2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD – The Great Equilibrium

2020 MAZDA 3 SPORT GT AWD

2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD – After reviewing several different types of SUVs, it feels great to be back driving a hatchback. Why? Because of better driving dynamics. Mazda3 is one of the best alternatives in a hatchback segment when it comes to overall driving dynamics, it is as good as a dedicated hot-hatch. It’s not over yet, it also feels as premium as its German competitors for much affordable price. Since this is our first official Mazda review, we will start with a quick history of the brand.

Mazda, (deriving its name from Ahura Mazda, God of Light) was founded in 1920 under the name Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd. In 1927, the company renamed itself to Toyo Kogyo. In the beginning, the company produced corks and laters weapons for the Japanese army and vehicle production came later.

In 1931, the introduction of the Mazda-Go auto-rickshaw was the beginning of a new era.  For 14 years, the company produced only one model, a motorcycle with a truck bed. In 1960, they released their first passenger car. The company formally adopted the Mazda name in 1984, though every automobile sold from the beginning bore that name.

In 1967, Mazda launched its first-ever sports car, the Mazda Cosmo Sport. It was also the world’s first car powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine.

It is interesting to remember that in the early nineties, Mazda produced a number of models under the “Xedos” subbrand. Like Lexus, Acura or Infiniti, Mazda also could have created its own luxury brand. It did not happen. However, this was probably a contributing factor for Mazda to reposition itself as a premium brand, a process successfully going on.

Mazda RX-8 was the last car with a rotary engine – but Mazda never stopped being an innovative brand

One hundred years after its birth, Mazda is known with innovation power and superb engineering. For example, the rotary (aka Wankel) engine is a technology that differentiates Mazda from other companies. In the last decade or so, under the name “Skyactiv” Mazda took big steps to optimize the internal combustion engine and proved to the world, that one of the longest-lasting technologies is still with us at least for more than two decades or so. Skyactiv is not only about the gasoline engine, but also dynamic handling and driving pleasure. This direction also helped the company to gain more acceptance worldwide as a premium brand. Currently, Mazda is working on a six-cylinder, inline gasoline engine that would power and CX-5 and other models as well.

In 2020, Mazda Motor Corporation is not one of the biggest manufacturers on a global scale. Total production including commercial vehicles in 2020 was 1.3 million units (estimated figure at the time of publishing this article). Last year was not a good period in terms of volume and profitability. However, the design and quality of vehicles, the innovation craft and engineering skills are unquestionable. Mazda has past and current cooperation with Ford, Toyota and FCA. As a joint-venture Toyota Mazda invested 800 million dollars (USD) in a new factory in Alabama to jointly produce SUV’s. This cooperation will be more important in a hypercompetitive industry and Mazda is on the right track to maintain and develop its brand value.

CIAS 2020

At the last Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS)  in February this year, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) chose Mazda3 as the Best Small Car in 2020. AJAC awards are very much trusted and respected and a good indication and reference for new models in Canada and North America. This year was not the first time a Mazda vehicle got a reward.

 

Mazda 3 wins the AJAC Award for the Best Small Car in 2020. It was announced during the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) in Toronto in February this year

Proudly labelling the Mazda 3 as the Best Small Car during CIAS in February

Mazda Canada provided us with the opportunity to drive the range-topping Mazda3 Sport GT AWD. Sport refers to the hatchback version of the 3 which is offered also as a 4-door sedan. In an era of surging sales of CUV’s and SUVs (and Mazda has a rich model range in this segment), hatchbacks are a logical choice if you want to combine the driving characteristics of an automobile with the practicality of an SUV with the big hatch and variable cargo space. Honestly, the Mazda3 Sport GT AWD is more about driving pleasure and sportiness than carrying cargo and our experience proves that.

Engine and powertrain

2020 MAZDA 3 SPORT GT AWD

Mazda’s Skyactiv technology is globally known in terms of optimizing the ICE. The 2.5L 4-cylinder engine delivers 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque

The 2020 Mazda 3 comes with two different engine options. The base engine is a 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine that produces 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. If this is not enough for you, there is also another 4 cylinder option which is the 2.5L Skyactiv-G engine. 2.5L engine pumps out 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. However, Mazda finally offered a turbocharged 2.5L engine which produces 250 horsepower and a whopping 320 lb-ft of torque in the 100th Anniversary Edition. For Manual transmission lovers, Mazda still offers a stick shift in its base trim, which is great. However, you can’t choose it with a bigger engine or with an All Wheel Drive option and that is understandable from a sales perspective, as manual transmission vehicles sell much less than automatic.

Speaking of the automatic transmission, Mazda is one of the few brands that don’t offer CVT transmission in any of their vehicles, which we really appreciate this decision. It comes with 6-speed torque converted automatic transmission and it shifts perfectly smooth. The only disadvantage is, as it has 6 gears, gear ratios are a little bit on the taller side. That means it is more focused on fuel economy rather than pure acceleration. In our tests, Mazda 3 AWD consumed 9.0L / 100 km, which is very impressive considering it’s heavier than the Front-Wheel drive option.

AWD version has a badge on the trunk

It is a very popular feature in Canada, but not in this segment – it is the All-Wheel Drive system. It is optional with the latest generation Mazda 3, but you must choose middle or higher trim, and automatic transmission to get the AWD. Mazda calls this system i-Activ AWD, which constantly monitors road conditions and sends power to each axle accordingly. In our tests, though it is a front biased system as it has a transverse engine placed horizontally, the AWD system is tuned very well and you don’t feel excessive understeering.

Interior & Features

The cockpit and the dashboard have superb material quality and craftsmanship: A truly premium feeling

Interior quality is one of the strongest points of the new Mazda3. It feels as good as a premium German rival. There are no hard plastics, it’s mostly leather and very soft-touch plastics. It’s not only the materials used in the cabin but also sound isolation is very good. We had a chance to test drive another “Premium” SUV back to back and overall interior quality and sound deadening were much better on the Mazda3.

The button layout is also easy to get used to. Mazda decided to physical buttons for essential features like air conditioning, which is great. The infotainment screen is located in the middle, but it has no touchscreen feature. You need to use a physical knob to navigate the infotainment menu. It comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and both platforms work flawlessly. There is also a digital gauge cluster available on Mazda3. You can customize a few features within the cluster, but it is definitely not overwhelming to use. For all standard and optional features list, please see below for the specification chart.

The rear seats offer limited head and legroom. A high beltline and thick C-pillar contribute to a somewhat claustrophobic feeling in the rear

Sporty design elements don’t help cargo space, which is around 374L. It can go all the way up to 940L if you fold down the rear seats

However, this interior is designed as “form over function”, especially in the back. Due to its sleek design, dark interior and dark headliner, it is a very dark cabin. Rear legroom is not too bad, it’s just not the best especially if you compare it with subcompact SUVs. If you are taller than 6’1″ this may feel a little bit cramped especially in the rear. As long as you are okay sacrificing a little bit interior space for more sporty looking design, it is definitely not a deal-breaker as overall seat comfort is very good.

Driving Impressions

The rear design is as good looking as the front

Mazda3 Sport GT AWD is truly a driver car. The seating position is located low and it feels like a hot-hatch. The steering weight is stiff, chassis feel rigid. There is a minimal body roll, and Mazda3’s handling abilities are very good. Suspension tuning is a little bit on the stiffer side, but not harsh at all. Mazda found a great equilibrium when it comes to overall driving dynamics. It feels sporty, but not overly stiff. If you prioritize comfort over sportiness, you can choose the middle trim, which comes with smaller 16″ rims instead of 18″ available in the GT version.

Conclusion & Pricing

The Soul-Red-Crystal-Metallic paint fits well to the sporty character of the vehicle

The Mazda3 GT AWD is a compact, yet modern car that offers sportiness and driving pleasure at an affordable price point. It is one of the few alternatives that look exceptionally look good in every colour. However, the big question is – Is it the best in class? If you are strictly looking for an All-Wheel-Drive hatchback, then you have only two options in this “niche” class, and Mazda3 is definitely the best option. If you are looking for more space, then maybe you should look for a Crossover or SUV for more passenger and cargo accommodation because, for the price point, it is hard to beat the Mazda3 though it has slightly less interior space than the others.

When it comes to reliability and durability, Japanese cars are unbeatable. Mazda is one of them. Our 2012 Mazda GS had 244K kilometres and still running without problems

Yes, we call it a great equilibrium, and there is a reason for that. It is the only option in this segment that comes with premium craftsmanship and great driving dynamics without spending too much money on a compact hatchback. Considering its good reliability history, Mazda3 would be the best option if you want to keep your car for the long term. Our tester has an MSRP of C$33,195. This figure includes options worth C$4,450 with the Premium Package and Soul-Red Crystal Metallic Paint, the popular colour for which you have to pay C$450 as extra.

For full pricing and equipment details, please see the chart below:

An interesting memory from 2016

Among the historic successes of Mazda, the MX-5 Miata has a special place. This car is the best-selling roadster in history with well over one million units since 1989. The one-millionth Miata was on a world tour collecting signatures before taking its permanent place in the Mazda Museum in Japan.

I was glad and lucky enough to be among about 250 Canadian auto fans, who could attend this special event and sign on the hood of the millionth Mazda MX-5 during its world tour.

One millionth Mazda MX-5 on the world tour and meeting fans in Toronto in 2016

To read this article please go to the link https://www.autoandroad.com/2016/10/mazda-s-celebration-millionth-mx-5-canada/

For more detailed and most up-to-date information, please visit http://www.mazda.ca

Article by Varol McKars and Dan Gunay

Photos by Dan Gunay