Car Review: 2020 Mazda3 GT AWD
All-wheel-drive compact four-door proves that reports of the demise of the sedan are greatly exaggerated
In the last couple of months I’ve driven an inordinate number of new sedans—remember those?—and have come to one stark and overriding conclusion: reports of the four-door car’s death are greatly exaggerated.
The last time cars outsold ‘light trucks’—which include SUVs, pickups and minivans—was way back in 2009, so the sedan trend line has obviously gone the way of West Texas Light crude of late. Last year, as reported by Driving’s Timothy Cain, car sales in Canada accounted for just 25 per cent of the overall pie. And, Ford famously and boldly announced they are getting out of the car business for its North American markets, except for its iconic Mustang model.
So little surprise funeral planning has been underway for some time for the humble sedan, once the Big Three’s bread-and-butter. Which explains all those ‘reports’ of its demise.
But what is lost in all this slavish allegiance to numbers, specifically sales figures, is a loyal and passionate sedan fan base. To satisfy that group, a number of automakers—specifically foreign ones—have brought to market this year the best crop of compact and midsize sedans in recent memory.
This week’s road test is one of them. The Mazda3 GT AWD might not be the most stylish of the 2020 bunch—the Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Sentra share that honour—but with an all-in price tag just over $30K, a long list of tech and safety features, good fuel economy and an all-wheel-drive powertrain, this is one very desirable four-door for Canadian consumers.
Last year the fourth-generation Mazda3 debuted, with refreshed ‘KODO’ design language, the all-wheel-drive option and a new spark-controlled compression ignition engine called the SkyActiv-X. For 2020, there are just a few new features, in the case of the GT package on our road test, 18-inch alloy wheels and a frameless rearview mirror with auto-dimming function.
While it’s unfortunate that the SkyActiv-X engine is not yet available in Canada, the SkyActiv-G powertrains in the Mazda3s are exceptional engines too. Lower trims get the 2.0-litre inline four, while the GTs come with the 2.5-litre inline four with cylinder deactivation.
Mazda never seems to be in the ‘great fuel economy’ conversation, which is dominated by fellow Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda, however this engine goes a long way in Mazda elbowing into that discussion. During my week with in the tester, I achieved an average of 7.8 L/100km from a mix of city and highway driving, a very respectable number for a compact sedan. And unlike similar vehicles from those aforementioned brands, I never found the Mazda3 wanting for power, despite horsepower and torque outputs that don’t jump off the page (186 for each). Much of that sensation of not feeling the desire for more power has to do with the solid and supple chassis, featuring independent MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear, and Mazda’s i-Active all-wheel-drive system. And the standard-on-GT G-Vectoring Control Plus system really plants the 1,497-kilogram four-door to the road. Also stellar is the seamless delivery of power up and down through the 6-speed manumatic gearbox. All this provides a very competent driving package, and one far more preferable to Mazda’s crossover and sport-ute vehicles. That’s not a knock against Mazda; it’s true of all automakers that aspire to create CUVs/SUVs that ‘drive like cars.’ Well, no one has done that. If you want a vehicle that drives like a car, buy a car.
Where Mazda’s so-called ‘light trucks’ outpace their sedan and hatchback stablemates, however, is in the exterior design department. The Baleen-shark-like front grille and thin headlights that define the current KODO language work quite nicely on the taller stature sport-utes, but tend to dominate the cars to the point of an awkward imbalance of design. That’s true in the Mazda3, and the high trunk line at the rear doesn’t help, giving the compact sedan a less-than-attractive silhouette.
Fortunately, the sedan’s cabin design is among the best in its class. Clean and simple best describes the aesthetic ethos of the interior, from the straightedge dashboard to the classic gauge package, from the tightly packaged steering wheel control features to the sculpted centre console. And kudos to Mazda for the traditional shifter with leather wrap. No push buttons or odd little shifter handle here.
Complimenting, and indeed completing, the great handling of the sedan are the well-bolstered front seats, which keep you and your passenger snugly planted. Not sure about the white seats though. Looks great in the showroom, but over the years white interior tend to get pretty marked up.
My final thought on my week with the 2020 Mazda3 GT AWD is one readers of my reviews will be familiar with. And that is the key fob, with the buttons along the side of the fob instead of on the face of it. Don’t like it and can’t be convinced otherwise.
Hopefully, that’s a trend that goes away soon. The sedan certainly isn’t.