It needs to be better than the CX-5.
Sales can't always be used to judge whether or not a car is great but in the case of the 2020 Mazda3, the figures are a bit worrying. Despite being in just its second model year following a complete redesign, Mazda3 sales are down by 21.5 percent. Perhaps the sales decline can be attributed to the success of Mazda's best-selling model, the CX-5, but we think there's more to it than that. After recently spending some time with a 2020 Mazda3 we found many things to like about it. However, there is just one missing feature that we feel would put the car over the edge in the minds of sedan buyers.
Say what you will about Mazda but the automaker knows how to design pretty cars. The 3 wears the latest iteration of Mazda's "Soul of Motion" (or Kodo) design language, which looks eye-catching in sedan or hatchback form. Even the base model includes LED headlights while our Premium Package tester rode on larger 18-inch wheels. We like Mazda's Machine Grey Metallic paint but prefer Soul Red Crystal. The 3 is a beautiful canvas on which we could easily see a sportier variant derived (but more on that later).
Matching the exterior, Mazda has gone for a more upscale feel in the interior. When equipped with the optional white leather, the 3's cabin feels on par with many entry-level sub-compact luxury sedans. Soft-touch materials cover all of the major touch points and the controls feature knurled plastic giving it a premium, almost Audi-like feel. Our only gripes on the interior are middle-of-the-pack rear legroom and the infotainment system which doesn't seem like a major improvement over the previous generation.
For the first time ever, Mazda offers the 3 with all-wheel-drive, making it only the second mainstream compact sedan (along with the Subaru Impreza) to offer this helpful feature. We have no doubts that the inclusion of AWD should help Mazda sell more of these cars in cold weather climates but with the availability of AWD on the CX-30 and CX5, we aren't sure if this is the feature Mazda should have focused its efforts on.
Most buyers who place AWD as a high priority on their buying list are likely looking for a crossover of some kind. Therefore, Mazda should have focused on making the 3 more appealing to buyers who don't need a crossover. As more people switch over to SUVs, the buyers who continue to stick with sedans are looking for an experience that taller vehicles simply can't match. They want something fun. Something hotter.
We hate to keep perpetuating the "this car needs more power" cliche but if cars could talk, this one would be begging its owner to take it to the gym to get stronger and faster. Mazda has given no concrete evidence that it wants to build a sportier version of this car akin to the old MazdaSpeed3 but we think it desperately needs to. The company may drop the turbocharged engine from the Mazda6 and CX-5 under the hood but we don't think this would solve the 3's sales problem.
The bones are here for Mazda to come along and build a stellar sports sedan that would be more compelling than a crossover but all we have here is a very competent economy sedan with a bit of pep. There's nothing here than the CX-5 doesn't do better. We'd like to see Mazda offer a more powerful, turbocharged engine, bigger brakes, sharper suspension, some more aggressive bodywork, and possibly even a manual transmission. It doesn't even have to use the MazdaSpeed name so long as it delivers a sporty driving experience. This could be a recipe for pure greatness.