2020 Mazda Mazda3 AWD w/Premium Package new car reviews

The Mazda3 has been the go-to fun, practical small car since its earliest days. Still available as a hatchback or sedan, the spec sheet for this newest iteration—unveiled just last year—looks promising. Most notable is the addition of an all-wheel-drive option, with Mazda’s “G-Vectoring Control Plus” distributing power between the front and rear wheels as it sees fit.


Of course, while the powerplant isn’t the groundbreaking compression-ignition Skyactiv-X many have been waiting for, the numbers of the more-conventional Skyactiv-G are still impressive: 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque, with an easy-to-live-with 27 mpg combined.


Our loaner was a 2020 model equipped with the premium package and all-wheel drive, as well as exclusive “Machine Gray Metallic” paint (a $300 option), bringing the total to $29,200.




Other staff views

David S. Wallens David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

Dear Mazda,

The 3 is really nice. And I don’t mean that in any kind of backhanded way. It is nice. It’s quiet on the highway. It looks rich. It feels more upscale than you’d think. The touchpoints feel soft. Even the taillights look cool.

My unofficial-but-not-really-unofficial litmus test for whether a car counts as upscale of not: auto up and down on all of the power window switches. And the Mazda3 has them. Insert golf clap here.

More upscale features: The assorted warning chimes and buzzers sound pleasant and modern, like someone took the time to engineer a soundtrack for the car. See also the displays that have a rich, curated look to them. It doesn’t feel like the least expensive car in the lineup. The detail work is noticed.

More stuff to like: Even with the automatic, performance feels lively. The Sport switch actually does more than just extend the time spent in each gear. No, it’s not a modern ’Speed3, but it’s not pedestrian, either. No matter which Mazda3 Hatchback variant chosen, it comes with a 186-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine. (And you can get a manual box with the front-drive Premium model.)

The seats offer plenty of support. While not for everyone, I dug our car’s red and black interior that, again, looked and felt upscale. While Mazda’s version of iDrive requires a bit of a learning curve, the knobs and switches deliver satisfying action.

Our tester provided a quiet, comfortable ride on the highway. LED headlamps are much appreciated.

So, my question to anyone reading this: Why are sales down an alarming amount for a model that was new for 2019? Mazda found just 3507 Mazda3 buyers in September 2019. A year earlier, they sold 4635 cars that month. That’s a 24.3% drop. Insert gulp of reality here.

Yes, you can say that small car sales are down, but September vs. September sales for the Corolla are down just 2.1%. And if you want a bigger gulp, check out Mazda6 sales: September vs. September figures are down 47.3%, with just 1119 units leaving showrooms during September 2019.

Questions for the audience: Is it marketing and public relations? Is Mazda’s message reaching the consumer? Is it Mazda’s loss of overall market share? (Aside from the CX-3, their latest sales report has little to celebrate as the entire chart is a sea of red ink.)

Does the average Mazda buyer care about a prototype racing program? Does the lack of a hybrid in the entire lineup send customers elsewhere? Is the brand just too small to take on Toyota and the Koreans?

Mazda has long been a favorite among the GRM crowd. And the brand’s cars have in fact offered a little extra dose of sport. While it faces many strong competitors in a shrinking market, the latest Mazda3 is a fine automobile with no real faults.

If only their sales numbers reflected those facts.

Colin Wood Colin Wood
Associate Editor

Maybe it’s because I didn’t have any curvy canyon roads to push the car around, or maybe it’s because our loaner was equipped with an automatic transmission instead of a manual transmission, but the Mazda 3 came across to me as a perfectly average car. Sure, there were sporty undertones, but I really had to dig for them to find them on my commute. And that was particularly surprising to me considering what I’ve come to expect out of a Mazda.

Regardless, the Mazda 3 came across as a very mature, modern car. I’m not crazy about how wide the rear pillars are, but I know that the styling will grow on me. As well, the metallic grey paint our Mazda 3 came with convinced me that grey can actually look pretty good (and even stand out) in the right shade. Inside is more of that same formula, where I was nicely greeted by a full red and black leather interior.

Overall, this is the perfect car for a young-ish professional (or someone who’s looking to fit some youth into their life) that wants to look cool pulling out of the parking garage after work. It has a sporty look to it, but it will behave as any other average car under normal conditions. This is in no way doubting that the 2020 Mazda 3 isn’t a fun car to drive, it’s just that it wasn’t the most exciting thing to drive on the flat, straight road that lead from my house to the office. If nothing else, this was a lesson that even the most fun cars to drive can be muted by boring roads.

J.G. Pasterjak JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

While it took a while for us to get a new Mazda3, apparently Mazda spent that time turning it into a junior luxury car. The newest 3 feels decidedly upmarket, and not just from the generous equipment list that our Premium Package test car was outfitted with. It’s got the general poise and refined demeanor of something far more German, like a BMW 2 Series, or Benz A Class than the previous 3, which was a nice, but ultimately economy-focused compact.

The downside of all this newfound niceness is that the 3 seems to have lost whatever edge it had in previous iterations. Yeah, it’s nice, but it’s not thrilling. Mazdas have always lived by their driving dynamics—even my wife’s 2016 CX-5 drives in a more connected way than any small sport ute has a right to, but this newest 3 seems to have traded some of that signature Mazda immediacy for disconnected comfort. It’s… fine. It’s a really hard cat to complain about, because it presses a lot of great buttons: Lots of features, all-wheel-drive, pleasing, comfortable interior. It’s just lacking some of the excitement we’ve normally associated with Mazdas of years past.

So I’m not going to be too hard on the most recent 3. After all, for $30,000 it does what other premium small sedans need $10,000 more to accomplish. But it’s not doing it in a very exciting way in this iteration so far. Fingers crossed for a Mazdaspeed variant in the near future to take on the baby AMGs and Audi S cars.

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RustBeltSherpa New Reader
11/20/19 12:02 p.m.

I wonder if Mazda's move upscale is working against them in the short term. As the owner of a 2013 CX-5(Sport- 6speed manual) and a 1991 Miata, I'm sold on Mazda's sportiness factor. But; if in the market for a 3, I'd be looking for a gently used 2016-18 Sport with a manual and 2.0 engine.

aircooled MegaDork
11/20/19 12:53 p.m.

The wife recently sold her MazdaSpeed 3.  We looked at the new 3.... nope.  Obviously not as sporty, manuals not available in all trim level, auto was not really impressive power wise and very bad rear visibility.

Mazda looses a long time customer (B2000 to Miata to Speed3).  You used to be able to depend on Mazda for a certain type of car / driving experience, not sure that is true anymore (perhaps it's the buying public that is no longer responding to it).

Nutsid New Reader
11/20/19 12:57 p.m.

In reply to RustBeltSherpa :

I have owned at least one Mazda since I was 17 - I am 35 now - until now. I traveled the country in an NB Miata and when I was done had decided I was moving across the country. I was trading the Miata in on something with space. The problem was, I needed something that would fill the itch the Miata filled. The only cars that fit the bill was a GTI and a Velostar. I went with the GTI because of the styling. I really wasn't ready to leave Mazda behind so I drove a 3 hatch, but before I even got out of the parking lot of the dealership I was over it. It wasn't going to be sporty enough. While the GTI doesn't fit the Miata's shoes entirely, it fits exactly what I needed my car to be. Currently, the only car Mazda has to offer that appeals to me is the ND, and that obviously can't haul anything around anywhere.

List of previously owned Mazdas:

2017 CX5

2012 3 hatch

2010 3 hatch

2004 Rx8

2004 Miata

1992 Miata

1989 Rx7

1985 Rx7

1984 Rx7

1983 Rx7


Now I find myself looking at other brands for what I need out of a car.

chuyler2 New Reader
11/20/19 2:49 p.m.

Mazda used to treat it's enthusiast customers well.  I ordered a Protege5 fully loaded with a stick shift back in 2003.  In 2007 I picked up a Mazdaspeed6 fully loaded (only came in stick).  By the time I was ready for something new they offered nothing but base trim vehicles with stick shift.  I bought a Jeep instead.  My wife is due for a new car, she drives stick also.  The Mazda3 would be at the top of her list if it came in AWD with a stick.  It doesn't.  So I'm having trouble getting her to even test drive it.

Dave M
Dave M HalfDork
11/20/19 5:53 p.m.
RustBeltSherpa said:

I wonder if Mazda's move upscale is working against them in the short term. As the owner of a 2013 CX-5(Sport- 6speed manual) and a 1991 Miata, I'm sold on Mazda's sportiness factor. But; if in the market for a 3, I'd be looking for a gently used 2016-18 Sport with a manual and 2.0 engine.

It's like Kia selling the Stinger: if your dealership experience is half a step up from buy here, pay here, you're going to have a lot of trouble moving upscale. Mazda dealers by me are uniformly scummy. Good luck!

gardnpc New Reader
11/20/19 6:53 p.m.

I hope the buying public doesn't give up on Mazda.  It's the poor man's BMW, although that can be debated.  Mazda has a unique tradition of giving us affordable cars that are great driver's cars.  I'd much rather have a Mazda than a Toyota or Honda.  My question...when will Mazda turbo their line of cars to give us the hp we need????

wrenchklutz New Reader
11/20/19 7:18 p.m.

We just bought a Mazda3 with the premium package a month ago.  Unlike most of the previous posters, we have loved the car.  It doesn't make a big deal out of handling, it just goes where you think it should go, no muss, no fuss, no lean.  The chassis feels like it's carved out of a solid block of aluminum.  Suspension components are a bit on the snug side compared to most everything else I've driven lately, which is fine with me.  Sport mode kicks things up a notch.  Comfortable, high-quality interior.  Yes, it has an auto, but it's a good one, and if I want to row gears, there's always the Alfa.  And the dealer's service department has been great about customer service.  The only bad thing is that two of the tires (Toyo's) were out of round and were replaced under warranty. Regarding marketing, where does Mazda advertise these days?  I see constant ads for Nissan, Toyota, Kia, Ford, Chevy, and Ram on the tube.  No Mazda.  If you want to sell, you gotta tell people what you're offering.

CyberEric HalfDork
11/20/19 8:24 p.m.

Mazda has been getting ripped in a fair number of the reviews I’ve read of this new 3. 

A few years ago they were winning every comparison with every model in C&D.

I haven’t driven the new car, so I’ll reserve judgement, but from the sidelines I’m concerned we are losing a good driver’s car, and car company.

That said, I wonder if this is more of the change in image than any thing else. The Cx-5, 9, and 6 (and Miata of course) are all pretty much the drivers choice in their categories, Again just what I see in the media. And there have been some good reviews of the new 3 too. Speed hunters (I think) did a track session w the AWD and were quite positive about it.

dxman92 HalfDork
11/20/19 10:10 p.m.

I'm not crazy about the fact that you have to pay almost $30k to get the manual box in the new 3 sedan. That said, I've owned a 6 speed manual CX-5 and I'd own another in a heartbeat.

_ Dork
11/21/19 12:12 p.m.

How's the auto? 

z31maniac MegaDork
11/21/19 12:18 p.m.
_ said:

How's the auto? 

It's pretty good, but it's an economy car. So it's not like it's performance oriented like a DCT, but it does the job it needs to very well.

*I have an '18 Mazda 3 touring with the auto.

1988RedT2 MegaDork
11/21/19 12:23 p.m.

It's funny how much that thing looks like a half-scale CX-9.  And from a distance, I can't tell a CX-5 from a CX-9, and I drive a CX-9!  I guess they pay their designers for one drawing, then use it to make all their cars.

_ Dork
11/21/19 1:14 p.m.

Smoking tire did a cx-3 auto drive. He seemed to be impressed by the shifts. I was too, and I wasn't even in the car. That's why I asked about the automatic. Seems like a great automatic if you have to have one. 

z31maniac MegaDork
11/21/19 3:56 p.m.
_ said:

Smoking tire did a cx-3 auto drive. He seemed to be impressed by the shifts. I was too, and I wasn't even in the car. That's why I asked about the automatic. Seems like a great automatic if you have to have one. 

Yep. I have no complaints. And if you put it in "Sport" it does quicken the shifts and hold the gears longer. In the 'Normal" mode, the car is in a huge rush to get the lowest gear possible as quickly as possible.

CyberEric HalfDork
11/21/19 8:41 p.m.

In reply to _ :

I think the auto is great. Is it lightning fast with the paddle shifters? Not quite, but it’s pretty quick and in Sport mode it rev matches and engine brakes. 

What I like is you can be in Auto mode, and click the down shift paddle and it does it whenever you need some extra engine braking.

jwagner New Reader
11/21/19 9:30 p.m.

I think JG nailed it:  It's a Junior Luxury Car that has lost it's edge.

I've got a first generation 3 and it reminds me a lot of my Miata - a buzzy 3500 RPM on the freeway and sharp handling in a four door package.

I had a 2nd generation 3 and it was a more civilized but still sporting and fun to drive.  Also faster with the 2.5L and 6 speed.

My girlfriend just replaced her crashed 3rd generation 3 and after driving the new one - $30K for an "upscale economy car" (a sunroof was a necessity) she bought a CX-5 for about the same price.  I hate SUVs but I couldn't disagree with her choice. 

The fourth gen car is a really nice ride, more sophisticated, more luxury, and unfortunately, not a 3 anymore.


Dootz Reader
11/25/19 4:10 a.m.

The pricing pretty much competes with the mid-size market - easy way to kill your compact car's sales.

Add in the fact that even the new Sentra is going to be coming in with IRS, and that's pretty much gameover for the Mazda3. Nice car, but what it has going for it is not what compact segment buyers are looking for.

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