As a member of the bad back club, Mazda’s inclusion of a power lumbar adjuster for the Mazda3’s driver’s seat is about all I need to give the car a positive review. But this detail does more than serve to sway me by appealing to my narrow self-interest: it is an example of the $32,065 2020 Mazda3’s surprisingly comprehensive feature list for a compact hatchback that might have once been dismissed as an “econobox.”
A look at the car’s specifications is startling. Consider the 186-horsepower, 186-lb. ft. Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder combustion engine, which has a stake on the claim of most sophisticated engine in production today. Skyactiv-G involves a fabulously complex piston crown that shapes combustion and relentlessly precise fuel injection that controls the timing of the combustion process.
The Skyactive combustion chamber. Image source: Mazda
This lets the Activ-G engine run at an eye-popping 13:1 compression ratio for optimum power and efficiency, contributing to the car’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 24 mpg in city driving, 32 mpg highway and a combined estimate of 27 mpg.
It combines with a 6-speed automatic transmission and the i-Active all-wheel drive system, with torque vectoring that uses engine power to help steer the car through the curves. There’s a forward radar that not only supports the automatic collision mitigation braking, but also controls the adaptive cruise control that has the brains to handle stop-and-go traffic by itself.
A head-up display keeps the driver informed of vital information and makes it easier to keep an eye on the car’s speed on the inside of the windshield, while the adaptive LED headlights ensure the driver can also see what’s ahead on the outside of the windshield.
If this impressive hardware roster isn’t appealing enough to technophiles, Mazda also appeals to our baser instincts by applying the amazing Soul Red Crystal paint finish. Competitors expressed amazement that it was production paint at its auto show debut, and not the expensive custom paint job it looks like.
The incredible depth of color and shine wouldn’t have been possible at any price not long ago, and now Soul Red Crystal is a $595 option on an imported economy hatchback! Owners should go ahead and sign up for a weekly car wash service now to avoid the distress of every seeing the Mazda3 look less than its best in this finish.
Inside, Mazda offers an alternative to drab all-black cabins or the dullness of gray or beige upholstery. The unlikely-seeming solution is to blend gray and beige into a vinyl the company dubs “Greige.” It is a taupe shade that brightens the cockpit with a fresh look that is similar to the hue that PC manufacturers adopted as they moved away from their own “beige boxes.”
Behind the wheel, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob lend a premium tactile impression to match the sophisticated appearance.
There’s a 6.8-inch infotainment display, and the car’s 12-speaker Bose audio system includes Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Alas, when not using those mobile device-based interfaces, Mazda’s own interface continues to be a case study in what not to do. This is different from previous bad Mazda infotainment interfaces, but still manages to set the standard as the industry’s most frustrating to use system.
Image source: Mazda
Maybe, as the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ company, Mazda really wants us to ignore the electronic gadgets and focus on driving, which is a good philosophy. Driving the Mazda3 is exciting, thanks to the car’s advanced all-weather power distribution and characteristically excellent steering feel and feedback.
The 2020 Mazda3 appeals to the driver at many levels, with its impressive paint, opulent cabin appointments and advanced safety technologies serving as bonuses in addition to the fundamentally sound and fun-to-drive car underneath. Mazda’s pragmatic approach to wringing out all the remaining efficiency from combustion engines before investing in the costly change to electric drive demonstrates why combustion vehicles will continue to be viable and attractive for years to come.
And you don't need to appreciate power lumbar support to see thet appeal of that.
Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.