First drive: 2020 Mazda 3 in the UAE
Mazda has built a bit of a reputation with enthusiasts on a budget. Building cars that drive well, no matter what category they play in, it is popular among certain younger buyers. Of course, the problem is most buyers aren’t of the enthusiastic variety, and Mazda has always been way behind when it comes to the basics of space and comfort, thereby giving up market share to brands which understand their respective segments better. Does the new Mazda 3 change that?
The 2020 Mazda 3 truly is all-new, with a new chassis that actually regresses from the old one’s fancier multilink suspension. We’ll talk about the implications of that in a bit.
In terms of looks, the new hatchback makes a head-turning first impression, especially compared to the conservative sedan version. However, the thick rear pillars make for an odd butt-heavy overall profile that will not appeal to everybody. Styling elements such as the thin headlights, the clean grille and the intricate rear lights work well in keeping with Mazda’s premium aspirations.
Inside, Mazda pushes the boundaries of how good an economy car’s interior can look, with a clean aesthetic and premium-looking touches such as stitched-leatherette padding on the dashboard and metallic-looking trim strewn about. In this top version, the upholstery is a deep red in leather, and you even get a heads-up display, 360-degree cameras, and active cruise control with stop-and-go function. But beauty is where the positives end.
The non-traditional control setup makes it hard to find what you need at a quick glance. The climate control a/c with rear vents doesn’t cool as well as the a/c on other Japanese rivals. And while rear space has been improved, the legroom remains cramped compared to rivals in the same segment. Space is something that’s lacking in all Mazda models in their respective segments, and it’s probably a consequence of having to cut down on size to pay for the premium accoutrements elsewhere.
The 153 hp 2.0-litre motor with 200 Nm of torque makes adequate juice for a daily driver, and feels quicker than equivalent cars with similar horses on paper, which is also a Mazda trademark. However, it’s not quick enough to hold your interest if you’re an enthusiast. They should’ve slapped a turbo on it by now, especially since the asking price is now similar to a Honda Civic RS, or the now-defunct Ford Focus ST.
The drive is still good though. They’ve retained a 6-speed automatic instead of switching to CVT like many others. The entertaining handling is retained even with the switch to cheaper rear torsion-beam suspension (apparently to make way for more cargo space in the boot). We didn’t drive it for long, but we suspect the downgrade will only be noticeable when driving at the limit, which is probably what Mazda is counting on most of their owners not doing.
The Mazda 3 also seems to be quieter and rides less firmly than before. The old model was absolutely terrible in terms of highway comfort, although the new one is still not quite the best car to take on a cross-country trip.
And “not quite the best car” sums up the new Mazda 3 really. It remains a car that largely appeals to enthusiasts on a budget, except it’s dumbed down that aspect a bit while still being somewhat unappealing to the mass-market buyer who would cross-shop it with Corollas and Civics. And with the high asking prices, its fate is sealed, even if it does win awards (of which there are many).
Photos by Mashfique H. Chowdhury