I actually made my comment with the GLI/GTI in mind.

          • 0 avatar

            Fair point. I will say the 3 has a nicer interior, but is not as fun to drive as even my tiny engine Golf. It’s less responsive.

            Having said that, I think VW has both cheapened and sorta screwed over the new Golf. They went with screens for everything, even climate buttons and headlight switches.

          • 0 avatar

            I agree I don’t like the new GTI at all. The interior is superscreen hell and the exterior looks like a French car (in a bad way).

            I’d probably just do the GLI and live with the lower rent interior, but I know some people gotta have the hatch.

  • avatar

    Not much to say that hasn’t already been said about this car. My 1st Gen Mazda3 hatchback (stick!) was probably the best I’ve owned so far. But alas that was 2 recessions, a masters degree, 1 homesale, 3 moves and 3 or 4 jobs, and 2 cars ago and I’m an older & different person now. A CX-30 is on my radar towards the end of 2021 unless things go further sour, in which case I cheap out on Corolla hatchback, Kona, or just stick with what I have if it’s still soldiering on without too many headaches.

  • avatar

    The current 3 hatch is my favorite styled car in quite some time. Looks like it was designed by actual humans, not all creases and angles or swoops that impress as a computer rendering but fall apart in the flesh. It’s elegant with a hint of menace, and not self-consciously butch. Ugh I want one in the dark blue Mazda offers.

  • avatar

    I like Mazdas – I do.
    That candy apple red is UNREAL.
    Love Miatas but I dont fit.

    But on this car:
    1- No radio knobs? – none?
    2- That C pillar is record bad in size. And the belt line kinks up 8-10 inches before. Look at that picture of the back seat- where the headrest is at the same height as the beltline. I ve had fishbowl visibility in my cars for the last 15 years, I could never have a car with bad outward visibility
    Mega – hard – pass.

  • avatar

    Look at the backlight.

    it is ‘blacked out’ 5″ away from the edge of the glass further killing visibility.

    It must have the visibility of a cave.

    • 0 avatar

      It is quite awful. I sat in one once, couldn’t bring myself to test drive with no visibility over my left shoulder and very little over my right. No amount of expensive, fragile, unreliable, gimmicky technology can make up for good engineering.

  • avatar

    There are very few reasons not to buy a Mazda these days…but I do think the price/performance of VW is a major deterrent.

  • avatar

    Does the manual version eschew cylinder deactivation as Honda had done with the V6 6MT from 12 years ago?

    I recently picked up a Mazda3 Premium AWD and discovered by happenstance that it has cylinder deactivation. It’s kinda funny that there’s the screen showing when 2 cylinders are dead, even though there is quite literally nothing you can do with the information. The switch is quite unnoticed and compared to the CX-5 with the same engine it feels quite quick to me. Also, the flappy paddles ameliorate the issue that I had with the auto, that it hangs onto gears a bit too long on the freeway. Yes, I know the rocker by the shifter does the same thing, but I don’t have to change the mode to use flappy paddles.

  • avatar

    “The 3 is simply comfortable and competent.”

    Basically, strawberry daiquiri, when you want a bloody mary.

    And no word about rear seat and leg room. My 2011 Mazda3 vs this one is roomy and comfy in the back. Sitting in this one will cause unpleasant back sensations.

    • 0 avatar

      “Basically, strawberry daiquiri, when you want a bloody mary.”

      I agree, a “premium” compact from a mainstream brand might have been a winning idea 10-15 years ago but these days nearly anyone that wants “comfortable and competent” vehicle also wants a CUV. Car buyers today either want red mist or minimal TCO. It also doesn’t help that on a lease or 72 month loan it isn’t much of a stretch to get into one of the FWD offerings from the German luxury brands.

      However, in Mazda’s defense they seem to understand this and are focusing more on the “CX” offerings.

  • avatar

    What about rev hang? Its a critical thing to add in the review of a modern MT car—can COMPLETELY kill the joy of driving a stick.

  • avatar

    Uh, hello, Subaru Impreza? For under US$20k you get a peppy little rev-happy boxer powerplant running through an easy shifting 5MT into one if the best AWD systems in a compact vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      That tells me you haven’t sat in the Mazda. Their interiors are not comparable, because the Impreza is pretty low-rent.

      Uhh hello.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m really not sure that the $8k higher MSRP of the Mazda for their cost of probably $250 – $300 in higher level interior trim compensates for the difference between vehicles.

    • 0 avatar


      pretty uninformed view on Subaru vs Mazda

      “For under US$20k” – you get what you pay for. A good negotiation and right timing scored me 2017 MAzda6 for $18.5K exactly 3 years ago

      ” you get a peppy little rev-happy boxer powerplant” – actually very weak one and not a long-term reliable at all

      ” running through an easy shifting 5MT” – every review of this car complaints about this

      Car and Driver – LOWS: Languid acceleration, unexceptional fuel efficiency, manual transmission is imprecise.

      ” into one if the best AWD systems in a compact vehicle.” – this is no longer all that straight. Subaru uses several AWD systems. I don’t remember, which one used wth MT trans. But for CVTs the news are not good. Subaru AWD is not better than Mazda’s. It is same FWD-based cheap stuff. Only STi has the real stuff in the Subaru now.

      Then there are seats. Oh, well. Once I measure the length of the seat in MAzda6 vs huge Outback. Mazda has a seat, which is 1.5 in longer.

    • 0 avatar

      Subaru Impreza?

      No thanks.

      • 0 avatar

        I suppose you could get an equally low rent interior to the Impreza, but more power in the WRX. I mention it because it competes on price, if not power. Of course the 2.5T is coming when an $1800 premium, if I recall.

        There’s a car where the power doesn’t justify the expense to suffer the interior. I can’t use all of that car’s abilities in my daily life, but I’d have to look at interior.

    • 0 avatar

      Y’all got really interesting views about what a $20k AWD compact car should deliver (my ‘19 Impreza prances thru snow like nobody’s business, so ‍♂️). I had an ‘03 Protege5 and *that* was a slow car (but looked good while sitting still…) Call me when Mazda can offer up anything close to as good value and stops making the 3 look like a bloated crossover.

      • 0 avatar

        In other words, your intense bias for a car you already own precluded any rational and balanced discussion on any vehicle which was not a Subaru Impreza.

        Great contribution.

      • 0 avatar

        Some of us need AWD like we need a couple of ex-wives. I winter in SW FL – if it ever snows there, we have a SERIOUS climate change problem.

        But even in Maine – I never felt any need for anything more than a set of snow tires. AWD is just a waste of money, IMHO.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    For me, a nice-looking interior does not justify $28k for a stick shift in a tiny car.

    Cars like this are why Mazda continues to struggle in the US market.

    • 0 avatar

      What are real world prices on these things? Does Mazda deal, or do they “know what they have”?

      $28K is basically GTI money, and I would expect a substantial discount on another GTI. I got $7K off my current ’17. This has more tinsel than my GTI, but I don’t actually want any of that crap in my cars…

  • avatar

    This car may have a “delicious candy center (Interior) ” but I can’t get past the outer wrapper(the looks, UGH!) !

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

  • avatar

    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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