The 2020 Mazda 3 Makes You Wonder Why You’d Ever Buy a Civic

This Mazda is a dynamite small car.

Since the all-new generation arrived for 2019, the Mazda 3’s styling (especially in hatchback form) could best be described as tasteful. The exterior is, to this reviewer’s eye, a beautiful mixture of flowing lines and sharp, decisive cuts. A thread of minimalism runs through the car, inside and out, from the lack of ornamentation to the pared-back interior. It’s a car that, like Volvo or Saab (R.I.P.), seems to announce to the world, “I could have bought something else, but I didn’t — for very specific reasons.”

Put far more bluntly, the all-wheel-drive 2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback is deeply desirable. It presents a decisive alternative to the well-established mainstream universe of Civics and Corollas.

The core details of the car go a bit like this: It’s available in either a hatch or sedan body style, with all-wheel drive optional and front-wheel-drive standard, and a variety of trim levels up for grabs. Prices start out with the base model at $22,420 and climb to the fully-specced Premium Package model we tested…at an eye-watering $31,470.

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The interior is well-equipped, and the technology suite is surprisingly good on the base level; adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist all come standard, while Apple CarPlay comes in the higher trim levels. All of this is to say, the 2020 Mazda 3 looks premium, feels premium and has premium features. It’s also priced at…a premium. So is all this thoughtful design and useful tech worth it?

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Spritely, not sporty

Mazda and driving dynamics tend to go together like peanut butter and jelly, and the 3 is no exception. You won’t mistake it for a hot hatch, but the car does a lot with a little. The 186-horsepower 2.5 liter inline-four will take the hatch from 0 to 60 mph in around seven seconds. That isn’t quick — nominally or relatively; the similarly-priced Civic Touring will do it in 6.8 — but out-and-out power has never really been Mazda’s thing.

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As you’d expect, though, the 3 handles great. The heavy-ish steering and slightly-hard ride combine with responsive inputs and classically-Mazda snappiness to make a car that’s probably more fun than it has any right to be.

A place for everything, and everything in its place

So that’s one modern Mazda hallmark ticked. How about design? I’ve already raved to some degree, but let me reiterate: it’s very, very good.

The exterior is striking (maybe less so with our tester’s flat gray paint), but the interior is even more of a standout. The controls are minimalist; you get the sense that designers asked what they could take away, instead of what they could add. The result is that it’s a very pleasant place to sit. It reminded me of a car from 1995, just with better quality — and a big screen in the middle of the dash.

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High cost, but justifiably

So, does this Mazda justify the lofty asking price? For the top-tier Premium Package version…maybe not. It’s a lot of money for not a ton of additional benefit when compared with other trims. But if you can get the AWD version in the Preferred or Select trims, you get a pretty impressive amount of car for between $24,000–$27,000.

The best of Mazda shows through with the 3: it’s fun to drive, it looks striking, and everything about it feels considered and thoughtful. On spec sheets, the Mazda may appear to be a step behind its competitors, but behind the wheel, opinions can change dramatically.

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