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The refined compact continues to mature and reward drivers with quality and performance

COURTESY MAZDA - The 2020 Mazda3 AWD Hatchack sets a new standard for family-oriented compact cars, with bold styling and refined engineering.Small cars are continuing to fall out of favor because of the record-length economic recovery economy and continuing relatively low gas prices.

Because consumers don't have to buy cheap, fuel efficent cars, they aren't. Instead they're buying SUVs and trucks. Even people who don't need trucks are buying trucks. Go figure.

Manufacturers are responding in different ways. Chevy, Ford and Fiat Chrysler have stopped producing most of their subcompact and compact cars — and even some of their larger ones. Honda and Toyota have redesigned theirs to look snazzier and drive better. Nissan has added more standard features to their smallest vehicles. Hyundai and Kia are keeping their prices low while constantly updating them.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The interior of the Mazda3 is clean and simple, with high quality materials giving it an upscale feel.

Mazda has taken a different approach. It discontinued the subcompact Mazda2 a few years ago, but continued refining the Mazda3 to bridge the gap between affordable and luxury compacts. It is available as both a stylish sedan and an attractive hatchback.

Practically everything about the 2020 Mazda3 — which was redesigned last year — says upscale. The latest version of the company's "KODO Soul of Motion" exterior styling is the most mature yet, impressing with its graceful lines, especially in the hatchback version we tested. The interior is simple and tasteful, featuring sensual leather and soft surfaces instead of hard plastic.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The front bucket seats in the Mazda3 are comfortable and supportive.

On the road, the Mazda3 retains the company's commitment to spirited performance, handling better than any other car in its class. Part of that is because of the G-Vectoring Control system that reduces power slightly when turning in to a corner, shifting the weight to the front wheels, and applying the brakes to whatever wheel is necessary when existing.

Our test Mazda3 was also equipped with all-wheel-drive, which was first made available in 2019. We recommend it for Pacific Northwest drivers, since it improves traction in slippery conditions. There is not enough ground clearance for even light off-road driving, however. If our want that, check out the all-new Mazda CX-30 crossover, which is closely related to the Mazda3.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Rear seat passengers ride in styling in the Mazda3.

The only letdown is the slightly underpowered 2.5-liter engine, as other auto writers have noted as well. Acceleration is not bad, and even better in Sport mode, which increases throttle response. Still, Mazda has begun offering turbochargers in its larger vehicles, and needs to at least offer the option in its compact for enthusiasts .

Because the Mazda3 was redesigned just last year, there are few changes in the 2020 lineup. Most significantly, they now all come standard with the company's i-Activsense suite of driver assists that includes lane-departure warning and assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, driver attention alert, auto high beams and adaptive cruise control.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The Mazda3 is also available as an attractive sedan.

Mazda has not been panicked by the shift the marketplace, as the evolutionary improvements to the 2020 Mazda3 AWD Hatchback show. They are betting there is still a demand for a sophisticated but affordable compact that is fun to drive. Let's hope they're right.

2020 Mazda3 AWD Hatchback

Base price: $23,600 (base hatchback)

Price as tested: $31,595 (Premium model)

Type: Compact hatchback

Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 (186 hp, 186 lbs-ft)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

Drive modes: Normal, Sport

Mileage: 24/32

Overall length: 183.5 inches

Curb weight: 3,248 pounds

Final assembly: Hofu, Japan


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