What a difference a year makes. We’ll admit that some of us struggled to immediately embrace the fourth-generation Mazda 3, which marked the automaker’s pivot from its sporty image to a viable alternative to established luxury brands. But after 14 months and 19,283 miles with our 2020 Mazda 3 hatchback, we close its logbook filled with more praise than criticism.
Our Mazda 3 hatchback and its striking Polymetal Gray Metallic paint brought a lot of style to the MT garage, which is key for an automaker that wants to be considered among luxury shoppers. A few staffers didn’t fully embrace the 3’s thick, unique-looking C-pillar, but overall the hatch’s sheetmetal is curvaceous, cohesive, and handsome enough to peel eyeballs away from established luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3.
The Mazda served up its style with no sacrifice to practicality, as well, providing us 47.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. That edges out the Honda Civic hatchback (46.2 cubic feet) and allows plenty of room to haul everything from a mountain bike to a coffee table and a set of wheels. That said, our staffers had lots of comments about the cramped rear seats. The thick C-pillar likely contributed to the confined feeling, but the 35.1 inches of rear legroom was also a culprit; that’s less than competitors like the Civic hatchback (36.0 inches).
Our fully loaded Mazda 3 was equipped with the Premium package and boasted an impressive list of creature comforts and tech. Memory seats and a head-up display, for example, are rare features in the segment, and the latter is quite good, rivaling ones found in Lexus and Acura. The excellent Bose sound system was another standout feature among staffers, as was the sharp infotainment display, controlled by an intuitive array of buttons and a rotary dial on the center console.
In addition to the aforementioned tech, the 3’s thoughtful and well-crafted interior impressed us throughout its stay. The black and red color scheme was sharp, and the metallic brightwork, including the knurled HVAC knobs and brushed aluminum speaker covers, wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi or Volvo. Interior door panels, the comfy leather seats, and other major touchpoints showed little to no wear once we handed back the keys. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the piano black plastic trim surrounding the center console, which was frustratingly prone to scuffs and scratches from day one. Aside from that and the slightly loose center storage lid, interior build quality was overall solid.
The Mazda 3 was also a staff favorite for road trips. Good ride quality and minimal road noise at highway speeds were appreciated, while adaptive cruise control and the lane keeping system worked as advertised. That said, we noted a few glitches from the driver assist systems. In one instance, the forward collision system activated and pumped the brakes during an early-morning commute on an empty and foggy road. And in some cases, adaptive cruise detected objects well outside of the car’s path and abruptly reduced speed as a result. Hopefully Mazda can resolve these issues with a quick and easy software update.
And although the Mazda 3 excels as a comfy commuter, it’s more than capable and quite fun on curvy canyon roads. We opted for the six-speed manual transmission, which received mixed reviews from the staff. Some felt the clutch pedal was a tad too light and the shifter lacked the satisfying precision of ones found in the Civic or even Mazda’s own Miata. Yes, we realize that very few customers will opt for the manual, but those who do will be rewarded with a more engaging experience compared to the slightly lazy six-speed automatic. And thanks to the manual’s more aggressive gearing, the otherwise adequate 186-hp 2.5-liter engine felt much peppier accelerating our 3,027-pound hatchback from a stop. Our observed 28.8 mpg is pretty much spot on with the EPA’s combined rating of 29 mpg.
Aside from one flat tire and minor body damage sustained during a trip to the snow, our Mazda 3 made it through the year with no other notable incidents. It required two routine service visits for an oil change, inspection, and tire rotation. Those two visits totaled $288.06, which is higher than comparable long-term vehicles we’ve had in the past. Our long-term 2014 Mazda3 S GT hatch, for example, set us back $162.55 for two visits, while our 2016 Honda Civic Touring sedan rang in at $483.20 for four service visits. That said, Mazda’s effort to upgrade its dealership experience appears to be working, as the one we visited looked upscale.
Despite the relatively high service costs, Our Mazda 3’s as-tested price of $28,420 gets high marks for value considering the amount of style and tech you get for the money. It’s proven to be a strong alternative to established entry-level luxury cars, and the recent addition of a turbocharged engine to the lineup makes the Mazda even more enticing.
Read More About Our Long-Term 2020 Mazda 3:
- Update 1: Sights and Sounds
- Update 2: Takes From Tahoe
- Update 3: Snow Encounter
- Update 4: Project Car Parts Hauler
- Update 5: Infotainment Review: Something Different, Something Premium
- Update 6: How Well Does the Mazda 3 Hatchback Road Trip?
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