Our new long-term 2020 Mazda3 hatchback proves we’re not quite ready to accept the automaker’s change of course. In case you’ve missed the news, Mazda is looking to focus less on its sporty and fun image and more on its new path to becoming a legit luxury brand. The new Mazda3 is the first official effort from the automaker’s pivot. That said, we’re having a tough time completely erasing away Mazda’s fun, zoom-zoomy image. Which is why we ordered our Polymetal Gray Metallic hatchback with the fancy Premium package—and a six-speed manual transmission. We think it’s a fair compromise.
The manual gearbox’s take rate will be low—about 3 percent, by Mazda’s estimates. But those brave few will be rewarded with a much more engaging driving experience that only three pedals can provide. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque is the sole engine choice for the Mazda3, and it feels much peppier with the manual (and its taller first gear) compared to the optional six-speed automatic. The leather gear shifter is satisfying to operate, and the brake and accelerator pedals are spaced well enough to execute your frisky heel-toe urges. Overall, it’s a solid manual gearbox.
Some staffers lament that the new Mazda3 has lost some of its sporty bite we’ve admired in the previous-gen version. And although that might be true at limit handling, I’m quite happy with how the new 3 carries itself around town and through the twisties. And besides, most Mazda3 owners aren’t aspiring to reach 1.0 g lateral acceleration on their way to Church’s Chicken.
So with that in mind, my year with the new 3 will focus on how well it gets me though my daily slog on Interstate 405 and weekend road trips. A long list of features should keep me busy and entertained. When it comes to tech, our Mazda3 packs adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, a head-up display, a large and clear 8.8-inch infotainment screen, and Apple CarPlay. Other standout features include LED headlights that swivel in the direction you’re turning, a powerful Bose sound system, sunroof, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Meanwhile, the interior is a sharp mix of red leather seats, knurled switchgear, and metal speaker covers that wouldn’t look out of place in a Mercedes-Benz. With all these goodies, our Mazda3 somehow manages to come in below $30,000—$28,420, to be exact. A base model Mazda3 hatchback is about $4,000 cheaper and is also impressively equipped; oddly enough, though, it can’t be paired with a manual transmission (same goes for the midlevel Preferred package). If we were to cross-shop our long-termer, we’d be looking at a Volkswagen GTI and perhaps the 2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring hatchback, which is now available with a manual transmission.
I’ll have plenty of other things to observe in future updates. Since this is a hatchback, I’m eager to see how practical and spacious the rear passenger and cargo areas will be. Can the 3 coddle me like a luxury car should on a long drive to San Francisco? And with gas prices on the rise in California, we’ll observe how close it can get to the EPA’s rating of 25/35 mpg city/highway.