CHATHAM, Mass. – After driving several large pickup trucks and SUVs I thought a week in the luxurious subcompact, all-wheel-drive (AWD) 2020 Mazda 3 would be like piloting a stealth vehicle.
I was wrong – the redesigned four-door’s lines flowing from the signature Mazda grill set this car apart from the mundane sedans mixing with Cape Cod’s light-truck traffic and would get looks from the few folks on the road.
The automotive world also noticed the car’s distinctive appearance with the announcement this week that the 2020 Mazda 3 had won the 2020 World Car of the Year Design Award, besting the Porsche Taycan and Peugeot 208!
In making the announcement, the 86 jurors from around the world said, “The World Car Design of the Year category, and the corresponding award, are meant to highlight new vehicles with innovation and style that push established boundaries.”
We sampled a machine gray metallic example with the premium package – essentially a fully loaded car. Dynamically, the Mazda 3 fulfilled the long-standing Mazda theme – “Zoom, zoom” – with sharp, precise handling, quick throttle response (especially when in “sport” driving mode) and sure-footed braking. In essence – the AWD Mazda 3 inspired confidence which turned into spirited driving.
On the downside, the chassis tuning which provided the solid handling attributes may have contributed to the slightly busy and noisy ride. The sedan was a bit stiff, especially over road irregularities (at virtually any speed), but the fun aspects more than made up for these shortcomings.
By the numbers, a 2.5-liter double-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine delivered a sporty (if, again a bit noisy) 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission (which can be manually controlled by a pair of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters). Standard dynamic-stability and traction-control systems further aid in keeping things on course.
The combination, in conjunction with unobtrusive start-stop and aerodynamic body, helps this version of the Mazda 3 achieve an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 28 miles per gallon in combined city (25 mpg) and highway (33 mpg) driving. We saw mileage closer to 30 during our week of spirited driving – we were not looking for any fuel-economy awards.
Comprehensive ADAS suite
Mazda calls its comprehensive suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and safety features i-Activsense, standard across the entire Mazda 3 range. A series of cameras and sensors provide the virtually instantaneous information enabling features like:
- Blind-spot warning
- Lane departure warning and lane-keep assistance
- road-sign recognition
- automatic high beams
- rain-sensing, automatic windshield wipers
- Inter-vehicle distance recognition
- Front and rear cross-traffic alerts
- Radar cruise control
- Full surround-vehicle camera
- Automatic emergency braking (AEB) in both forward and reverse, thus providing collision damage reduction, pedestrian protection and object-impact avoidance
The owner’s manual devotes some 160 pages to these and similar systems, with very thorough explanations of how they work and what they do. And, unlike many other brand’s manuals, these pages are NOT padded with overt “legalese” disclaimers which can turn off an owner actually reading them.
Of course, four-wheel disc brakes (with an electronic parking brake) backed by a four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS) provides the vehicle’s stopping power. The front vented rotors are 11.61-inches, while the rear solid ones are 10.43 inches. These reside inside 18-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile 215/45 R18 tires.
Luxury and convenience inside
Thanks to its Premium Package, this Mazda 3’s well-appointed interior was filled driver and passenger conveniences and comfort. All five seating positions were leather covered with the driver and front passenger held in place by heated sport seats. The driver’s also had eight-way power adjustment with two-person memory.
The flowing – I know I used this term to describe the exterior, but it is just as apropos here – dashboard cleverly integrates buttons and controls for the dual automatic climate-control system, ADAS and cooling vents.
Unlike so many modern vehicles, Mazda eschewed a touch screen for its infotainment system – entitled i-Connect – going instead with a large multi-function command dial in the center console behind the gear selector. This dial is surrounded by buttons to instantly bring up audio favorites, navigation or home screen on the 8.8-inch color display. In addition, responsive voice recognition can also control the system’s features which include AM/FM/HD radio/SiriusXM as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (all playing through uniquely tuned for the Mazda 3 Bose speaker system).
The curvaceous body means a warm, cozy interior, but, thanks to these features is very comfortable. And if you want to take the Mazda 3 on a trip, the 13.2-cubic-foot trunk can be supplemented by folding down the rear seats.
The Mazda 3 comes in both four-door sedan and four-door hatchback, front-wheel or all-wheel drive, with a variety of trim packages. The range’s pricing (add $920 destination to these MSRPs) begins at $21,500. The fully equipped 2020 Mazda 3 AWD Premium Package was $30,770.
Regardless of the Mazda 3 you build to suit your needs, desires and pocketbook, this is a car for you if you enjoy driving and making a statement while you do it.