2020 Mazda 3 Review: Stick It To Me

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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