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2020 Mazda3 – the best small sedan you can buy

The fourth generation of the Mazda3 went on sale as a 2019 model. It looked a little like a smaller Mazda6, which is a good thing as the 6 is a handsome vehicle. Unlike the 6, the 3 came in two variants: a sleek sedan and a sporty hatchback. Unfortunately for Mazda, the compact car segment is full of rather great cars. In order to even be competitive, the 3 would need to be a really good vehicle.

The question is – can a small company like Mazda make a world market vehicle that would be good enough to surpass Toyota’s and Honda’s pillars of industry? Could Mazda take on the ever-improving models from Hyundai and Kia?

I just spent a week with a nicely loaded, but still very affordable, 2020 Mazda3 AWD Premium. I concluded that there is a very simple and uniform answer to the above questions. Yes. Yes, Mazda can. Yes, Mazda just did. Those looking for the best compact sedan on the market should look no further.


The 3 is instantly recognizable as a Mazda, with a clear design language of other models. It resembles the bigger 6 but is different in just enough ways not to be confused for a 6. This is something that many automakers are struggling with. For example, the only way to tell the E-class Benz apart from the C-class is to look at the badge.

The design is handsome from every angle. It looks premium despite being affordable. It is sleek yet subtle. It is devoid of fake vents and angry bulges. In all, the Mazda3, and many other Mazda models, pull off the looks that so many other automakers strive to but just can’t. The brand seems to be a similar styling trajectory as Volvo, and that is a good thing.

2020 mazda3 dash


The clean and modern exterior theme carries on inside. The two-tone leather interior was quiet and of rather high quality. Simple HVAC controls are neatly integrated into the dash, with some of the buttons part of the trim. The seats are very comfortable, heated, and wrapped in soft leather. The rear seats are equally comfortable, with an armrest and folding backs, if a little short on legroom. This does not at all feel like an econobox – there is a very premium feel to everything here.

The infotainment system is controlled by an iDrive-like knob and surrounding buttons located to the right of the shifter. Secondary controls are on the steering wheel but the screen is not of a touch variety. If there is a bit of letdown inside, it is this control and user interface. It is simple but not always intuitive. Those who will own this vehicle for years will undoubtedly get used to it but there is room for improvement here.

skyactive g 2020 mazda3


Mazda dropped its naturally aspirated SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter four-banger with cylinder deactivation into the 3. It makes 186 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 186 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and can be configured as front- or all-wheel-drive. This powertrain is rather smooth and quiet. Power delivery is linear and the little Mazda never felt slow or low on power. A manual transmission is only available only on Mazda3 Premium hatchback equipped with front-wheel drive.

Unless I am mistaken, 186-horsepower is more than any non-sporty or limited edition compact car, and it is certainly the most entry-level model horsepower. It just surpasses the Corolla’s optional 169-horsepower and its entry-level 139-horsepower engine. This is one of the reasons for the Mazda3’s overall upscale feel – a smooth, quiet, responsive, and peppy engine.


On paper, the 3’s setup seems ordinary. MacPherson struts in the front and torsion beam axle in the back. Disc brakes all around, ABS and traction control, electric power steering – it is all very typical stuff. Then Mazda sprinkled some magic on this chassis via SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS with G-Vectoring Control – whatever that is. The result is a very nicely handling car.

Best way to describe it is that the chassis is faster than the car. The steering is direct but not tight. There is an overtly sporty feel to the chassis but it’s good over potholes, too. Its limits are high and oversteer shows only when the driver, purposely or not, evokes it. It’s an extremely well balanced chassis that seems to be asking for more power. Rumor is that models with more power are coming.

Mazda3 FWD 6AT $23,700 $21,500
Mazda3 Select FWD 6AT $22,700
Mazda3 Preferred FWD 6AT $25,200 $24,200
Mazda3 Premium FWD 6MT $27,500
Mazda3 Premium FWD 6AT $27,500 $26,500
Mazda3 AWD 6AT $25,100
Mazda3 Select AWD 6AT $24,100
Mazda3 Preferred AWD 6AT $26,600 $25,600
Mazda3 Premium AWD 6AT $28,900 $27,900


The 2020 Mazda3 sedan starts at $21,500. There are four models, with the chart-topping Premium Package with all-wheel-drive, as shown here, being the top dog. There are no other option packages. With some dealer-installed accessories, the car pictured here was $29,045.

Worth noting: Mazda3 received NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings in frontal crash, side crash, rollover, and in overall vehicle score. The front-drive Mazda3 gets 26 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway. The AWD models gets 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway. All Mazdas come with 3-year/36,000-mile warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.


The new Mazda3 should be considered the top choice in its class. It not only takes on its Japanese and Korean completion, it surpasses them on just about every measure. It is not some kind of a remarkable vehicle but it’s a vehicle that is remarkably well built and designed. This praise is not only limited to the Mazda3 but also all other Mazdas, which seem more premium and certainly more fun to drive than their competitors.

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10 responses to “2020 Mazda3 – the best small sedan you can buy”

  1. MattC Avatar

    I’m in the beginning stage of looking for my next commuter car. The Mazda 3 is definitely on my list. I’m been keeping my eye on the new Corolla, Sentra, Elantra and the 3. I really like what Toyota has done with the Corolla and would like the XSE version with manual. The new Sentra had IMO the best interior and the exterior looks like a 3/4 scale Altima but the long term stigma of the Jatco CVT reliability issues of the past haunt my purchasing decision. The Elantra (current and soon to be new model )is definitely in the running. Kia/Hyundai has the easiest infortainment interface, decent and well laid out interior, and overall optioned quite well. The Mazda has a very rich looking interior and the exterior is supremely done. The only dings I see with the Mazda is lower EPA estimates than its rivals (tradeoff to a sportier car perhaps), manual option only in the uplevel hatch, and maybe a not so intuitive infotainment (only based on judgemnt from reviewers. I haven’t tested it myself)

  2. Wayne Moyer Avatar
    Wayne Moyer

    The manual moving upscale may be the only way to save it. Finally showing it as an enthusiast option instead of a base barebones option is an odd move for a company in a sedan like this. Maybe a couple people will buy it and they can keep doing it. The only only other company to try it was GM with the way more expensive CTS’s where it was there more for the journalists to get better 0-60’s and better reviews.

    1. salguod Avatar

      The only only other company to try it was GM with the way more expensive CTS’s

      Not true. The sporty models of several Hondas were and still are manual only. The Civic Si and Type R only come with 3 pedals. The RSX Type S was manual only as was the Integra Type R.

      I think Honda deserves a lot of credit for not only keeping the manual alive but making it the only choice in many of their performance models.

  3. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Mazda deserves to sell more cars in the US. Their commitment to driving experience is rare in an era when even BMW has largely stopped caring.

  4. Zentropy Avatar

    Hugely impressive car. My neighbor’s daughter just bought one in red and it looks stunning.

    If Mazda offered the AWD sedan with a manual transmission, they might just tempt me into the showroom. I’d take that over an Impreza, easy. Hell, I’d take that over a WRX. In a car like this, I’d want to row my own gears. Unfortunately, not only does Mazda penalize the manual choice with FWD, it also mandates the hatchback body style. I’ve bitched enough about FWD on this site, so I won’t beat a dead horse yet again. But while I’m normally a big fan of hatchbacks, the huge C pillars on the Mazda 3 give it drastically reduced rearward sightlines and the perception of an enormously large ass. As gorgeous as this car is as a sedan, it’s just awkward as a hatchback.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      The hatch is also notably small in the trunk and rear seat, and I’m not sure the sedan would be much better for the latter.

      Theory goes if you are not buying an SUV you are not interested in practicality, right?

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        Ha! If I wanted real practicality, I’d get a pickup or a station wagon, but hatchbacks are usually a step up on a sedan. This particular HB design begs the question of “what’s the point?”.

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          This particular HB design begs the question of “what’s the point?”.

          Style, going for the “that’s cool, gotta have it” sales.

          Luggage space is roughly 3/4 of comparable Honda/VW/Hyundai opposition.

  5. Maymar Avatar

    I don’t know if I’d count it as a sporty option, which should make it qualify, but the Forte (maybe just the Forte5) is available with the 201hp 1.6T. That said, the mandatory DCT which apparently still has a few teething issues rules it out for me.

    I’d like to spend more time poking around the 3, but I found the one in the dealer showroom rather cramped feeling, with the rakish windshield. It’s handsome (I even like the hatch) and undoubtedly drives nice, but if I can’t get comfortable, isn’t worth considering.

    1. MattC Avatar

      I forgot about that. I saw some YT reviews on that and it seems like a really nice sedan.