At first blush, the 2020 Mazda3 GT AWD might not look that much different from other compact sedans, but spend some time with this offering from Japan’s fiercely independent automaker and you’ll be wondering if it has been beamed in from an alternate reality.
The interior design and build quality are leagues ahead of anything in the class, and all the controls and touch points are tactile delights. The drivetrain works with silken precision, and on the move this fetching sedan blends refinement with engaging driving dynamics. All-wheel drive gives it a leg up on the mainstream competitors – the only other AWD compact sedan being the Subaru Impreza.
Quietly graceful is how we would describe the 2020 Mazda3 GT sedan. The long hood and short deck give it a sporting profile, and the concave sculpting of the side panels is pure art, as is the flowing metal trim piece underscoring the blacked-out grille and headlights. We see fine detailing in both the LED headlights and taillights, accompanied by quality paint and tight panel gaps. This GT’s 18-inch wheels (lower trim levels get 16-inch wheels) give the sedan a purposeful, hunkered stance. The Mazda3 won the 2020 World Car Design of the Year Award which is pretty much the highest design honour any car can hope for.
The top-rung GT trim gets a full complement of active and passive safety systems as standard. They include a wide-angle rearview camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, front collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, auto high-beam control, and driver attention alert. Included in the $2,300 Premium Package are rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic brake support, front wiper de-icer, traffic sign recognition and a clear head-up display projected on the windshield.
Of course, all-wheel drive counts as a significant safety feature, as do the full LED headlights that provide exceptional nighttime illumination.
The 2020 Mazda3 gets a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
Compact sedans by definition are not as practical as their hatchback cousins or small crossovers, and the Mazda3’s trunk proves to be one of the smallest in the segment at 374 litres. Yes, it is slightly bigger than the Toyota Corolla’s (368 L), but is outdone by the Honda Civic (428 L), Hyundai Elantra (408 L), Subaru Impreza (460 L) and the Volkswagen Jetta (510 L).
The cabin offers plenty of useful storage up front – door pockets with bottle holders, two cupholders in the console, plus a handy bin between the seats with a lid that slides as well as flips up. There’s also an overhead console with a sunglasses holder.
If you want more practicality to with this compact’s class, there’s the Mazda3 Sport (five-door hatchback) that offers up a 569 litre trunk, expanding to 1,334 litres.
User Friendliness: 7.5/10
Mazda’s infotainment interface, with its large console-mounted control knob, is fashioned after those used by German premium automakers (although most now have moved to full touchscreen access). It has its benefits in that you’re not poking away at icons on a touchscreen, but some basic audio functions (source, tuning, and station presets) require a distracting amount of menu diving. Like any system, familiarity makes for more streamlined operation. Mazda’s voice recognition passes the basic radio station request test without hesitation or glitches. We also like the array of logical, analogue controls for the HVAC system, as well as the traditional PRND shift selector.
Rear outward visibility takes a hit here, however, due to the sedan’s swoopy roofline and thick C-pillars.
Being the top trim level, the Mazda3 GT gets a generous level of kit that includes 18-inch wheels, adaptive and auto-levelling LED headlights, sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated front seats and an excellent 12-speaker Bose sound system. Newly added as standard for 2020 with the GT is advanced keyless entry (proximity and ignition). However, to get leather and power adjustment and memory for the driver’s seat requires stepping up to the $2,300 Premium Package that also bestows navigation, traffic sign recognition, rear parking sensors, head-up display, three months of SiriusXM, a five-year subscription to SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link, automatic rear brake support, front wiper de-icer, frameless/auto dimming rearview mirror, auto dimming driver’s side mirror, and a piano black grille.
So what’s missing here? Other range-toppers in this class lure buyers with ventilated front seats, powered passenger seat, and heated rear seats.
By the numbers, the 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder in the Mazda3 GT puts on a good showing with 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of maximum torque. But as that twist shows up at a high-ish 4,000 rpm, it doesn’t have the strong step-off punch seen in some of its turbocharged rivals, like the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta. This four-pot is commendably smooth and quiet, however, so spinning it is no real hardship. And once in its powerband, the high-compression four-cylinder moves the sedan out quite smartly.
Front-seat passengers enjoy plenty of legroom, headroom, and a nice forward vista, whereas rear seat riders pay for the Mazda3’s stylish profile with pinched accommodations and reduced sightlines. Nonetheless, the seats (both front and rear) are comfortable and well contoured, and if you count fine-quality leather and obsessive build quality as comforts, then the GT (with the Premium Package that bestows this lovely white hide) delivers.
In my books, high-quality audio counts as a comfort feature, and this 12-speaker Bose system (standard with the GT) is smooth, rich, and well balanced. A real treat for the ears. Helping in this regard is the 3’s impressively quiet cabin. On the highway there is barely a whisper of wind, road, or engine noise.
The Mazda3 GT loses comfort points for its occasionally jarring ride. On good surfaces the sedan glides along with refinement, but when those surfaces deteriorate passengers are made well aware of the road’s topography.
As mentioned above, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats are missing from this range-topper.
Driving Feel: 9/10
Mazda is a car company that has always prioritized driving feel, and this compact sedan follows the script with a sharp, responsive chassis and accurate steering. It’s fun to fling the GT down a country road, but the Mazda3 sedan is equally impressive on the highway, tracking straight and true while remaining remarkably serene. This sedan has a lovely tactile feel, starting with a finely crafted steering wheel whose supple leather and contouring would be not out of place in cars costing three times as much.
Mazda touts its G-Vectoring Control system as a key to the 3’s handling. When entering a corner, engine torque is reduced, resulting in slight deceleration which shifts weight to the front tires, enhancing turn-in response. It basically mimics what a good driver would do, but with more precision. GVC is completely transparent so you are never aware of it. The clever i-Activ all-wheel drive system plays along here too, sending more torque to the rear wheels when powering out of a corner.
The Mazda3 GT runs with a smooth six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. These days, six gears is a pretty low count, but the benefit here is less “hunting” and more linear in-gear acceleration. Activate Sport mode via a toggle switch just left of the shifter and the transmission gets a more aggressive shift map, holding on to gears longer and keeping the engine revs closer to the power band.
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
With a Natural Resources Canada rating of 9.2 L/100 km city, 7.0 highway, and 8.2 combined, the 2020 Mazda3 GT AWD is not one of the more fuel-efficient vehicles in the segment, but my real-world experience after a week of mixed and admittedly relaxed driving proved otherwise – 7.7 L/100 km. Helping with fuel economy here is cylinder-deactivation technology, standard on GT models. It has two cylinders shutting under certain conditions, like coasting and light-load cruising.
Is the 2020 Mazda3 GT AWD with Premium Package at $30,500 before fees and taxes an expensive compact economy car or a well-priced premium offering? That’s the dilemma that faces the Mazda3 – a car with upscale aspirations that’s hangin’ with the penny pinchers. But a closer look at pricing shows you’re not paying any more for the Mazda3’s class-above build, as a fully optioned 2020 Mazda3 GT (without AWD) sits at $29,000, putting it right between the range-topping Honda Civic Sedan Touring ($29,576) and Toyota Corolla XSE CVT ($28,490). By offering all-wheel drive for $1,500, Mazda plays to the premium buyers who traditionally want their sedans to have four driven wheels.
The fourth-generation Mazda3 marks a move to push this compact upmarket – clearly illustrated by this top-spec GT AWD with Premium Package. You won’t be comparing it to a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, or Hyundai Elantra. Its design, build quality, and premium feel line up more with Mercedes-Benz and Audi; and in that light this AWD sedan could be considered a bargain. There are a couple of flies in this Lancôme-grade ointment, however: tight rear quarters and lack of midrange punch. Mazda can’t do much about the former, but for 2021 the Mazda3 will be available with a turbocharged version of the 2.5L four – making 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque – that will push this impressive compact further upmarket.
|Peak Horsepower||186 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.2 / 7.0 / 8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||374 / 940 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2020 Mazda3 GT AWD with Premium Package|
|Price as Tested||$32,350|