2020 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback Review

Christian Wardlaw | Jul 06, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Mazda deals!

Last year, Mazda introduced a redesigned Mazda3 to the world, offering the car in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback body styles and in multiple levels of equipment. Equipped with stylish design, an upscale interior, an engaging driving character, and the latest in driving assistance, collision avoidance, and infotainment technologies, the car drew instant praise.

For our first expert review of the new Mazda3, we looked at the 4-door sedan, taking it on a 4-day family road trip to Yosemite National Park. This time around, we’re examining the 5-door hatchback.

Like all Mazda3 models, the hatchback offers a choice between front-wheel and all-wheel drive. Trim levels with this body style include standard, Preferred, and Premium, and prices start at $23,700 (plus destination charges). Even in base trim, the Mazda3 hatchback includes a powerful 4-cylinder engine, an automatic transmission, and comprehensive infotainment and safety system offerings. 

2020 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback front view in red

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Mazda3 Premium equipped with a manual gearbox, extra-cost paint, door sill trim plates a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, a wireless smartphone charger, a navigation system, a carpeted cargo mat, and a stainless steel rear bumper protector. The price came to $30,665, including the $945 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Mazda deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Mazda3, it is helpful to understand who buys compact cars and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 57% of compact car owners are male, the median age of all compact car owners is 49 years, and the median annual household income of all compact car owners is $71,751. More than a third of compact car owners (39%) self-identify as Price Buyers. The second most frequently cited demographic profile is Practical Buyers (27%).

Compact car owners are primarily concerned with reliability, quality, and maintenance costs. J.D. Power data says 96% agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability, while 91% agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship. The same percentage (91%) agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs.

On the flip side of the spectrum, just 39% of compact car owners agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company. Additionally, 55% agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place, while 56% agree that they’re willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly.

Owners say their favorite things about compact cars are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, visibility and safety, and engine/transmission. Owners indicate their least favorite things about compact cars are (in descending order) the seats, storage and space, fuel economy, infotainment system, and climate control system.

In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Mazda3 did not rank due to its late arrival on the market.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Mazda deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

According to World Car of the Year jurors, the Mazda3 is the 2020 Design of the Year. That’s understandable, because this Mazda is appealing yet unconventional, bringing a daringly fresh approach to the compact car segment.

2020 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback rear view in red

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

As far as the Mazda3 Hatchback is concerned, the proportions can look odd depending on your viewing angle. Like most hatchbacks, the front of the car is long, while the rear end is truncated. Add the dramatic side sculpturing and short tapering side glass, and this Mazda is a feast for the eyes, especially in one of the extra-cost paint colors.

Depending on your tastes and preferences, though, it might be a feast you’d rather not eat.

Interior

There is no arguing against the Mazda3’s artfully rendered interior, which brings a sense of luxury to this affordable compact car. Minimalistic, tastefully detailed, with a clearly upscale vibe and the quality materials to support it, the Mazda3 is a little entry-luxury car without the entry-luxury emblem or price.

2020 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback black leather interior dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

If there is a misstep with this cabin, it pertains to the silver trim on the steering wheel controls. In bright sunlight, it is impossible to read the black markings on those buttons, so unless you’ve memorized their locations and functions, it is quite hard to use them without becoming distracted from the road ahead.

Seats

Both of the Mazda3’s front seats are comfortable, and the driver’s seat supplies 8-way power adjustment. The passenger does not benefit from this range of change and sits a little low in the car making it harder to get into and out of the Mazda3.

Rear seat room is tight for adults, but soft front seatbacks, a high cushion, and a proper backrest angle help to make the best of the situation. You do need to duck when entering and exiting the rear seat due to the low roofline, but it’s a small price to pay for proper thigh support. Note that the tapered side glass design can make it harder for kids to see out of the car.

Climate Control System

Simple knobs, buttons, and piano-key controls operate the Mazda3’s dual-zone automatic climate control system. Mazda also deftly integrates the air vents into both the dashboard and instrument panel, making them look organic to the overall design rather than add-on elements.

Mazda’s air conditioning systems often struggle to cool the interior on hotter days, and that is the case with the Mazda3. It takes a while, but eventually the cabin reaches a comfortable temperature.

In the meantime, you’re sweating against the leather seats, and without a seat ventilation option you remain damp well into your journey. Also, there are no rear-seat air conditioning vents, so people riding in the back on sweltering days are likely to be grumpy about the situation.

Heated front seats stand ready to help on cold winter days, though, a perfect complement to the Mazda3’s available AWD system.

Infotainment System

The 2020 Mazda3 is equipped with the latest Mazda Connect infotainment system, including an 8.8-inch display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, HD Radio, Pandora integration, text-messaging support, Mobile 911 automatic emergency notification technology, and Mazda Connected Services. Upgrades include satellite radio and a 12-speaker Bose premium sound system, replacing the standard 8-speaker setup in the base trim level.

Sadly, Mazda Connect is not a touchscreen system. The automaker believes touchscreens distract the driver from the task at hand. You operate the system using a knob and four main menu shortcut buttons on the center console, next to a stereo volume, tuning, and mute knob. Alternatively, voice recognition offers access to numerous vehicle functions, and is mostly successful at accepting naturally spoken commands.

It does take time to get the hang of Mazda Connect. Mazda3 buyers are strongly advised to set the system up to personal preferences while the car is sitting idle, to practice using the voice control system, and to memorize which menu shortcut button on the center console does what. Thereafter, Mazda Connect becomes more intuitive and less distracting.

With that said, even Audi, BMW, and Lexus are transitioning to touchscreens, leaving Mazda to appear increasingly out of step with consumer preferences.

Storage and Space

Storage space within the Mazda3’s cabin is decent, but the automaker missed an opportunity to provide a small bin in the door panel armrests.

Inexplicably, the optional wireless smartphone charger pad is located at the bottom of the center console storage bin. That means you can’t put anything else in there except your phone or you’ll render the charging pad useless. This upgrade really ought to be located forward of the cupholders, in turn preserving precious storage space.

Around back, the hatch release is cleverly hidden in a recess under the Mazda logo. Open it to reveal 20.1 cu.-ft. of cargo space, which sounds generous but, as is true with most hatchbacks, is less impressive in terms of real-world applications. The opening is also fairly small, and the rear glass is steeply raked, limiting your packing options. You can probably fit three full-sized suitcases and a roll-aboard in this car’s trunk, but not much else.

Fold the rear seat down, and the Mazda3 accommodates 47.1 cu.-ft. of cargo, which is more than the Mazda CX-30 crossover SUV that shares this car’s platform and powertrains.

Visibility and Safety

In spite of its thick rear roof pillars, visibility isn’t a problem thanks to a backup camera and a rear cross-traffic warning system, each standard on this car.

Speaking of standard equipment, every version of the Mazda3 Hatchback includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, and a driver monitoring system. When you get the manual transmission, the adaptive cruise control loses its stop-and-go function.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback is a Top Safety Pick+ regardless of trim level. The car also gets 5-star ratings in every test conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), including for rollover resistance.

In short, this is an exceptionally safe compact car. 

Engine/Transmission

Mazda’s current brand philosophy is Feel Alive, and you certainly do feel that way when you’re behind the wheel of a Mazda3 Hatchback equipped with a manual gearbox.

The standard engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making a generous 186 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 186 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Silky smooth, this engine runs to its 6,500 rpm redline with nary a hint of noise, vibration, or harshness.

Most Mazda3 models come with a 6-speed sport automatic transmission, and it’s a good match for the engine. But with the optional 6-speed stick-shift, offered only with Premium trim on the Mazda3 Hatchback, the car transforms into the kind of machine you drive simply for the sake of driving.

After running my standard testing loop, I went back out for a several-hour romp in the local mountains, taking the Mazda3 on all of my favorite backroads. As is true of the latest MX-5 Miata, you only need second and third gears to run this car on twisty 2-lane roads, but when you do need to shift, clutch and gearbox action is sublime.

This car is a joy to drive, and the coming turbocharged engine option in 2021 will likely make it even more of a thrill. But what the Mazda3 really needs is a proper independent rear suspension and a summer tire option.

Fuel Economy

On the testing loop, the Mazda3 averaged 25.8 mpg. That figure is well short of the EPA’s 29 mpg estimate for combined driving. It’s possible I was having too good a time.

Driving Dynamics

Surgically precise steering and a compliant yet controlled ride and handling quality (both aided by Mazda’s brake-based G-Vectoring Control Plus technology) contribute to the Mazda3’s thrilling driving character. The brakes are perfection, too, never fading under regular and repeated use.

However, Mazda’s use of a torsion-beam rear suspension is doing this car no favors. A simpler and more compact design, this engineering solution reduces cost while preserving interior space. But it has a negative effect on ride and handling because when one of the rear wheels hits a bump or a hole in the road, the other rear wheel is affected.

In the Mazda3, this is primarily evident in a somewhat busy ride quality on imperfectly paved city and suburban streets. When the car is driven hard, it is less of an issue. And in comparison to most applications of beam axle suspensions, Mazda has clearly tried to eliminate the negative effects on driving dynamics. But those in the know will be able to identify issues with the approach.

Final Impressions - Find the best Mazda deals!

Mazda hangs its hat on building vehicles that are enjoyable to drive, and the Mazda3 Hatchback most certainly is that. Additionally, it is exceptionally safe, is quite practical, and looks and feels like luxury at a mainstream price. 

However, this car is not without flaws, from its tepid air conditioning performance and tight back seat to the steep learning curve required of Mazda Connect and the simplistic rear suspension, there is room for improvement.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

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