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The First Time Steve Didn’t Like The Mazda3, Now He Takes A Second Look

When I drove the Mazda3 sedan last year, I came away disappointed.  Gone was the fun-to-drive little car that used to put its competitors to shame, replaced by a more premium model that had more annoyances than I could take. 

But a lot of you pointed out that my opinion ran contrary to most of my peers – which I always relish, by the way – so I figured I’d take a second look, this time with the AWD hatchback.

 

The Zoom-Zoom days are long gone.  Mazda now claims to be a premium brand and the first model born under their new way forward was the 2019 Mazda3.  But sales of their best-selling car plummeted 22% in 2019 and are off 40% so far this year so the road to premium has been rather bumpy.

So here I have a top-of-the-line all-wheel drive 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback with Premium Package and a handful of smaller options priced at $31,470.  It operates with Mazda’s familiar 2.5-liter 4-cylinder/6-speed auto pairing to produce 186 horsepower while delivering 27mpg in mixed driving.         

This model has more style and makes a bigger visual splash.  You can also get it with this red interior and even a stick shift…though, not with all-wheel drive.  It’s the heaviest Mazda3 and obviously has more cargo volume than the sedan; otherwise, they’re the same cars except this one starts at $2,200 more.

The strongest parts of Mazda’s game these days are its designs and paint choices and this 3 looks pretty darn awesome, particularly in Polymetal Gray with black wheels. 

 

The red leather interior just seals the deal.  No doubt about it; this car is sharp and far more provocative than the 4-door.  In this regard, Mazda’s premium plan is surely working. 

 

And when compared with the sedan’s traditional trunk, the 5-door’s luggage volume is over 50% greater making the hatchback more lovable on a number of fronts.

   

With some time and a fresh perspective I’ve come to appreciate the 3’s drive a little more on the backroads but I still wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s fun-to-drive. If anything it comes across as more mature-premium minus the non-independent rear suspension which does not take well to a bumpy road.

And my beefs with the non-touchscreen and electronic parking brake haven’t changed.

 

 

What beefs are those you ask?  The ones that require me to us a rotary knob to get through these menus when the previous version was at least a part-time touchscreen and then the parking brake that automatically activates each time you start the car. 

Normally, that’s not a big deal – more and more automakers are doing it now – but deactivating Mazda’s by lightly pressing the gas pedal causes the car’s rear end to hunker down and sometimes even drag the wheels.  Super annoying.

On the flipside, I appreciate the Auto Hold feature which allows you to remove your foot from the brake when at a prolonged stop, the real head-up display is a welcome addition, and visually speaking, the cabin exudes a captivating style with high quality materials.  Too bad there’s no height adjustment for the passenger seat and the rear seats feel a little tight on legroom.

Something that should assuage some of the 3’s shortcomings is the addition of a turbo later this year, turning out 320 pound-feet of torque with standard all-wheel drive.  Until then, the hatch would be my choice in the Mazda3 lineup but, widening my scope, I’d target the Toyota Corolla Hatchback instead.    

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