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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.