2020 Mazda 3 First Impressions
Drive and Review Sedans, Hatchbacks, Wagons Top Stories

2020 Mazda 3 First Impressions (With Video)

The all-new Mazda 3 sets a high benchmark in the compact car class.

Much has been said about the all-new, highly anticipated Mazda 3. The brand has set the bar high, delivering a premium, luxurious, and sporty experience unheard of in this segment. Its attention to detail is immense, even down to the wipers and doors. Yet in reality, with an intimate chat with the Mazda 3 program manager, the wipers and doors are just scratching the surface. I have yet to reveal what other parts of the car have they placed so much attention to, but those other details will be for another article that’s worth creating.

Attention to detail is one thing, how it all translates into the real world is another. So let me tell you right away, the Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback have set the benchmark really high, and it’s these cars where all other sedans will now be compared against.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Exterior

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Exterior

It all starts with its exterior. The second generation of Mazda’s Kodo design is all about beauty through subtraction. In other words, expect a lack of character lines starting with this all-new Mazda 3. Instead, the car’s key design elements will now be based on the bending of light and shadow through its smooth curves. Take an intimate look at the all-new Mazda 3 and you will notice that while it has no character lines, it has distinct C-shaped reflections, which are unlike anything I have seen in any car on the road today. The slim LED headlights merge cleanly with the wide grille, finished in black for the hatchback or chrome for the sedan.

2020 Mazda 3 First Impressions

Upon first glance, the sedan and hatchback look quite similar, but you can immediately tell that the two body styles have distinct characters. In fact, the two cars are distinct enough that only the hood is shared between the two cars. Thus, Mazda thinks that the two body styles will indeed cater to two different customers. Those who prefer the sedan prefer elegant and timeless designs, while those who prefer the hatch are more radical and free-spirited.

The Mazda 3 hatch and sedan are clearly inspired by their recent concepts, with the sedan echoing the Mazda Vision Coupe Concept and the hatch adopting the radical looks of the Mazda Kai concept. Speaking of the hatch, the thick (or thicc as them woke dudes say) C-pillars divide opinion, but personally, I do think that the C-pillars now look great, especially in Soul Red Crystal or Polymetal Gray, which is their new color exclusive to the hatch.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Interior

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Interior

Things quickly get intimate and luxurious the moment you step inside. It simply oozes quality and luxury through its leather surfaces, stitching details, tight panel gaps, and a reassuringly solid door thud. Whereas its competitors seduce you with space, the Mazda 3’s interior is luxurious and cozy. It’s not as spacious as a Honda Civic, but the Civic’s cabin suddenly feels austere next to the Mazda 3’s. It’s the class benchmark when it comes to interior quality and design, whichever variant you choose. Even the fabric seats in the Mazda 3 Sedan 1.5 Elite feels nice.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Interior

As mentioned, the Civic is more spacious, but where the Mazda 3 trumps the Civic is with how comfortable the rear seats are. Space is one thing, but having much more comfortable seats is another. The Mazda 3’s seat height is just right whereas the Civic tries to combat its sloping roofline by lowering the rear seat height, resulting in more headroom, but with less leg support. The Mazda 3 meanwhile has rear seats that are sculpted, which means there is much better thigh and leg support in the Mazda 3. For long distances, it would be a toss-up between the Civic’s rear seat space and the Mazda 3’s supremely comfortable and supportive rear seats.

Another aspect that sets apart a good interior from a great one is how the buttons and switchgear feel when you operate them, and Mazda has nailed that aspect so well. This is as close as you could get with an interior that feels like it’s from a premium brand because the buttons have a satisfying click that’s absent in literally all of its competitors. Likewise, the white LED lighting for the buttons has been calibrated so well that it always looks pleasing to the eye at night.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Interior

Infotainment duties are provided by a newly redesigned Mazda Connect infotainment system, which utilizes a wide 8.8-inch screen controlled solely via the rotary dial. The new infotainment is better than ever, with an extremely minimalist layout that only highlights information that is needed. It comes with built-in navigation, as well as the expected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration features.

2020 Mazda 3 1.5 Elite Sedan Interior

Likewise, the instrument cluster also features a minimalist layout. The text and numbers are simple to read, plus the standard 7-inch digital instrument cluster is one of the classiest I’ve ever seen because it blends extremely well with the analog gauges. A large color head-up display is also standard on all variants.

2020 Mazda 3 Engine

There are two engine choices for the Mazda 3, and while the engines are the same as before, they’ve been tweaked for slightly better performance and fuel economy. The 1.5-liter Skyactiv-G petrol engine produces 111 hp and 146 Nm of torque, while the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G petrol engine produces 155 hp and 200 Nm of torque. Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic driving the front wheels.

Setting off from our starting point at Rockwell, all the way to Clark Speedway, the most noticeable improvement is its refinement. The new Mazda 3 is now the most refined compact car in its class, hands down. This is due to numerous small and large details working together to provide a hushed driving experience. From the carpets, the roof liner, seats, pillars, and the sound insulation itself are all part of the equation in creating a cabin that reduces outside noise, but also inside noise coming out of the vehicle. Even with the 12-speaker Bose sound system at full blast, there aren’t a lot of sounds leaking out of the vehicle.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Interior

Speaking of the sound system, even the base 8-speaker Mazda Harmonics Acoustics sound system is already the best in its class, with the Bose sound system just having the benefit of additional four speakers (two at the front, two at the rear). Like the sound insulation, the rest of the interior also plays a key role in providing the best interior acoustics. Simply changing the carpets or tinkering with whatever is inside the doors can upset the acoustics. That’s how well Mazda has integrated every single part of the vehicle to be in harmony with each other.

2020 Mazda 3 First Impressions

Once we’re at the racetrack, the Mazda 3 felt different from the previous generation model. Whereas you would feel every tiny movement you do with its predecessor, this new Mazda 3 makes the car’s directional changes and body movements much smoother. Its new human-centric philosophy is all about smoothening whatever goes through the cabin and whatever driver inputs are made to the vehicle. Some may initially think of this as the car being less eager to change direction, but in reality, the smoother driver inputs due to the Skyactiv Vehicle Architecture and G-Vectoring Control Plus make the car much more composed in the racetrack.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Premium Sportback Exterior

In simpler terms, this just means that less steering and throttle corrections are needed to be made by the driver as they progress through a turn. All the driver has to do is simply point the vehicle in the direction they want the Mazda 3 to go, and that’s about it. No fuss, no drama.

2020 Mazda 3 versus Honda Civic

The all-new Mazda 3’s smoother body movements were much more evident the moment I hopped into the Honda Civic 1.8 E. Yes, a Honda Civic was brought along for the ride for us to have a direct comparison. While the Civic 1.8 E is definitely faster than the Mazda 3 1.5 Elite Sedan in a straight line, the lesser-powered Mazda 3 was much more composed during the slalom, roundabout, and emergency brake test. As you watch the video posted above, you will see that the Civic nosedives much more prevalently and the body leans a bit more during the roundabout test compared to the Mazda 3.

Also, because the Civic 1.8 E uses a CVT, the transmission held the engine’s revs for far too long, making the car loud and boomy under hard acceleration. The Mazda 3 1.5 Elite Sedan with its 6-speed automatic was more linear and more pleasant, especially in terms of throttle response. In the real world, the Mazda 3 1.5 Elite Sedan and Sportback are just fine. It’s able to carry the car’s weight with no issues at all, even when going up to Baguio.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Premium Sportback Exterior

Despite numerous sweeping turns coming our way, the Mazda 3’s smoothness was always noticeable. The ride, while still firm, is not uncomfortable. It’s actually even better than its predecessor with a multi-link rear suspension. Despite constantly looking down at my camera to review the photos I took on the way up to Baguio, I never felt car sick at all. This is exactly the main point of Mazda’s new human-centric philosophy, which is to develop a car that feels nimble yet comfortable in a way that its occupants do not need to hold on for dear life when they go up through the winding roads of Baguio.

Speaking of the suspension, of course, the torsion beam rear suspension is probably your main concern, but here’s the thing. The torsion beam set-up was not selected out of cost savings. It was all because Mazda’s engineers think that for their goal to create a smoother driving car, a torsion beam set-up was easier to tune with far less moving parts to calibrate.

It’s not just a simple torsion beam design though. The beam itself is in a V-shape, which makes the torsion bar much more rigid. The two bushings, on the other hand, contain two rubber materials, with each rubber material designed to absorb different movements. In simpler terms, Mazda’s engineers have developed a torsion beam rear suspension with some of the elements of an independent rear suspension, which Mazda claims is a world’s first. Granted, Mazda’s engineers say that at its absolute limits, the unique torsion beam suspension they’ve developed is less superior, but how often do you reach a car’s absolute handling limits on a daily basis? In the end, it was a decision based on tuning the Mazda 3’s ride and handling to deliver a much smoother driving experience.

As for fuel economy, we’ve averaged anywhere between 9.6 km/l to 12.3 km/l across all cars, and that’s despite taking it to the track, traversing through EDSA, or climbing up to Baguio.

Part of Mazda’s human-centric philosophy is making the driving experience much easier for all drivers. While blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist, which are part of i-ACTIVSENSE, have already been equipped on various Mazda vehicles in the past, this is the first time that Mazda has offered its entire suite of i-ACTIVSENSE advanced driver-assist features. i-ACTIVSENSE is standard on all the 2.0-liter variants, which apart from the aforementioned safety features, includes the addition of radar-based adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Front cross traffic alert, meanwhile, is only available for the 2.0 Elite Sedan.

2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Speed Exterior

Lastly, a new 360-degree surround-view camera system has also been added as standard on all 2.0-liter variants, and it’s one of the sharpest and clearest I’ve ever used outside of a premium luxury brand.

Mazda’s new Jinba Ittai philosophy involves making a car that’s fun to drive, but now has the grown-up and premium feel you expect from cars priced much higher. The immense attention to detail that was placed towards the driving dynamics, exterior, as well as interior design is all in line with the new human-centric philosophy to make a car that’s able to cater to a much wider audience. Whether you are a car or motorsport enthusiast, or simply looking for a more premium offering in the compact car class, Mazda wants you to set your expectations high, because right now, Mazda knows that no other car brand does compact cars better than Mazda themselves. 

Mazda 3 1.5-liter Sedan Elite: P1,295,000
Mazda 3 1.5-liter Sportback Elite: P1,320,000
Mazda 3 2.0-liter Sedan Premium: P1,495,000
Mazda 3 2.0-liter Sportback Premium: P1,510,000
Mazda 3 2.0-liter Speed: P1,590,000

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