2020 Mazda 3: What's It Like To Live With?
20,000 miles in a luxurious compact without the luxury price tag
|Miles Driven||Average MPG|
Latest Highlights (updated 03/18/21)
- One of our team members takes the Mazda 3 on its longest road trip yet
- How's the Mazda 3 after driving for 15 hours straight? Read our road trip impressions to find out
- Questions? Comments? Check out our Long-Term Mazda 3 Discussion Board (link below)
What do you want to know about?
What We Bought And Why
• Our test vehicle: 2020 Mazda 3 Preferred AWD
• Base MSRP: $22,420
• MSRP as tested: $27,665
The compact sedan segment is enjoying a renaissance right now. Even traditionally sobering choices such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are legitimately fun to drive in their latest iterations. Though a new characteristic for most small sedans, dynamic handling has long been the Mazda 3's competitive advantage. Its penchant for performance, along with historically upscale cabin materials, have made the Mazda 3 a perennial favorite with the Edmunds staff.
Examples from the two previous generations have graced our long-term fleet, and when Mazda announced a new version for 2019, we quickly reached out and asked for a third. Mazda obliged and asked what we wanted. After carefully considering cost and features, we set our sights squarely on a 2020 Mazda 3 sedan decked out with (nearly) all the bells and whistles.
What Did We Get?
Our first step was the powertrain. Though the 2020 Mazda 3 is only offered with one engine — a 2.5-liter four-cylinder carried over from the previous generation — all-wheel drive is newly available. We wanted to see how the typically nimble chassis felt with extra traction, so we ticked that box. All-wheel drive excluded us from the base trim, moving us up to the midlevel Select model. Mazda 3s in this trim are outfitted with upgrades that include simulated leather, a blind-spot monitor, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Select versions are fairly well-equipped, but we zeroed in on the more luxurious Preferred model ($25,600). For just $1,500 more than the Select, the Preferred counts heated front seats, satellite radio, and a 12-speaker Bose audio system among its added features. We thought the extra options not only justified the modest price bump but they also bolstered the Mazda 3's luxurious feel. We also wanted our Mazda 3 with the lustrous Soul Red Crystal premium paint ($595), plus a cargo mat ($100) and navigation ($450), supplied via an SD card that plugs right into the infotainment system. Our 2020 Mazda 3 Preferred with AWD rang in at $27,665, including the destination charge ($920).
That's admittedly pretty expensive for a small sedan, but the luxury-lite interior makes the price tag an easier pill to swallow. And opting for a front-wheel-drive variant would save $1,400.
Why Did We Get It?
The Mazda 3's status as one of our current top-rated small sedans and historically one of our favorites didn't guarantee we'd want the new model in our long-term fleet. However, there are several aspects of the 2020 version that would benefit from a long-term examination. The first is the infotainment system, which is totally redesigned and distinct from the systems in other Mazdas. We also wanted to test the all-wheel-drive system in a variety of situations; after all, Mazda is the only manufacturer besides Subaru offering a compact sedan with AWD. Mazda's cabin materials usually punch above their price class, but the new 3 takes it to another level. If you're looking for an affordable compact with a cabin akin to one in a luxury sedan, this is it. Finally, we wanted to put the new rear suspension to the test. For this generation, Mazda replaced the rear multilink — which helped give the previous models segment-defining handling characteristics — with a simpler torsion beam. We'll take the new 3 to our private track and nearby mountain roads to see if it retains its predecessors' dynamic excellence.
Stay tuned as we put our 2020 Mazda 3 sedan through its paces over the next 12 months and 20,000 miles.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
What Did We Learn?
The 2020 Mazda 3 was, appropriately enough, the third version of Mazda's enjoyable compact to grace the Edmunds long-term fleet. Rather than iterating on a formula, however, Mazda chose to completely overhaul the 3, making it feel unique from its predecessors. Gone was the multilink rear suspension and the exceptional handling it provided, and the interior was dressed up not just to vanquish its direct rivals, but to put Audi and BMW on notice, too. With all these changes, did the 3 still feel like a 3?
Nobody voiced any issues from behind the wheel. Though Mazda switched to a simpler rear torsion beam this time around, the 3's penchant for canyon carving remained untouched — perhaps due in part to our tester's all-wheel drive system, which is offered on the 3 for the first time in this generation. If anything, the one significant complaint we had was with the carryover 2.5-liter engine, which feels like it could use an extra 20 horsepower. Of course, drivers wanting for more power now have the option of choosing a model with the turbocharged four-cylinder — an engine not available on our 2020 test car. We agreed that the sport-tuned suspension gives the Mazda 3 a stiff ride quality, but opinions differed on whether it was truly a deal-breaker.
The Mazda 3 is fairly tight inside, and those looking for the segment-busting interior space of the Honda Civic won't find it here. But the upscale materials and fitment are top-notch and even drew comparisons to that of our long-term Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Even in our mid-tier example, the 3 feels like a proper luxury car, with ample use of soft-touch plastics, leatherette trim and chrome detailing throughout.
Despite spending the majority of its time in the traffic-soaked LA metro area, the 3 rarely fell below the EPA's City rating. Even so, two sizeable road trips on the bookends of our Mazda 3 loan helped boost its overall fuel economy to 28.3 mpg, or just over the EPA's Combined estimate. On several occasions, we broke the Highway rating of 33 mpg, and posted a best single tank of 37.5 mpg.
Our time with the 2020 Mazda 3 is at its end, and we'll miss the spunky little sedan. It was a reliable friend that served our editors well, delivering moments of driving enjoyment during a year most of us would rather forget. The Mazda 3 is one of our favorite small cars, and one that we'll continue to recommend for its style, refinement and performance.
2020 Mazda 3: Real-World Fuel Economy
One of our team members took the Mazda 3 on a cross-country road trip at the end of last year and added a few thousand miles to the odometer in the process. The highway travel boosted the 3's overall fuel economy, which is now hovering above the EPA-combined estimate at 29.1 mpg.
Average lifetime mpg: 28.3
EPA mpg rating: 28 combined (25 City/33 Highway)
Best fill mpg: 69.6
Best range (miles):: 412.2
Current odometer: 15,940
A member of our video team was looking for a car to transport her and her dog on a cross-country road trip to visit family over the holiday break. We offered up the Mazda 3, which we hadn't yet taken on a significant road trip in its nearly 12 months in service. But with 9,300 miles on the odometer, we knew it needed routine maintenance before we could clear it for active duty.
The 3's 10,000-mile service calls for an oil change, tire rotation and a modest set of inspections. It's a relatively easy service, but our local Mazda dealership was booked solid just before Amy set on her trip. Instead, she dropped the car off at Stokes Tire Service, a local shop that we've been using for a decade for new tires and minor vehicle maintenance.
The full service was completed in short order, with a total just under $100. The breakdown is as follows:
Windshield wiper fluid: $1.50
Five quarts of synthetic oil: $54.75
Oil filter: $16.95
Hazardous waste fee: $3.75
"It's been a while since I've been in our Mazda 3 and it's just as good as I remember. In an otherwise bland class of cars, it remains a bright spot. There are a few minor hiccups that appeared, though. The transponder in the key fob seems to have died. That means the keyless entry/ignition no longer work and you have to do it the old fashioned way and hit the tiny unlock button on the fob to enter. Once inside, you have to tap the fob to the start button to get going. No big deal, and it probably just requires replacing the battery. There's also a nickel-sized chip in the windshield. Otherwise, the Mazda 3 is in perfect form." — Mark Takahashi, senior reviews editor
"On the way to work, the Mazda's front radar system said there was an obstruction and was temporarily disabled. This happened immediately after I left my house, and there was nothing I could imagine was actually blocking the radar sensor. Eventually this error message went away after 20 minutes of driving, and all systems were restored." — Jonathan Elfalan, senior manager, test team.
Thus began one of the more unusual glitches we've seen in one of our long-term testers, but one that will undoubtedly become more common as advanced safety systems become more prevalent. Shortly after Jonathan noted this seeming malfunction of the front radar, news editor Ryan ZumMallen experienced a fault of his own, albeit in a much more dramatic fashion. While traveling on surface streets at about 40 mph, the brakes suddenly slammed on and brought the vehicle to a complete stop. Ryan narrowly avoided being rear-ended by the car behind, which reacted quickly enough to swerve out of the way. In Los Angeles, where people are looking at their phones while driving more often than not, we counted this as a small miracle. Upon returning the vehicle to our garage the following day, we prohibited staff from driving it until we could find a solution.
Turns out this is a known issue, and Mazda issued a recall shortly before our incidents. This is NHTSA recall 19V907, which is detailed below. After turning off all the driving aids just in case the issue repeated, I took it to my local dealer (Puente Hills Mazda) and waited a couple hours for the repair to be completed. After it was all said and done, I rearmed the driving aids. The Mazda 3 has circulated through our department for the last few weeks without issue.
|Total routine maintenance costs||$|
|Additional maintenance costs||none|
|Scheduled dealer visits||none|
|Unscheduled dealer visits||1|
|Days out of service||none|
|Breakdowns stranding driver||none|
|Total body repair costs||none|
Items we're keeping an eye on
• There are a pair of windshield chips we picked up on a road trip early in the Mazda's tenure. We kept an eye on them, and they never spread beyond the initial chip area.
Recalls performed on this vehicle
A recall was issued mid-December to address the malfunctioning automatic emergency braking function. Recall 19V907 reads, "Mazda North American Operations (Mazda) is recalling certain 2019-2020 Mazda3 vehicles. The Smart Brake System (SBS) can falsely detect an obstacle while driving, activating the automatic emergency braking system and suddenly stopping the vehicle." We brought the Mazda 3 to the dealer shortly and had the system repaired.
"I can have fun driving our Mazda 3, but I have to put in some effort to make it happen. This isn't a car that's engaging right off the bat. Going to the grocery store and the like, it just feels like any other anonymous small sedan. It's only when I'm revving out the engine and diving into turns with enthusiasm that the 3 livens up and becomes something special. Oh, and I like our car's all-wheel drive, too. I can just mash the gas coming out of a turn and the 3 easily accelerates without overwhelming its front tires." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"The Mazda 3 is decently powerful. It's got a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (186 horsepower, 186 lb-ft of torque), which is more than what most other small sedans offer. But I'd agree with Travis's earlier comment in that our 3 doesn't feel as powerful as its specs suggest. Acceleration just feels flat at low rpm, and you've really got to rev the engine to get this car moving.
Thankfully, a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine will join the Mazda 3 lineup in 2021. The rated max of 250 hp is nice, but it's the 320 lb-ft of torque that I think will really liven up the 3's acceleration. (Note that these figures are with 93-octane gasoline; lower-octane fuel reduces output to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft). This will be the engine to get in 2021, budget permitting." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"It's tough to withstand the Mazda 3's bumpy ride on the highway, but I do love the way this thing corners. The suspension helps it corner flat, while well-weighted steering gives the driver a feeling of balance and confidence from behind the wheel. It also has excellent forward visibility and the A-pillars are far enough rearward that I'm able to see most of my way through a corner." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"On the highway, the 3 is a bit underpowered. It gets up and goes when you ask it to, and passing maneuvers aren't really a problem, but the lack of sheer grunt or excitement makes me pine for the days of the Mazdaspeed 3. When we tested our long-term 2020 Mazda 3, it went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. That's not slow, but it's not quick, either. A Honda Civic with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine does the sprint to 60 in 7.1 seconds. When we tested the last Mazdaspeed3 way back in 2012, it sprinted from 0 to 60 in 6.2 seconds. The current Mazda 3 is excellent, offering fantastic handling, well-tuned steering and stunning good looks. It works extremely well as an overall package. All it needs is about 80 additional horsepower." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"I switch the Mazda 3 into Sport mode almost every time I get behind the wheel — especially when I'm going to be in stop-and-go traffic. The engine just doesn't produce a good amount of low-end power, at least not in the first 50 percent of pedal travel." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
2020 Mazda 3: Comfort
"I've got a counterpoint to Travis' commentary about our Mazda 3's ride quality. To start out, I do agree with Travis that its ride quality is fairly stiff by small sedan standards. Consequently, you end up feeling a lot of bumps and road texture. But where I differ is how significant it is. It's a deal breaker for Travis, but this particular quality wouldn't stop me from purchasing a 3." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"The ride quality on this trim of the 3 is a deal-breaker. Even on a slightly bumpy highway, it feels like it's going to shatter my bones. The seats make up some of the difference, and they're fine from a static perspective, but the big wheels and stiff suspension make for a surprisingly brittle ride." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"I drove our Mazda 3 for about four hours yesterday, with one stop in between for gas. Overall, I was pretty comfortable in the driver's seat. I was able to use the seat's adjustments to get a seating position I liked, and I didn't get any pain points or aches from the seat's cushioning and contouring. (For what it's worth, I'm 5-foot-10 and about 150 pounds. So, yeah, I'm kinda of skinny.)" — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
2020 Mazda 3: Interior
"I appreciate that Mazda has given the 3 an upscale interior, but the chrome trim and buttons on the steering wheel are really annoying. They often reflect sunlight directly into my eyes when the sun is off to the side of the car. I hadn't noticed this much before when simply driving around town. But on a recent road trip the glinting sun became so much of a problem I ended up covering that part of the steering wheel with a glove I happened to have in the car." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"I really like the buttons and switchgear in this Mazda 3 generation, but if I was coming from a previous-gen model, it would present a steep learning curve. It's hard to figure out what the myriad of steering wheel buttons and climate controls actually do. Some of them don't look like buttons at all because of the icon's location and other controls just aren't intuitive." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"This was my first time driving our long-term Mazda 3. I own a 2019 hatchback in the Premium trim, but our Preferred trim is pretty nicely equipped and I think it's the sweet spot for most people. The only items you're missing are the head-up display, sunroof, leather upholstery and adaptive headlights. This is such a plush and quiet cabin, and it's far better than anything in its class. I may be biased, but this is one of the best cars on the road today." — Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor
"I ended up carpooling this weekend with three powerlifters. We could've taken one of their trucks (choices were a Chevrolet Colorado, Ford F-150 and Ford F-350), but I thought it would be funny to cram them into a compact Mazda. That way we might learn something about interior space and comfort.
Now, these were big dudes. Train-people-for-a-living big. Holding-records-for-lifting-weights big. So there was a bit of hesitance before piling in. 'Are you sure you don't want to take my truck?' Emphasis on the sure.
We loaded up, and after some seat adjustment, everyone was pretty comfortable. They commented on the quality of the interior and asked if the larger Mazda SUVs looked similar.
We had about an hour and a half of total drive time. About three-fourths of the way through it, I asked for their feedback. It was unanimous from the second row: while getting in and out wasn't easy, they really liked the seat cushioning and support, and there was enough knee- and headroom. They'd be happy to go further, but understandably wouldn't want a third person back there.
The Mazda also held up well to the additional weight (we had some cargo in the trunk, too), easily accelerating on freeway on-ramps and maintaining highway speed over hills." — Carlos Lago, manager, feature content.
"I suspect most of my friends wouldn't know the difference if I pulled the Mazda badges from our car's interior and replaced them with some luxury-brand logos. The 3's interior has a luxury-like look to it with its tasteful-looking dashboard, top-mounted infotainment screen and soft-touch cabin materials. Most of the driver's controls have a solid and pleasing feel to them, too. Of our Mazda 3's positive qualities, I'd say its interior design is my favorite." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
2020 Mazda 3: Technology
"The adaptive cruise control on our long-term Mazda 3 has two major problems. First, it's way too conservative overall. Even in its "closest" setting, it maintains a considerable distance between you and the car in front. It's also slow to accelerate back to your set speed once the car in front of you has changed lanes. Second, the system doesn't remember your preferences. I set the closest distance possible for following, activated the system a few times while driving, then turned the car off. On restart, it defaults to the furthest distance again. It's not an option I'd pay for on this car." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"Ever have to drive up a foggy mountain road in the dark? It's no fun, and it can be downright harrowing when you don't have fog lights. Try as I might, I couldn't find the controls for the Mazda 3's foglights. I thought, "it's the all-wheel-drive Preferred, it'll have fog lights." Nope. None to be found. When I got home, I pulled up Mazda's website and the order guide for the 3. No fog lights there, either. You just can't get 'em. If this were my car, I'd quickly go looking for some aftermarket solutions, but it's really unfortunate that you can't get fogs from the factory." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"The beeps and chimes and sound notifications in this Mazda 3 are driving me crazy. I can't figure out what half of them are and the other half I can't turn off. I've been struggling for three days to figure out why it beeps at me when I get out of the car. At first, I thought it might be the doors automatically locking, but that's not the case. I'm going to need to take a deep dive into the owner's manual to get used to this car." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"I use Apple CarPlay a lot in vehicles to interface with my iPhone's apps, whether it be for music, podcasts or maps. But I'm a little annoyed on how it works in the Mazda 3. The 3's display screen isn't a touchscreen. Yet CarPlay is kind of meant to work via touch. So to make it work, you have to use the car's rotary dial controller to move a cursor around the screen interface to select different apps or activate stuff. Doing so often requires a fair amount of attention. Probably too much, really, from a driver distraction standpoint." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content.
"With 13.2 cubic feet of capacity, the Mazda 3's trunk is decently sized for the small sedan class. On a road trip with my family for the 4th of July weekend I was able to fit three carry-on suitcases, a duffel bag and an assortment of other small backpacks and bags. The trunklid hinges take up some space — you have to watch for that when you're loading luggage." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"Carrying big items in the Mazda 3 requires folding down the rear seats, but that doesn't make things much easier. The opening between the cabin and trunk is relatively narrow and short. Several class competitors do this better, particularly the Civic." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
2020 Mazda 3: Miscellaneous
"Everyone loves the color on this Mazda. It is Mazda's very-specific red (Soul Red Crystal Metallic) and it really does class up the car quite a bit. I get comments on it at the grocery store, at the drive-thru and pretty much wherever I park it. It's a rare thing for a sub-$30,000 compact sedan to get compliments in Los Angeles." — Travis Langness, reviews editor
"I like our Mazda 3's premium look. It starts with its styling, which has a kind of classic European luxury sport sedan look because of the 3's long hood and short rear trunk area. The fenders and doors have interesting contouring, too. I actually like taking pictures of our car, which isn't something I'd say about a lot of other small sedans. Our test car's Soul Red Crystal paint really pops and sparkles in sunlight, too." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"The sedan is the more popular of the Mazda 3 body styles, but choosing a four-door for our long-term fleet meant we had to give up some benefits afforded by the hatchback. While the hatchback's increased storage is certainly practical, we were more interested to see how the manual transmission performed (it isn't available on the sedan at all). We reached out to Mazda for a short-term loaner with three pedals.
At our test track, the manual-equipped 3 hatch accelerated from 0-60 mph in 8.0 seconds, or 0.2 seconds quicker than our long-term sedan. Looking at the numbers, though, I don't think the manual transmission is inherently quicker. Every other Mazda 3 of this generation that we've tested has been all-wheel drive, and all weigh roughly 200 pounds more than the front-drive manual hatchback. Without all the extra weight, I surmise that a front-drive automatic would run neck and neck with a similarly equipped manual Mazda 3.
The Mazda 3's manual is satisfying to use in real-world driving. The clutch pedal has the right amount of heft to make it feel solid but not too stiff, and the engagement point is right off the floor. It took no time at all to get used to the clutch-accelerator action, and I think it would be pretty easy to learn how to drive a manual in the 3. It's a shame that it's single-trim availability (hatchback with the Premium trim) will ultimately limit the number of people who can drive it." — Cameron Rogers, news and reviews editor
"Editor Brent Romans asserted a while back that the new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder 'will be the engine to get in 2021, budget permitting.' Now that we've tested a 2021 Mazda 3 hatchback with the turbo motor, I can confirm that he wasn't wrong. Consider that the turbo hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds at our test track, compared to 8.2 seconds for our long-term 2020 sedan with the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four. That's a massive difference, and as you'd expect, the turbo delivers its punch right off the line — or right away at, say, 2,500 rpm on the highway — whereas the non-turbo engine needs to work a lot harder to get anything done.
"It all adds up to a more civilized and confidence-inspiring drive. The turbo even sounds better than the regular engine, singing in a warbly baritone that reminded me of a Subaru WRX. Speaking of which, the turbocharged Mazda comes standard with all-wheel drive and demonstrates the refinement that the WRX lacks, so Subaru has surely taken note of this new arrival. Ditto Volkswagen, which sells the front-wheel-drive GTI for a bit less coin and the awesome all-wheel-drive Golf R (if you can find one) for a bit more. The Mazda's advantages over the GTI are less clear, as the VW has long been an uncommonly refined sport compact and offers sharper handling and a significantly more spacious interior to boot. But I dig the Mazda's relaxed power delivery — it feels less caffeinated — and I appreciate that Mazda has quelled the vibrations that plagued earlier applications of the 2.5-liter turbo mill. If I were sold on the current 3 as my next car, there's no doubt the turbo powertrain would be a must-have." — Josh Sadlier, director, content strategy
2020 Mazda 3: Road Trippin'
We took the Mazda 3 on its inaugural road trip back in December 2019, but the number of long-distance excursions diminished as the pandemic spread throughout 2020. We were nearly at the end of our 12-month loan with just 10,000 miles on the Mazda 3's odometer — half the distance we aim to achieve with every one of our long-term vehicles.
Production Manager Amy Silliman came through in a pinch, offering to drive the 3 on her trip to visit family in Chicago and Louisiana. We were ecstatic, and after Amy brought it to a local shop to have its 10,000-mile service performed, she took off on our long-term Mazda 3's grandest adventure yet. Her thoughts and impressions follow.
"Even after driving halfway across the country and back again over the course of two weeks, I look back on my experience in the Mazda 3 fondly. The car kept me engaged and concentrated on driving, whereas rivals can feel disconnected from the road and are mind-numbing to pilot. It was also faster than expected and quite sporty — and my daily driver is a 3 Series!
"However, I do have some complaints. I drove an older Corolla on a similar road trip years ago, and with that car, I noticed there was a lack of space and areas to rest your elbows and lean as you drive. This equated to having exhausted arms and shoulders during and after your venture. I experienced something similar while driving the Mazda 3. At the end of each day, I had tennis AND golfer's elbow from the strain! I have done these long trips in a Jeep Wrangler, Honda Passport, Chrysler Pacifica and Chevrolet Colorado, and none of those vehicles caused this kind of discomfort. Granted, it's possible I put in longer days than I should and maybe didn't have the seat placed right (but I swear this isn't the case), but the lack of various soft touch points for me to lean on really hurt me during this trip.
"A lane-centering feature would have been fantastic on this long road trip. Though I generally appreciated the 3's engaging character, a more robust automated driving system would have lessened both the mental toll of driving through the Midwest's long, featureless stretches of highway, and dealing with the 3's overly sensitive steering. I estimate the latter is a characteristic designed to deliver on its promise of sportiness, but I found the quick reactions to steering input distracting at highway speeds.
"My driving buddy on this multi-state tour was my 70-pound German Shepherd, who fit just fine in the back seat. With the ability to fold down the seat I was able to pack my belongings and collapse his crate, which I didn't think i would be able to do! I threw some plywood in on top of the folded seatbacks so he had a solid surface on which to rest during the drive.
"Overall, this car worked really well and was shocked that my gear and giant furball fit. There's quite a bit of space for a relatively tiny car.
"Lastly, the windshield wipers — could they go a little faster? I always run into bad weather on my trips and there was a point where I almost had to pull over because the rain was so heavy and the wipers just were not cutting it. Not fun that day...at ALL." — Amy Silliman, production manager
Edmunds usually aims to put 20,000 miles on a long-term test car to understand the maintenance and wear a customer would experience, but the pandemic had other plans. Instead, our 2020 Mazda 3 long-term test car spent a good amount of time on the sunny streets of Southern California. In this video, we cover what we liked, and what we didn't, during our year of ownership.