Mazda3 Review

Virusdoc asked what I thought about my new Mazda3 after nearly 3 months of ownership. Rather than replying in the comments there, I thought I'd write a little 'review'.

First things first, I absolutely love the car. It's a joy to look at, inside and out, and to drive. I've put on about 4,200 miles in 2.5 months and have not had any major problems with it to date. The kids think it's cool and want to go everywhere in it, but when it's all 5 of us we still take the Odyssey. Three kids in the back seat of a compact car is just too much temptation for discord. They love having their own power window button (the Escort had cranks), the interior lights that fade on and off and the fact that it greets you with a jaunty 'Hello!' on the radio when you start it up.

Here's what I like:

  • Looks
    There's no car on the road, particularly in this price range, that is more distinctive that the Mazda3, particularly the 5 door. I love not seeing another car like mine every day, sometimes not even every week. It's a little ironic, since everyone seems to love this car. People that I didn't think cared 2 hoots about cars have commented on it, yet few are buying. Go figure.
  • Performance
    In this case it's mostly handling since acceleration, though more than adequate, is not it's strong suit. But it's more than just handling, its the feel of the steering, the crisp & precise shifter and the raspy snarl of the exhaust. This is a micro-wagon with attitude.
  • Interior
    The interior of this car makes it feel more expensive than it is. Just the right textures and fabrics, pleasing shapes, well thought out part lines, complete instrument lighting (including the steering wheel buttons & driver's door controls), tilt and telescoping wheel and on and on. There are tons of storage compartments inside as well, pockets in all 4 doors, 6 cup holders, a double storage compartment in the console and a 2 tier glove box big enough for an 8.5 x 11 notebook.

    Additionally, I love the airbag design. Maybe this is common to all new cars, I don't know. My 1999 Odyssey has a single stage airbag designed for a 200+ pound, unbelted male. My wife is 4' 10" and well under 200 pounds. She sits very close to the wheel, so I pulled the plug on the airbag. In the 3, not only does the telescoping wheel let her get the airbag farther away, it has a dual stage design that deploys with less force based on seat position. On the passenger side, the airbag turns itself off it there is no passenger or if it senses a passenger lighter than something like 70 pounds. That means when it's just me and the 3 girls, the 9 or 11 year old (they're both about the same size) can ride up front in safety.

  • Hatchback Design
    I love hatchbacks. Since I've been buying cars I've owned four: 1980 Chevy Monza, 1988 Nissan Pulsar, 1993 Escort and now the 3 . You get a sportier look and the versatility of those flip down seats when you need to carry something big. With the 3, though, Mazda went a few steps beyond. The cargo cover is hinged in the center allowing access to the trunk from the back seat. The cargo area has 6 or 8 tie down hooks for securing cargo. Under the cargo floor is a shallow tray with recesses for the jack handle and lug wrench plus two other compartments, one just right for my snow scraper. That carpeted floor board is two pieces which can be removed and arrayed in several ways to divide the cargo area, great for keeping your gallons of milk or pot luck dish from careening across the trunk on the way home. Very well done.
There's a lot to love, but there are a few disappointments:
  • Wipers
    On the 2004-2005, there's no variable intermittent for the front wipers. You do get intermittent, just one speed. That's the same as the old Escort and I was looking forward to an enhancement there. The 2006 has it, but there's no way to add it to the 2004-2005, it's been tried.
  • Economy
    Actually, it's really not too bad I do probably 75% - 80% highway driving, usually at around 70 MPH. Over the 4,200 miles I've averaged 27.8 MPG. I've had a high of 30 and a low of 24 . The EPA ratings are 26 & 32, so I'm not too far off. The disappointment comes in comparison to the Escort, admittedly a different kind of car. In 10 years, I got as low as 18 and as high as 42, averaging 31.5. In hindsight, I wish I would have at least driven a Mazda3i, only available in the 4 door. It only gives up 10 ponies but has EPA ratings of 28 & 35. By contrast, however, the new Honda Civic, with 20 HP less than my 5 door, has EPA ratings of 30 & 38, but it wouldn't be nearly this fun or versatile.
  • Aero Flares
    If I had ordered this car, I wouldn't have gotten the aero flares. It's $500 option that adds 4 small painted plastic bits to the bumpers, 2 at each end. If you check the photos you can see them, under the fog lights in front and under the side marker in the rear. You have to look hard to notice them, which is one reason I don't like them. $500 is a lot of money for something most folk won't know is there. But worse, they don't fit well at all. They gap away from the bumper in various places. I'm going to bring this up at my first service appointment, and maybe even see if they can be removed.
  • License Plate
    The knuckleheads at the dealer missed the big molded in divot for drilling the license plate holes on one side, so my rear plate is crooked. Not Mazda's fault and hopefully, for the dealer's sake, it can be fixed without replacing the entire bumper. As long as the two holes don't intersect and the mis-drilled hole does not show, I'm OK with just re-drilling.
All in all, pretty minor complaints and I love the car, no regrets at all. Highly recommended if you're looking for a unique, versatile, good looking, fun to drive and reasonably economical car.

21 Comments

thanks! I'm getting tired of trying to fit car seats in and out of my two-door civic si, so I've been looking at sportier four-door hatches to replace it. The Mazda is high on the list. Also on the list:

-subaru wrx wagon. 240 hp turbo, with about the same EPA stats as the mazda. Very fast , but not cheap @ ~$24K

-civic hybrid. Not a hatch, but 4 doors and >50 mpg city and highway. About $22K.

-350Z, in my dreams. True, it's not a four door, but since there is no back seat at all, I wouldn't have any problems getting carseats in and out of it! :)

What I find ironic is that for about the same price as each of these (with the exception of the Mazda) we could get a second, brand new Odyssey LX.

I meant to mention on the earlier post: only allow the dealer to replace your bumper if they give you a factory-painted color-matched one. I have never seen an after-market bumper repaint that didn't start peeling off in big chunks after a few years. Ugly.

? They had to drill holes at the dealer for the license plate?

Man I just don't understand new cars...

I forgot to mention that the rear wiper & washer is out of adjustment. The wiper just falls off the glass at the end of it's stroke and the washer spray hits the spoiler and dripples on the window. Again, easily fixed at my first service.

'doc - I think the bumper may have been replaced or at least repainted already. The RR quarter panel was adamaged at the dealership by a car wash flunky and repaired. I don't know for sure if it affected the bumper or not. I examined the area pretty closely and was satisfied with the repair. It's vitually undetectable and I knew it was there. It's part of how I got $3K off the sticker when the going rate, I think, is $1K - $1.5K off.

I'm not sure what other car has the combination the 3 has. If I was doing it today, I'd give the Honda Fit Sport a hard look, but it wasn't available back in February. I've read good things about how it drives. About $17K loaded and 33/38 MPG, but only 109 ponies.

For the $24K of the WRX, maybe you should wait for the MazdaSpeed3

Boyink - I assume that the dealer drilled it. There's a large, molded it cone shaped recess just under the actual drilled hole for the plate. It looks like someone started drilling a hole, but stopped. That's pretty common on plastic parts where you expect someone to drill a hole later, it gives them an exact location so they won't screw it up. :-P

Still got the white one! Probably an old picture.

Yeah, old picture. From the day it came home in February. Notice the leaf-less bushes.

Joe S took the old girl off my hands for a more gas efficient alternative to his pickup. Better fits his 3 boys as well. I don't think he's started on the clutch yet.

test drove a Mazda3 hatch today. Very nice--adequate acceleration and incredibly nimble. I think I'm going to get one, but have to test the Civic Hybrid first. I'm going to try out the Honda Fit while I'm at the dealership, as well. More later.

Cool! Just watch out the first time you get back in the Odyssey, it'll feel like your driving a school bus. Of course, you already had a second car that was more than an appliance, so the 3 won't be that big of a change. When I had the Escort, the Ody was my 'sporty' car.

After driving my new 3 for a few days, I had to take the van somewhere and nearly took out some mailboxes at the first turn in my neighborhood. I was expecting a more immediate response to the wheel.

Let me know what you think of the Fit. Unless its fantastic, then I don't want to know. :-)

with only 110 hp, I can't imagine the Fit is really any fun to drive. But at nearly 40 mpg, I might be willing to give up some fun.

Fun is relative. Is the Fit as fun as the 3 or a Civic Si? Not likely, but it's significantly more fun than it's small car competition the Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Dodge Caliber, Chevy Aveo, etc.

The irony is that the standard Civic 4 door doesn't give up much MPG to the Fit and has more power and room. The city MPG is the bigger differennce, if you do more stop and go the Fit will pay off. The Mazda3i might be a better compromise between fun and economy as well, only 10 HP off the 5 door 3s. But the Civic and 3i don't have the spunky & practical 5 door design of the 3 hatch or the Fit.

BTW - Have you considered waiting until the Civic Si 4 door comes out? Supposedly to arrive in the fall, according to the Car Connection. At least $20K to start, but 197 HP & a 6 speed stick.

I wasn't even aware that they had a four door Si in the works. That would be ideal, because the other gripe I have with the '02 Si is that the tranny is only a 5 speed. Because that tranny is geared for torque and acceleration, the rpm's are excessive at highway speeds (4K rpm at 80 mph), resulting in decreased efficiency and a lot of engine noise. A 6 speed would probably improve both. I don't actually need to make this change now, so maybe I'll wait. Thanks for the heads up.

But 197 hp is crazy insane. I'm running 160 hp on the current Si and that is over the top already.

The only thing about the Si Sedan is that once it's available there will be waiting lists and dealer markup. The Coupe starts just north of $20K, I bet the sedan is slightly more, so you'll be a couple thousand more than the 3. MPG is pretty darn good for 197 ponies at 23/32. Then again, do you need 37 more HP than my 3 or your Si?

I wish my 3 had a 6 speed too. I'm running similar RPM on the highway, but the engine noise isn't too bad. Besides, the stereo's good enough so I just turn it up. :-)

what do you think of the Ford Focus 5 door hatch? The rebates on these are great, with a fully equipped model going for around 17K. I'm no big fan of Ford, but the Focus is one of their only vehicles that Consumer Reports recommends.

It's a good looking car and has gotten good reviews for it's driving dynamics in the past. I've never driven one, but the Focus platform is old, going back to 2000. As an example, Honda renews the Civic every 4 years. In fact, the Mazda3, out 3 years now, is based on the same platform as the next generation Euro Focus (and the Volvo S40, Volvo and Mazda are partly owned by Ford). I have a friend with a stripped down Focus and it's feels incredibly cheap and old even though I think it's an '04 or '05.

In their early years they had a bunch of recalls and a pretty rotten quality record, but supposedly that's all sorted out now. Still, the Mazda has an above average reliability prediction from CR and few black mark on it's chart (even when including it's predecessor, the Protege). The Ford is only average, the lowest score to make their 'recommended' cut. It's chart is littered with black marks.

Go drive one. It got good reviews in the past, besides CR. Maybe it's OK, but I bet you'll find there's a reason for all the rebates.

As far as Consumer reposts goes, I take it with a grain of salt. They actually recommend 10 Fords, 2 of them with a 'second tier' recommendation or something. They put a big priority on safety & reliability, fun to drive is not so high.

For some more food for thought on CR, check out True Delta. He has several editorials on CR and JD Power worth reading. I'm participating in his reliability surveys with the Mazda.

Bought a Galaxy Gray Mazda3 hatch today, Touring with Sirius Satellite and Moonroof/6 CD. I hope you're still enjoying yours! I'm sure you've already found it, but if not you should check out http://www.mazda3forums.com/

'doc, it's very good to hear from you again. I've missed your presence here (and your blog as well).

I'm a little jealous too, you've got a sunroof and the '06 and up get variable intermittent wipers. On the other hand, I like the '04 - '06 wheels better than the new ones on the '07, which I assume you got. Did you get the 5 speed or the auto? I drove a Mazda6 the other day with the 2.3L four and the 5 speed auto and it was pretty impressive. That drive-train in the 3 would be even better.

Did you drive anything else first? I'd be interested in your thoughts on the Fit and the 4 door Si if you drove either.

Do I still like mine? Well ...

The short answer is yes, I love it. I'm still enamored with it's good looks, versatility and nimble handling. The 3 hatch is a great little car, I'm not sure what else matches it.

That dealer situation I had emailed you about earlier, however, has only gotten worse. A lemon law claim or a report to the attorney general are not out the range of possibilities at this point. I'm going to post a summary of the saga here at some point.

The lesson learned (that I know you already learned yourself) is that if a dealer ever tells you that a car has had 'minor' body repairs before you saw it, run for the hills. Don't look back, run.

Oh man, sorry to hear that. If you know they were dishonest with you and you can prove it, I would push for the only remedy that makes sense: a new vehicle. I will check in to hear the details of what happened.

I drove a number of cars before buying: Accord (to dull), Camry (too ugly), CR-V (too dull and horrible radio), RAV4 (very nice but overpriced), Subaru Outback (also overpriced), Forester (too square and not very nimble), and the Mazda6 (only slightly less dull than the Accord, and with not much more acceleration than the 3). But I didn't drive the Fit or Si, since I was strictly looking for an automatic tranny and I thought the Fit was too small.

After all that test driving and a lot of number crunching, I came to the same conclusion you did: the Mazda3 hatch is the best value out there right now. It also helped that all Purdue employees get Mazda employee pricing (essentially invoice).

[If money hadn't been an issue, though, I'd be in a Rav4 V6. 269 hp. An absolute rocket.]

Salguod,
What do you use to keep your 3's paint sealed? Mazdas are notorious for thin, easily damaged paint, and I'm trying to decide whether to use standard carnauba wax or a synthetic paint sealant. The sealants can last up to a year, but don't have the lustrous shine of wax. And suggestions?

Car guy confession time:

I haven't used anything on it yet & I don't have a preferred product. I meant to last fall, but never did. I'm not the best at keeping my cars clean and polished, one day their going to revoke my membership in the car guy club. :-P

It's been a while since I've had anything that I'd like to wax. :-) Even the T-bird has an older, rather chipped repaint. Since it sees so little sun and no rain, the wax that my uncle applied years ago still beads up pretty good.

I always meant to try that Zaino stuff some of the guys at Odyclub talked about years ago, but never did. I don't know of folks there are still nuts about it or not. My uncle who's meticulous about his cars uses Mothers carnauba that's tinted to match the paint, I think. The tint helps cover scratches.

I can attest to the thin paint. After only a year I've got a small collection of nicks, mostly on the hood. You might want to look into those 'clear bra' films for the nose. Fairly pricey at about $600 for the bumper and hood, but not a bad investment considering how easy it chips. I can't remember the manufacturers, but I read about is at one of the Mazda forums, msprotege.com I think. I considered it but the price scared me away.

I can recommend Wheel Wax, which here is available at Advance Auto Parts. I used it on my T'bird's new rims and really liked it. I plan this spring on doing the wheels on the 3 too.

OK, thanks. I'll look into the Zaino and let you know what I learn. The Mazda3 forum seems to like a German synthetic sealant called Klasse. I thought about the clear bra films, but from what I've read the plastic they use blocks UV light, so your nose paint won't fade at the same rate as the rest of the car, which I think would look odd.

I'm more worried about bird shat than front end chips. My first mazda (a 1995 626) had such lousy paint that if you let a dropping sit on the car for even a single day in the sun, it would etch down to the primer in little cracks.



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  • OK, thanks. I'll look into the Zaino and let you know what I learn. The Mazda3 forum seems to like a German synthetic sealant called Klasse. I thought about the clear bra films, but from what I've read the plastic the...

  • Car guy confession time: I haven't used anything on it yet & I don't have a preferred product. I meant to last fall, but never did. I'm not the best at keeping my cars clean and polished, one day their going to revoke...

  • Salguod, What do you use to keep your 3's paint sealed? Mazdas are notorious for thin, easily damaged paint, and I'm trying to decide whether to use standard carnauba wax or a synthetic paint sealant. The sealants can ...

  • Oh man, sorry to hear that. If you know they were dishonest with you and you can prove it, I would push for the only remedy that makes sense: a new vehicle. I will check in to hear the details of what happened. I dr...

  • 'doc, it's very good to hear from you again. I've missed your presence here (and your blog as well). I'm a little jealous too, you've got a sunroof and the '06 and up get variable intermittent wipers. On the other ha...

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