For knowledgeable driving enthusiasts, Mazda’s mainstream lineup is one of the unsung heroes of the automotive industry. While most people know the company for the RX-7, and MX-5 (Miata), what many non-enthusiast car buyers don't realize is the driver-oriented philosophy behind both of those cars is infused into every other car the company builds.
Therefore, while consistently underrated, Mazda nevertheless builds cars that are truly fun to drive. In fact, a few years ago the company mounted a marketing campaign with the tagline, “Zoom-Zoom”, an apt description of the athleticism exhibited by its cars. That said, the subject of this used car buyer's guide—the awkwardly named Mazda Mazda3—is an excellent case in point.
With its refined engine, agile handling, sharp steering, and reassuring brakes, the Mazda3 is a compact sports sedan disguised as an economy-oriented family car. That Mazda also has a penchant for endowing its cars with a generous level of standard features—as well as nice interior designs—only serves to make the Mazda3 even more of an endearing proposition.
Introduced to North America in 2004 as a replacement for the Mazda 323/Protégé series of cars, the Mazda Mazda3 is a car deserving of considerably more attention than it garners. Two generations of the Mazda have been produced since its introduction, with the second generation appearing for model year 2010.
The first-generation Mazda3 was introduced in two trim levels, “i” and “s”; with two body styles; four-door sedan and five-door hatchback configurations. Over the years, the number of trim levels expanded as more features were added.
The base engine, (fitted to i trim level models) was a 140 hp, 2.0 L double overhead cam in-line four-cylinder, capable of 135 foot-pounds of torque. The “big” engine was a 160 hp 2.3 L double overhead cam in-line four-cylinder. This powerplant was capable of 150 foot-pounds of torque.
The Mazda3’s front-wheel-drive powertrain used five-speed manual transmissions as standard equipment, and a four-speed automatic transmission as an option with either engine.
At the time of the Mazda3’s development, the Ford Motor Company held a significant interest in Mazda, as well as Volvo. Thus, the Mazda3 shares much of its underpinning with the Ford Focus, Volvo C30 and Volvo S40.
Standard features for the 2004 Mazda3 i sedan included; 15-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, intermittent wipers, a rear defogger, and a four-wheel independent suspension system, comprised of a MacPherson strut front configuration with a multi-link rear set up.
A pair of sport seats sat the driver and front passenger and all four seating positions were upholstered in cloth. The rear seat back was a split-folding set up and there were also ventilation ducts in the rear compartment for the climate system.
The front console and seat backs featured storage, the front doors had pockets, and there were cupholders in the front and rear passenger compartments. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel featured audio controls and was connected to a speed proportional power steering system.
Front and rear floor mats, a cargo area light, and front reading lights were complemented by a set of dual vanity mirrors. The audio system used four speakers and an AM/FM–single CD stereo head unit.
The Mazda3 s sedan added 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog/driving lights, manual adjustable lumbar support and height adjustability for the driver’s seat; in addition to remotely actuated power door locks, power mirrors, and power windows with one touch capability for the driver’s window. The s also offered steering wheel mounted switches for the cruise control system, air conditioning, leather trim on the shift knob and steering wheel, and a six-speaker audio system. A navigation system was optional.
The 2004 five-door hatchback Mazda3 was available in s trim only, added only 17-inch alloy wheels and an intermittent rear wiper to the Mazda3 s sedan’s kit.
The Mazda3’s Safety equipment (regardless of body configuration) was comprised of a set of child seat anchors, disc brakes all around, rear door child safety locks, an engine immobilizer, and a passenger airbag occupant sensing deactivation system. The seatbelt system featured a rear center three-point belt and pre-tensioners for the front seatbelts. There was an emergency interior seatback release, and head restraint whiplash protection systems for the driver and front passenger. Side curtain airbags were optional.
For 2005, Mazda offered the Mazda3 SP 23 Special Edition Sedan and Hatchback, essentially presaging the Grand Touring model that was put into the lineup for 2006. The SP 23 incorporated a number of the features from the Mazda3 s hatchback into the four-door body style while enhancing the hatchback model even further. This Special Edition model also featured automatic headlamps, a set of polished 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front driver and passenger seats, leather upholstery, interior air filtration, and a seven-speaker Bose audio system with speed sensitive volume control, a 222-watt amplifier and a subwoofer.
Touring and Grand Touring models were added to the lineup for each trim line. So, for 2006, Mazda’s Mazda3 was available as a sedan in i, i Touring, s, s Touring, and s Grand Touring trims. The hatchback was available with s, s Touring, and s Grand Touring trim packages.
The 2006 Mazda3 i sedans used a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, and a CD-based four-speaker stereo audio system. The i Touring added a set of 16-inch wheels; in addition to cruise control, an upgraded six-speaker stereo audio system, power windows, power mirrors, and power door locks. Air conditioning was available as an option.
Mazda’s 2006 Mazda3 s models got all of the above—in addition to alloy wheels, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio controls. To all of that, the s Touring added 17-inch alloy wheels. The top of the line s Grand Touring stacked heated leather seats, an automatic climate control system, smart rain-sensing wipers, and a trip computer on top of all of the above.
Optional features included an in-dash CD changer, a satellite radio receiver, and a moonroof.
Variable valve timing and variable length intake runners were applied to the 2.0 L engine for 2006, increasing its power output to 150 hp. The 2.3 L engine was newly paired with a five-speed automatic, while the 2.0 L engine continued with the four-speed.
A styling update incorporated a freshened design for the front and rear fascias and a revised taillight treatment for all models. The new rear lighting treatment was configured featuring LED units for the Grand Touring sedan. Tire pressure monitoring systems were incorporated, stability control was made available for Touring and Grand Touring models, the entertainment system gained an auxiliary input jack for portable audio devices, and the backseat got a center fold-down armrest.
Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags were made standard on all of the Mazda3 s trim levels. The Grand Touring Mazda3 models got automatic Xenon headlights.
The evolution of the Mazda3 continued for 2009. ABS was made standard on all models as well as front seat side airbags and folding side curtain airbags. A remote trunk release was added to the keyless entry device.
For the second generation of the Mazda3, Mazda’s engineers kept the mechanical aspects of the car largely the same, preserving the driving characteristics most appreciated about the Mazda3, while infusing it with better fuel economy. Meanwhile, all new exterior and interior styling, along with added equipment offerings made the Mazda3 an even more enticing proposition.
Incorporating more high-strength steel in the model’s construction and revising the already agile suspension system improved the Mazda3’s handling while preserving its comfortable ride. The revised styling improved aerodynamics, which reduced wind noise and enabled better gas mileage.
For 2010, the Mazda3 was offered in SV, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels. As before, the hatchback was only available in s trims. The base engine was a 2.0 L inline four-cylinder, which produced 140 hp and 135 foot pounds of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard with the two-liter engine. A five-speed automatic was optional for each trim line using that engine, except the base SV model, which used a four-him speed automatic. The “big” engine was a 2.5 L inline four-cylinder producing 167 hp and 168 foot-pounds of torque. A six-speed manual transmission was standard for that engine; a five-speed automatic was the optional offering. Either engine was offered in both sport and touring trims, however only the base 2.0 L engine was offered for the SV trim line.
Standard equipment for the 2010 Mazda3 i SV included; 16-inch steel wheels, full wheel covers, variable intermittent windshield wipers, a rear defogger, a height adjustable driver’s seat, and cloth upholstery. The SV also featured a split folding rear seat back containing a folding center armrest incorporating storage. Rear seat passengers enjoyed a set of ventilation ducts. The SV used power mirrors and power windows with a one touch up and down feature for the driver.
Its front console featured storage, and there were door pockets in all four doors. The Mazda3 i SV also had storage in its front seatbacks and there were cupholders for both front and rear occupants. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel featured audio controls and wa connected to an electric speed proportional power steering system.
There was a light in the trunk, plus simulated alloy trim on the center console, doors, and the dashboard. Reading lights were included for the front passengers, along with front and rear floor mats, dual vanity mirrors, and simulated alloy trim on the steering wheel.
The entertainment system was comprised of an AM/FM single-disc CD player with CD MP3 playback capability. It featured adjustable, speed sensitive volume control and used four speakers. There was also an auxiliary input port for portable audio devices.
Options included all weather floor mats, a cargo mat, a cargo net, a compass mounted in the auto dimming mirror with home link capabilities, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, and a satellite radio receiver.
Safety features included tire pressure monitoring, ABS, emergency brake force distribution, and emergency braking assist for the ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes. There was also a set of front and rear head airbags, dual front side mounted airbags, and child seat anchors. The rear doors featured child safety locks and an engine immobilizer was fitted as well. The seat belts featured pre-tensioners for the front passengers, and there was a rear center three-point belt in the back seat. An emergency interior trunk release was employed, as were passenger and driver head restraint whiplash protection systems.
The Mazda3 i Sport featured all of the above plus air-conditioning and interior air filtration. Exterior options included fog lights, a rear spoiler, and a chrome fuel filler door, along with front and rear mudguards.
The 2010 Mazda3 i Touring added 16-inch alloy wheels, stability control, traction control, and cruise control with steering wheel mounted switches, along with pre-wiring for a cell phone and Bluetooth. A moonroof, a six-disc CD changer, and a Bose sound system were also available as options.
The 2010 Mazda 3s Sport used 17-inch wheels, the 2.5 L engine, leather and simulated alloy trim on the shift knob and steering wheel, in addition to all of the items listed above. A navigation system was optional.
For the S Grand Touring model, a sunroof, heated outside mirrors, and an eight-way power driver’s seat was fitted—along with heating for the driver and passenger seats. Leather upholstery was employed throughout. A dual zone climate control system was specified, which also featured interior air filtration. The optional Bose audio system featured ten speakers and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Its memory function would memorize settings for three drivers.
The Mazda3 s Grand Touring's safety kit, in addition to all of the safety equipment listed above, included adaptive self-leveling automatic Xenon headlamps.
Bose audio was made standard equipment for the Grand Touring version, but the Xenon headlights were relegated to optional status.
A newly available 2.0 L engine debuted with the moniker “Skyactiv”. Producing 150 horsepower and capable of generating 40 miles per gallon, the engine was something of a revelation. A blind-spot warning system was also introduced for Mazda3 i and Mazda3 s Grand Touring.
In the Mazda3 we have that rare combination of exceptional equipment, outstanding fit and finish, classy style, an enjoyable driver, and a reasonable price. The steering is responsive and the suspension set up endowed with both exciting handling and a comfortable ride. In fact, the top grand touring model is so well-equipped and so well executed many would mistake it for a compact entry-level luxury sedan.
Mazda got this car right straightaway, and proceeded to improve upon it every year it was in production. For this reason we recommend buying the newest version you can comfortably afford. Although any Mazda3 will be a good value.
Further, the Mazda has proven to be extremely reliable, and almost trouble-free in operation. There have been a few recalls for the Mazda 3, to find them, run an Internet search for Mazda 3 recalls—listing the model year of your interest. Similarly, a vehicle history report run against the VIN should be ordered, just to ensure you are buying a car with a clean history.
And finally, one should always subject any preowned car to a very thorough pre-purchase inspection by a qualified professional independent mechanic—one very familiar with the make and model in question.