What sets apart a good cake from a merely meh cake? It is tempting to attribute the tastiness to exotic ingredients. Most accomplished pastry artisans admit that success is to be found in that recipe containing the utmost of preparation and care in execution.
Like that seasoned pastry chef, Japanese carmaker Mazda doesn’t count on merely exotic ingredients. Kaizen (constant refinement) and Jinba Ittai (unity of rider and steed) are the utmost planning and careful execution in the brand’s volume car recipe.
In the case of the re-designed 2020 Mazda 3, or Mazda3 , the implication is that small family cars can be attractive, well crafted, as well as practical & efficient. Not to mention that in the kitchen at Hiroshima they always add a good dash of zoom zoom driving engagement.
WHAT: 2020 Mazda3 Sedan AWD Premium. Designated BP, succeeding BN, this fourth generation of Mazda 3 is the second on a Skyactiv rather than Ford C1 platform.
Power: transverse 2.5L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 186 hp/ 186 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm. G-vectoring throttle front wheel traction transfer. AWD models feature 2-cylinder deactivation.
Drivetrain: 6-spd. torque converter planetary automatic transaxle + (optional) PTU to multi-plate wet clutch differential torque vectoring variable all-wheel drive.
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE(S): The last generation BN Mazda 3 cut one helluva fine figure, whether as sedan or liftback. Dare it be said the new 3 is a KAIZEN (evolution) of KODO (reaching for the sky) design.
– In Mazda 6 form, chrome arms from the shortened pentagonal grille lower bezel extends with arms cradling more drawn prominent amber upper DRL headlamps. More prominent front lower lip and rear lower bumpers enhance authority. Less aggressive lower body chiseling with a taller beltline and diminshed C-pillar kink demonstrate, allowing for a wisp of symmetrical chrome greenhouse banding imparts a stateliness.
– Instead of a cinched waist tail, the new Mazda 3 tears a page out of the ND MX-5 roadster’s rump a mild lower trunk lid curve and a fully integrated ducktail spoiler. Concentric circular taillamps with wrap around outboard arrow thin the rear quarters = MX-5 flattery.
Dimensionally the new model hasn’t really grown. But the re-organization of the visual elements signifies a genuine departure from the econobox car realm.
WHY: The volume compact sedan taken Kaizen to genuine luxury level of refinement.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since autumn 2020
WHERE: Mazda new car dealers
WHERE MADE: Hofu, Yamaguchi, Japan
HOW STRONG: A forced induction powerplant the Mazda 3 hasn’t. Liberate the right foot on the 2.5 L DOHC direct injection 4-cylinder gasser accelerator. The tinny idle vocalizes more deliciously raspy as the crankshaft spins faster with such high compression.
Further suggesting that Mazda is hunting down the more discerning less budget conscience buyer, this time the standard gearbox is a 6-speed automatic transaxle. Slushbox is an oxymoron here as the Mazda designed and built unit can intelligently make snappy low gear locks on more aggressive deceleration. With the two foot pedals placed for some heel to toe exercises, one nearly senses a manual transmission with rev matching engine braking.
HOW LIMBER: Giving up full independence is never easy. It is tempting to view swapping in a rear solid torsion beam in place of independent lower control arms as regression. Some of the previous Mazda 3’s roll resistance and off-camber planting has been sacrificed. To that end G-vectoring momentarily cuts the engine for forward mass shift and greater front wheel traction through corners. Optional all-wheel drive bolsters rear wheel traction with a maximum of 50% of available torque. The rear twist beam succeeds in understeer rebuff and more forgivingly taut road manners.
– Increased steering wheel winding resistance feels luxury car substantial. But some of what was previously akin to MX-5 roadster responsiveness and feel has been slightly dulled. There is a more pliant step to the brake pedal but modulation is still quite linear.
HOW FAR: 31 miles per gallon combined fuel economy. Increase all-wheel driveline drag pinches highway fuel economy. Expect 420 miles interstate range per tankful of 87 octane petrol.
HOW BIG / LITTLE: While the front part of the cabin emits greater airiness thanks to the lower and deeper cowl, Row 2 feels the strictly compact part. Average male adult knees will typically need to be splayed, though the more gradual slope of the roof improves headroom slightly. Rear outboard bucket seating bunches the center position to mere small child capacity.
√ 2020 Mazda 3 AWD 107.3″ wheelbase = 1.6″ > VW Jetta, 2.2″ > Acura ILX
+1: 35.1″-inches Row 2 legroom = 1.1″ > Acura ILX , 2.3″ < VW Jetta
HOW USEFUL: √ Trunk = 2 full size cases and two carry-ons; But the aperture is narrow. √ 60/40% split rear seat backs don’t fold flat enough. Bose mid-bass frequency speakers have been relocated out of door for the claimed reason of reducing NVH. +1 The net result = an obvious increase in fore and aft door pocket storage. Glove box stretches wider; +/- Smart phone storage is way up, including a lower front center stack tray, but still trails competitors connectivity and concealment.
√ 2020 Mazda 3 AWD 13.2 cu. ft. cargo space (nom.) = 6% > Acura ILX, 6% < VW Jetta
HOW SAFE: earns IIHS 2019 Top Pick trophy: √ 8 airbags, √ Rear camera w/ fixed gridlines, √ Sonar park audible park assist;
Driver assist technology: √ City collision avoidance braking w/ pedestrian detection; √ Blind spot, rear cross traffic warning; √ Rear side traffic braking, √ Lane departure warning with selectable vibration/ chime; √ Lane keep assist; √ Adaptive cruise control – full; √ e-parking brake auto hold.
Particularly in Premium trim, the 2020 Mazda 3 has its own take on the Signature series of larger Mazda siblings. No panel nor physical control was spared attention to detail. Higher definition display graphics are for enhanced visibility without overwhelming. Minimized physical controls have been finished in robustly pleasing materials exhibiting precision action.
√ Improved cushion comfort, advanced foam leather seats, including driver’s 8-way power adjustment and 2-position memory; √ Thick padded front and rear outboard headrests; √ Quaduple channel door seals and thicker glass for excellent cabin isolation.
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Full color Heads Up Display; √ selectable layout TFT center gauge cluster w/ traffic sign recognition.
Details Done Right: √ Light contrast simulated leather dashtop, upper door panels with contrast stitching; √ Tight grain soft mid dash and door panels; √ Aluminum accents, door speaker housing covers, climate control knobs, steering wheel spoke switches.
Nearly Non Descript: -1 Horizontal steering wheel spoke switches have impossible to read script and lack tactile distinction.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: Partially embedding the wider-screen dashtop MazdaConnect display, now with media split screen capablity = a less pod-like appearance. A revised center console Commander dial, with improved action, is as classy as in any luxury marque.
– Re-categorized MazdaConnect home sub-menus should in theory be more intuitive but there is still a learning curve. Higher resolution shows with cleaner graphics. Stand alone mobile device apps such as Pandora, Aha & Stitcher have been rendered redundant by the inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay projection. The Bose Centerpoint has made the jump to audiophile sound with a “Linear” sound mode for improved spatiality.
√ Dash top 8.8″ flat-panel LCD infotainment screen with Commander toggle dial control; √ Native HDD GPS voice command / guidance Navigation; √ Voice command hands-free communications; √ SMS with stored contacts photos; √ 425 W, 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2.0 audio; √ USB x 2, 12V x 1; √ Qi wireless charging pad inside front center armrest bin.
+1 More versatile and comprehensible voice commanded navigation and media.
+/- Mazda implementation of Sirius Travellink supplants typical Movies application with Parking app filled with incomplete listings.
-1 No 2nd Row USB ports; Never quite sure when to spin, depress or toggle center console rotary command controller when using mobile phone projection systems.
HOW MUCH: $31,025 suggested retail price 2020 Mazda 3 sedan AWD premium.
WHAT’S MISSING: Visible labeling for steering wheel spoke switches. An automatic engaging electronic emergency brake which doesn’t require manual disengagement to begin driving.
ANY COMPETITION: Acura ILX: +1 power; Audi A3: +1 power, prestige.
(Contributing Editor: J. Flynn)