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Few compact cars get ogled more than the exotic-looking 2020 Mazda3 hatchback. (Mazda)

What we’re driving: 2020 Mazda3 Premium AWD

The 2020 Mazda3 has head-turning styling and a smooth 4-cylinder, but quirky HMI and other avoidable electronic irritants.

Before I started a drive in the 2020 Mazda3, I had to toggle the drive-select to “sport.” And release the parking brake. Each and every time. At least the two switches are in proximity on the center console. But this annoyance mars the generally good experience of the Mazda3 (all-new in 2019) and once again suggests it’s a refreshing but occasionally cockeyed prism through which Mazda engineers and planners view the world. 

Do we need an automatically-setting parking brake in a vehicle with an automatic transmission? Let’s say we do (although we don’t, and not for a manual transmission, either). If it automatically engages, can it not automatically disengage when I select a gear, as did the parking brake in a Toyota Camry I drove a week later? And if you can’t bring yourself to spec the automatic-release function, Mazda, couldn’t you at least allow me to permanently disable this “feature” in the vehicle-settings menu?

Same for the “sport” setting. If there’s an option to default to sport at every startup, I didn’t find it. And for this chunky-feeling, all-wheel-drive version of the gorgeously-styled Mazda3 hatchback, you need that sport setting. Although the Skyactiv-G 2.5-L 4-cyl. is unnaturally smooth all the way to its 6700-rpm redline, its 186 hp and 186 lb-ft (252 Nm) feels blunted, almost lethargic. Mazda has penned-in an upgrade to the 227-hp (250 hp on 93 octane) turbocharged 4-cyl. for 2021, but if the price of this normally-aspirated model is an indicator, I fear for potential buyers’ bank balances.

I’m not enthralled by just six forward gears, reverting to a solid rear axle, the uninspired 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway efficiency, nor the 128 pages in the owner’s manual devoted to the intricacies of the i-Activesense electronic safety suite. It causes me to wonder if independent rear suspension had to go so the Mazda3 could get rear traffic alert and “smart brake support.” 

This is a fully trimmed-up model, but I’m still compelled to mention the Mazda3 tester’s aggressive and seemingly tone-deaf pricing at a time when cars, particularly small cars, are the antithesis of what customers want. Thirty-two grand is huge money for any compact car. Perhaps a misguided strategic carryover from the Mazda3’s European marketing?

2020 Mazda3 Premium AWD

Base price:      $28,900
As tested:        $32,065
Highs:              AWD availability; gorgeous sheetmetal; engine refinement
Lows:               Calamitous HMI; auto-setting parking brake; ambitious pricing
Takeaway:       High style and all-wheel-drive chassis deflated by the details – and price.  



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