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Mazda3 Hatchback: Sleeker, Not Sharper, Body Lines

By James Raia, October 19th, 2019

Nearly every mainstream automaker has a "basic" car marketed to appeal to budget buyers and a "flagship" model touted to redefine luxury. Competition is fierce, and the extremes of success and failure can often be defined by Mazda. More than two dozen compact crossovers are available in 2020, including the Mazda3.

It's fully redesigned as the manufacturer tries to regain its one-stronger market share. The Mazda3 is slightly longer and has more rear-seat room and cargo space than its predecessor. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine has also been tweaked to 186 horsepower, two more than in 2018.

Streamlining transmission options, the Mazda3 is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode, though there's one exception: The highest-level trim is also available with a manual transmission.

Compact car owners can't expect spaciousness, and the Mazda3's biggest fault for me is its proportions, particularly entering and exiting the front seats, where a basic understanding of yoga was required, as I entered and exited. The back seats are easier to master, while both locations get high marks for comfort.

The interior layout is straightforward and constructed with quality materials. Gauges and dials are clean and simple. An optional head-up display beams particulars in crisp focus; gone is the folding head-up display that provided more distraction than assistance.

Available in base, Select, Preferred and Premium trims in FWD and AWD configurations, the hatchback starts at $23,700. Throughout the Mazda lineup, acceleration is best described as steady. The Mazda progresses from 0-to-60 mph in 7.0 seconds, a good effort for the segment. Several competitors -- including Kia, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen -- offer turbocharged engines and better gas mileage averages. The Mazda3 is rated 27 miles per gallon in city driving, and 32 miles per gallon on the freeway. The tester is $28,900, though a few small additions -- like a wireless charging pad ($275) and destination and handling -- push the price to $31,335.

While not fast, the compact hatchback is responsive and authoritative. Turns and maneuvering through traffic are all part of the fun.

The infotainment system includes an 8.8-inch center screen mounted high on the dash and ideally angled for a keen view. It's controlled using the center knob positioned between the front seats. This approach eliminates the need for drivers to make a long reach to the touchscreen. But the system has a learning curve. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility come on all versions.

The Mazda's i-ActiveSense suite of advanced safety features is standard on most versions. The package includes a driver attention alert, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning.

More expensive trims offer premium features such as heated power seats, leather upholstery, paddle shifters, a head-up display, and headlights that swivel when turning. The equipment comes at a price, but the number of options might embarrass the offerings from a few luxury brands.

Specifications

Base price $28,900 (as tested: $31,335)
Curb weight 3,071 lbs.
Displacement 2.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve SkyActiv 4-cyl.
Epa mileage rating 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.2 gal.
Horsepower (net) 186 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 184 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 186 at 4000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact hatchback
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