2020 Mazda 3 Sedan AWD Review

The Mazda 3 has been well loved by automotive journalists. As a car enthusiast, I enjoy how the 3 is always beautifully crafted and fun to drive. Us in North America once adored this vehicle. At its height in 2014, Canadians bought more than 40,000 Mazda 3s.

Six years is an eternity in the automotive industry and things have changed. With a market that is almost irrationally geared toward crossovers and SUVs, we are seeing a sharp decline in Mazda 3 sales. Compared to 2014, the sales figure has dropped 48% last year to 21,276 units. That is a staggering number given the fact that the Mazda 3 has just been completely redesigned in the same year. We have reviewed the 2019 Mazda 3 sedan before. Like I said in the review, the redesigned Mazda 3 is a gorgeous car that retains the fun to drive nature we have come to expect of a Mazda. So why aren't more Canadians buying this fine vehicle?

For 2020, the Mazda 3 has remained largely unchanged, but the GT grade gets advanced keyless entry (previously included with the premium package). The premium package now includes new 18” alloy wheels and a frameless rearview mirror with auto dimming.

Thanks to Mazda Canada, I was given the opportunity to test drive the 2020 Mazda 3 GT AWD for one week. Below is my unbiased review.

The fourth generation Mazda 3 showcases the new iteration of the Kodo Design Language. Beautifully sculpted panels and smooth transitions make the 2020 Mazda 3 look more like an art piece belonging to Guggenheim than something you drive to the grocery store. The front grille is framed by thick metallic trims and slim headlamps. There is no fog light as the new LED headlights do a great job of shining on those low spots.

For the first time, I actually prefer the side profile of the Mazda 3 sedan than the sport. The smooth silhouette features a long nose, low stance, and raked roofline. It looks more proportional and balanced than the sport. Soft, gentle contours gives the side panels a complex, sophisticated look. The 18" alloy wheel, while not particularly eye-catching, does a good job of complimenting the overall elegance of the car.

In the rear, low profile tail lights sit in the shadow of the integrated trunk lip spoiler. The trunk door is small. This makes the rear bumper looks extra wide and muscular. We will see later that the smaller trunk door does have its drawbacks. Dual chrome exhaust tips give the rear profile a symmetric look. They also suggest the Mazda 3 is more powerful than it actually is.

It is hard to deny that the new Mazda 3 is a beautiful car. I do think the new Kodo Design Language lean on the elegant side more than the sporty side. In anycase, I doubt anyone would be disappointed by the look of the 3.

The interior of the Mazda 3 is looking very similar to that of a premium European sedan. I especially enjoyed the two-toned white and black interior that comes with the GT Premium package. It elevates the overall class of interior. Most reachable surfaces like the seats, dash, arm rests, and knee pads are covered with supple leather upholstery. Hard plastics are textured to look more expensive and nicely tucked away, except for the piano black trims in the center console. They are fingerprint prone and easily scratched for such a high traffic surface. The other place that looks a little cheap is the USB charging port at the front of the center console. It looks lonely sitting on the right side of a long plain cover. I would prefer to see multiple charting ports given the real estate. It also wouldn't be too difficult to have the ports facing downward instead of being exposed when nothing is plugged in.

The view from the front seat is good, and the 10-way power adjusted driver seat (with lumbar support) is one of the most comfortable I have been in. But the front passenger seat is only manually adjustable. The rear cabin is slightly cramped, with reasonable headroom and limited legroom. There is no dedicated air vents in the back, nor is there any charging ports for the rear passengers. Indeed, the most comfortable place to be in the Mazda 3 has always been the driver's seat.

The simple, but classy layout of the interior gives the Mazda 3 a semi-luxurious status. Though I really wish there is more tech in the cabin, and more space for the rear passengers.

The infotainment system remains unchanged from 2019. The 8.8" landscape mode display is nicely integrated to the upper dash. It is located perfectly with the line of sight, and bright enough even under the sun. The huge bezel, while an eyesore, doesn't really take anything away from the functionality of the screen. The interface itself is more responsive than the previous generation. It still takes a second to boot at start, but not nearly as long as before. The page layout is intuitive and easy to understand, but some options are buried too deep into the menu for my liking. Android Auto and Apple Carplay are standard on all new Mazda 3s. The display is not a touchscreen. It can only be controlled via the BMW style command dial and buttons in the center console.

The digital information display in the instrument cluster is styled to mimic an analog dial. Two configurable bars on each side of the dial show instant fuel economy and fuel level. While the display does a good job of showing all the important vehicle information at once, it is also not very customizable. The instrument cluster is controlled via the switchgears on the steering wheel, but only a limited number of options are available.

Standard Mazda 3 comes with an 8-speaker audio system, while our GT tester comes with a 12-speaker Bose audio system that sounds fantastic. Mazda engineers spent considerable energy in soundproofing the new Mazda 3, the quiet interior compliments the premium audio system nicely.

Safety and Driver Assistance
The Mazda 3 comes with considerable standard safety features. They include:

  • Rearview camera (wide angle) 
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
  • Hill Launch Assist (HLA)

GS and GT also get:

  • Smart City Brake Support (SCBS)
  • Smart Brake Support (SBS)
  • Pedestrian Detection (forward sensing)
  • Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS)
  • Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW)
  • Lane-keep Assist System (LAS)
  • Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS)
  • High Beam Control System (HBC)
  • Driver Attention Alert (DAA)

It earns 5 star safety rating from NHTSA and Top Safety Pick+ from IIHS.

The new Mazda 3s are powered by either a 2.0L In-Line 4 with Cylinder Deactivation that produces 155 horsepower at 6000rpm and 150 lb.ft of torque at 4000 rpm, or a 2.5L In-Line 4 with Cylinder Deactivation that produces 186 horsepower at 6000rpm and 186 lb.ft of torque at 4000 rpm. The 2.0L GX can be equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, the rest of the 3s get the 6 speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode and Drive Selection switch. While both engines produce enough power for day to day drives, I keep wishing that there is a more powerful engine option. For a company that is known to produce great handling vehicles, it fails to capture car enthusiasts who wish to have a little extra oomph at their disposal (like the MazdaSpeed once did).

The philosophy of Mazda is to promote a feeling of unity between driver and vehicle. They called it Jinba-Ittai. To achieve this, Mazda utilizes G-Vector Control and G-Vector Control Plus technologies.

Allow me to explain what G-Vectoring Control is in a simple way. Ever feel the nose of your car dip when you push the brake abruptly? In that moment, more weight of your car is transferred to the front wheels. On the other hand, when you push the accelerator hard, the nose of your car rises up to transfer some weight of your car to the rear wheels. The weight transfer has to do with the position of the center of gravity of your car. Therefore, the effect is even more dramatic in a taller car. Mazda engineers use the weight transfer effect to enhance vehicle stability. By decreasing the engine torque (this can also be achieved by braking), the Mazda 3 transfers more weight to the front wheels during turn in. The weight transfer enhances front wheel grip. Once a constant steering angle is achieved, the engine torque is resumed to transfer vehicle weight back to the rear wheels.

The GVC Plus adds braking control on top of the engine torque manipulation. Say if you are avoiding a small animal on the highway. This requires you to quickly turn away from the animal and return the car to its neutral position. In many cases, this results in the car swinging wildly after the maneuver. By applying a hint of brakes to the outer tires when returning the steering wheel to its neutral position, the steering angle is reduced during this process. As a result, the car returns to its neutral position quickly at a more predictable fashion.

I hope I am making it easier to understand these technologies. In practice, you will barely notice the systems at work. Mazda engineers spend considerable efforts to make sure the car feels as natural as possible. In other words, they want you to believe that you are a better driver than you actually are while it is actually the vehicle that is doing most of the work.

By extensive tuning, the Mazda 3 retains the same fun to drive characteristics that we have enjoyed for many years. The car feels balanced, and the steering is precise with good feedback. Many have criticized Mazda for switching the rear suspension from a multi-link setup to a torsion beam setup. I honestly do not notice that much of difference between the two. Perhaps if I push the car to its limits, and pay close attention to the cornering responses I will notice the difference. During the test drive though, the suspension system, while on the firmer side, does a great job of limiting body roll and soaking up road bumps.

The new Mazda 3 is average in terms of fuel efficiency. The 2.5L AWD version is rated for 9.2 L/100km city, 7.0 L/100km highway. Our one week city test drive returns a 8.1 L/100km fuel economy rating.

Cargo Space & Storage
There is 374L of trunk space, and 940L of cargo space with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. While not class leading, the Mazda 3 is a very practical car for those grocery runs. You can easily fit a full-size golf bag in the trunk if you put it diagonally. The small trunk door makes loading and loading larger items slightly more challenging. There is also a significant height difference between the trunk floor and the bottom of the trunk opening. On the other hand, the integrated trunk sill protects the bumper and looks great at the same time.

In cabin storage options are average. The glove box is larger than the previous generation, so is the storage bin in the center console. There is a additional small storage compartment on the left side of the steering wheel, and the door pockets also seem bigger.

The 2020 Mazda 3 is still the same beautiful car that is premium on the inside, and fun to drive on the road. Unfortunately, in a market that is heavily geared toward crossovers and SUVs, a sedan has to capture those niche markets as well as some of the general buyers. It has to either compete with the crossovers in terms of practicality, provide extraordinary savings, or bring a level of thrill that the taller vehicles just can't match. The Mazda 3 is almost successful at the last. But without a more powerful engine, it can only appeal to knowledgeable buyers who appreciate the car as a whole. Looking at the sales figure, it seems like there is less and less of these buyers.

Test Vehicle
2020 Mazda 3 GT AWD with Premium Package
$32,700 CAD with Freight and PDE
Soul Red Crystal Metallic


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