By on September 7, 2011

Here’s an open secret: the Mazda3 is the auto-journo’s cop-out. “Hey,” inquires the prospective punter, “I’m actually kinda/sorta in the market. What do you recommend?” Nine times out of ten, the sporty little ’3 is gonna get a plug. Tenth guy wants a truck.

Now around here, obviously that’s not the case. Ask the TTAC boys what you should buy and Jack Baruth is going to punch you in the face and sleep with your wife, Sajeev Mehta will get a far-away look in his eyes thinking of all the non-running personal-luxury-coupe crap-cans he could add to his stable for the price of a new car, Bertel Schmitt’s going to give you a fascinating but interminable lecture on the nuances of some improbable menage a trois between Nissan, Geely and Fisher-Price, and me? Well, I’m new around here. Again.

Which is why I’m going to extoll me a little Zoom-Zoom.


Traditionally, the bit after the jump is where we TTAC scribes dissect the styling of whatever whip we’ve managed to con out of the press guys. Except for Jack who’d be playing a blues riff and eating a baby or something.

However, I can’t be bothered. Look, the Mazda3 has a big goofy smiley face. Who cares. Too much ink has been already shed — unnecessarily — over the “Hai Guyz!” look that Nagare bestowed upon the Mazda3′s once-handsome visage. I’ll say no more than, “I liked the old one better,” and, “But it grows on you.”

Why don’t you take a seat over there? That’s where you’ll find out that the leather-clad seats in the Mazda3 are nicely-bolstered and comfy. You’ll also note that the doors are nicely upholstered and that you can perfectly rest your arm on the armrest and still reach the well-placed shifter. Rough spots? The silver-painted plastic was already chipped on one of the inner door-handles, but that might be just from rough-handling: this ’3 has had five thousand miles of press fleet duty.

The price gap between the base model ’3 and my tester is over ten grand. Granted, that’s only in Canadian monopoly money, but you’d better believe that this particular ’3 is loaded to the gills with more bells than Blitzen and more whistles than the Anachronistic Police Constable Supply Depot.

Normally, gizmos and whatsits confound and annoy me to apoplexy: I could easily compete at a national level in Laptop Frisbee. Taking one look at the eighteen buttons festooning the ’3′s wheel, I snapped my mental suspenders, hitched up the ol’ beltline and braced myself to issue a barrage of cranky cantankerousness.

But none proved necessary. Mazda’s interpretation of “driver” seems to be, “somebody who doesn’t take their eyes off the road.” Not only is the visibility out of the ’3 excellent, once you tweak the eight-way power seat to just the right spot, but the interior layout is highly functional. Changing temperature settings or fiddling with the radio were easily accomplished with no more than a sideways glance even during the initial drive. After a week’s familiarity, it was a no-look play.

Those tasks you do need to sneak a peak for are aided and abetted by the twin binnacle layout of the dash, which prominently features a rectangular radio/HVAC display, a smallish navigation screen and, most importantly, an enormous flap where the navi’s memory card goes. That’s annoying, but can be overlooked given how nicely everything else is laid-out. While there’s a cant towards the driver, it’s still a cinch for micro-managing side passengers to use.

Another thing: setting up the bluetooth streaming audio and phone connectivity was easy. What’s more, it was easy to me, and I still haven’t figured how to tweet the kids to get off my dang lawn. Y-chromosome owners will be happy to hear that at no point were instructions needed.

If I had to pick a gee-whiz feature that I absolutely adored, it was the adaptive front lighting system. The AFS on the ’3 acts like the car is peeking around the corner for you; it’s one of those things you never knew you needed until you’ve had it. On a dark country road it makes an enormous difference, but even in light-polluted areas it’s a great feature to find on a small car.

Space-wise, the Mazda3 Sport’s hatch makes me happy. I like big sedans as much as the next Dr. Mehta, but when you’re picking a do-all small car, I can’t understand people who buy small four-doors with trunks. Coupes? Sure, that’s a fashion statement, but the ’3 actually looks better as a hatchback and you basically double the practicality quotient. If you’re interested, you can fit four unmounted 225/45/17s, a folding deckchair, a golf umbrella and a kite shaped like an osprey back there and still have room for a moderately-sized heffalump. As tested.

Pootling around town, four adults (well, three adults and me, anyway) had plenty of room. The most common comment was, “Hey, this is pretty nice!” Sounds like faint praise, but that was out of the mouth of a 5-series owner.

Speaking of which, “pootling” is a relative term. Like the bimmer, the Mazda3 is a practical car that’s built by a company that might make the odd styling misstep, but knows a thing or two about vim and zip and verve and oh fine I’ll just say it: zoom-zoom.

With a torquey four-pot providing 167 horsepowers though a six-speed transmission, the ’3 is all too happy to giddy-up in city traffic. You think its grin looks stupid? Check yourself out in the rearview.

The 2.5L mill might not offer the max output of a Civic Si or Scion tC’s similarly-sized engine offerings, but it has a nice grunty quality down low, particularly in second gear. It’s happy to rev, and the twin-pipes out the back provide a decent soundtrack, but it’s also very easy to access the power from low rpms, making the stop-and-go cut-and-thrust.

Show the 3 some proper corners, and sure there’s a hint of the usual Fail-Wheel-Drive understeer, but it only shows up on slick wet pavement. In which case, slow down, you friggin’ maniac! In the dry, it’s a delight. Let’s pretend they made the 3-series in a four-cylinder front-driver. Yep, that good.

Back on the highway, that grunt makes for decent economy. Stick the nicely-weighted – but perhaps a jot too long-throw – shifter into the highest gear you can manage and watch the average MPG recover from backroads shenanigans. The old 2.3L was always a bit of a pig; a friend’s ’07 returns fuel economy levels not dissimilar from my godawfully thirsty WRX. The 2.5L is much better, averaging out to be solidly in the mid-twenties.

So this is it, my recommendation to you, the semi-drunken personage who buttonholes me at parties and slurs out, “Sssso whatchathink I should get?” A taxi. And a breathmint.

After that, the Mazda3. It’s practical, it’s fun to drive, it’s comfortable, it can be got with plenty of bells and whistles for such a small car, and while it’s usually more expensive than the industry average, they absolutely hold their value better than big-sister ’6. Mazda usually has Ford-ish sales promotions on too, so hey, it’s even almost-sorta cheap. What more do you want?

On the other hand, if you’re after more than just an off-the-cuff answer, if you want me to give your query my full attention and bring all my (in)considerable mental acuity to bear on the sticky problem of what the best car is going to be for you? Well then, that’s easy. Just go talk to Michael Karesh and buy whatever he says is good.

Mazda provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

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60 Comments on “Review: 2011 Mazda3 Sport GT Take Two...”


  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    I assume you were flogging the car pretty good to only be in the mid-twenties on mileage. My old 2.3 (which IS thirsty) gets 28-30 in mixed driving. Heck, the only time I’ve seen tank drop below 25 is when I run in an SCCA Solo event.

    • 0 avatar
      nels2727

      Agreed, my ’03 6 with the 2.3L and the old 4-speed auto got about 27 with more highway than city in the mix, but highway was done at 80 or in stop and go traffic (the only two options available in New Jesey). It would dip to 25 when I put it into “manual mode” and hooned like the teenager I was.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi guys. I wrote this a few weeks ago, so I apologize that I don’t have the figures in front of me, and we may have a little Lost In Translation problem as I converted from L/100 to American mpg (CDN gallons are different). At least, I think I did.

        Anyway, suffice to say that the mileage was better than a friend’s 2.3GT automatic, and he’s a very moderate driver.

    • 0 avatar
      diskinetic49

      Similar here, calculator and trip computer agree: mostly highway driving in an S sport 3 nets me about 28.8 mpg. Drive like a nun under police surveillance and it crawls up to 30 and nestles there. Drive like the ads tell you to, and it plummets to 27 or so.

    • 0 avatar

      My old 2006 hatch with the 2.3 and AT did very bad unless it was all highway, at least one trip to upstate NY, 1300 miles was 31mpg, all the rest was not so good.
      Now, my 2011 2.5 hatch is not doing much better, still too new, only 4000 miles on it and it just “feels” like thirsty but I did not do a real ck up of mpg on it yet.
      Lets put it this way, when you think about good MPG, look elsewhere, this car is more about fun to drive, you don’t put a 2.5 liter engine in a small car to save fuel.

  • avatar
    thesal

    Hilarious review! As the resident “carguy” among family and friends, I find myself pushing everyone towards a Mazda3 too. It appears to be the only drivercentric small car out there today! Especially when considering only wagons.

    PS. Gotta stick to only one Baruth whip per article to keep it classy. Any more and school’s out.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ll see how the new Impreza does as a sporty wagon alternative to the ’3. What is this “classy” of which thou speakest?

    • 0 avatar

      I had a middling experience with a 3, otherwise, I would definitely recommend them (the dealership was great, I just saw them much too often!). The only major issue with these cars, for me, is that in North America, Mazda needs to design its cars to be good on the highway. I found my car revved to high (and therefore ate gas very quickly), and made a bit too much noise. But you can’t have it all.

      My go-to car recommendation as of late? Subaru Forester.

  • avatar

    Both entertaining and informative. Another great review, Brendan.

    Two things keep me from recommending the Mazda3 without a second thought:

    1. Styling, both in and out. The exterior styling did almost work for me after a week in the MS3, but the interior never did. Hate that area with the nav screen, and especially the door for the SD card. Aesthetically, the new Focus is in another league. But, as the review notes, the controls in the Mazda are easier to understand and operate.

    2. Small Mazdas’ tendency where the roads are salted to start rusting at about 5.5 years of age. At which point Mazda responds, “Six months out of warranty, not our problem!” Our reports for 2004s, with other years selectable at the top of the page:

    http://www.truedelta.com/car-problem-descriptions.php?stage=pt&bd=Mazda&mc=170&my=2004&gc=8

    Which reminds me, I need to do some work around the rear wheel openings of my Protege5 before winter (and road salt) return.

    • 0 avatar
      dmf

      As a ’10 Mazda3 owner with the display that does not have the undersized navigation (we tend to favor actual maps) , that small red-LED screen is incredibly useful, and the rest of the controls have been incredibly intuitive as well. Beyond the strong handling and engine (particular in initial accelerations) the manual shift to the auto transmission is also superior to many competitors.’ The exterior styling is more expressive and less cartoonish in the darker gray and colors other than fluorescent blue, so here’s hoping for more non-adolescent color opportunities in the upcoming years…

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, the rusting was one of the major motivations for dumping it…Mazda keeps saying they have solved that issue, but we shall see.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Michael…
      Weight vs quality???

      We see the article about Lutz and his problem with building (too much?) quality into his cars and ending up with heavier cars.
      OK.
      Mazda is the polar opposite of this, demanding lighter above all else. This has been a company religious goal for many years.
      You can feel it in the doors and how it handles.
      However…doesn’t doing so then result in a problem with salt?
      Wouldn’t this result in a more easily damaged skin from storms such as hail?

      Where is the balance, plastic skins? This has been tried before.
      No matter how scientifically advanced the coatings, rust comes after damage to the underside or from damage to the coatings.

      I guess the “rust” problem is being called out without examining why.
      Do your True Delta stats show where these troubles Mazda’s are kept? Are they rust belt cars or sun belt?

      And if rust belt…what would a company do to really solve this without leaving the weight?

      I approached Ed awhile back about something I noticed.

      This summer we had a ferocious hail storm here in southern MO. Our Mazda6 suffered over 30 major dents that had to be addressed through insurance.
      The 2010 MKS sitting right next to it had not a one.

      OK…this must be a direct link to the weight savings from the metal quality, right?
      Thus the coast addition as quality equals weight equals cost.

      • 0 avatar

        Only where the roads are salted, AFAIK.

        Mazda simply doesn’t provide sufficient protection about chips, road salt, the fascia rubbing against the body, etc. Insufficient testing and, consequently, insufficient protection. I don’t think proper rust-proofing would add much weight.

        You do remind me of a third issue: body panels that ding VERY easily. My Protege5 has more dings in it than all of my previous and current cars put together.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I think all small cars ding easily, and a lot of large ones too. In general, manufacturers seem to be using thinner steel to save weight.

        FYI – My Protege5 never got one ding in it in 4 yrs I owned it, and my GTI hasnt gotten one yet either… but thats because I park carefully everywhere and every time, even though my wife and kids HATE it. Its the other drivers who are inconsiderate and cant park in the middle of a parking spot that cause the dings.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        See…this is where I am confused.

        A few manufactures talk about the special effort put into the science of painting or protection of their cars.
        Others, not a word.

        Is this not a standard these days when readying car panels? Hasn’t the process proceeded far enough through the business that all cars go through enough of the process to prevent the rusting?

        As far as strength of the material…this is always going to be a challenge, isn’t it?
        The stronger, the heavier?
        I read recently about cars bringing the thickness up a tiny weenie bit…but still very thin. I wonder how much difference there is between a Honda or a Mazda or a Ford economy car’s metals.

        I wish THIS was a part of a car review so much more so than the “beauty” or looks. That stuff I can do for myself.

        The real data would be of better help to a buyer.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      +1 on the rust. I had an ’02 Protege that started needing work thanks to rust right around the 5 year mark (oil pan, exhaust J pipe).

      Even if rust starts inside the warranty, good luck getting Mazda to cover it. I was told the rust needs to perforate a body panel before they consider a warranty claim on it.

      The car drove great, but premature rust and an appetite for consumables (for a relatively light car) leave me hesitant to go back to Mazda in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I never had the rust issue on my Protege5, but I’ll concur that it dented and dinged easily, and it had a voracious appetite for tires and brake pads.

        Fuel economy started out pretty solid on it (then again, I moved to it from a SUV that guzzled premium), but towards the end I was averaging about 18mpg mixed driving (90% in town though).

        One thing I loved about the car though, aside from the handling and utility, was the leather. It wasn’t super soft, but it was durable. In six years of ownership it never ripped or showed wear beyond some light creasing.

  • avatar
    tbhride

    That was a good read. Keep it up!

  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice review Brendan.

    I hope they have fixed the two bad habits that my previous 3 had:

    1. It chewed tires at the rate of one set a year. Many other owners had the same problem and Mazda never acknowledged that there was a problem.

    2. The mileage wasn’t very good for a small car with 2.3 engine. It struggled to get anything higher than 27 on the highway while in town it was returning about 22 or less. My 330 got similar mileage than that and was driven a lot more aggressively.

    But overall it was certainly the most fun small car in its price range.

    • 0 avatar
      MZ3AUTOXR

      The tire thing seemed to be with the OEM tires (Specifically with Eagle RSA’s on the versions with 17″ tires.) I got 35K out of my 16″ OEM Toyos, but going to a better tire (50K on the next set) seemed to to fix any tire issues.

      As far a mileage – see my post above, but I guess that’s where YMMV comes from.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        Goodyear RS-As have to be some of the worst tires made in the last decade. Mine were shot with 8000 miles on them. Useless in 1″ of snow, slippery in the wet and not so sticky in the dry, especially if the outside temp dipped below 65F. Noisy as all get out, too. I could see having them wear out quickly if they were a dedicated hi-po summer tire but they were supposedly all-season. Nasty, nasty tire.

      • 0 avatar
        robdaemon

        My 08 Maxima came with Eagle RS-A’s. Such a horrible, rough riding, noisy tire. Mine survived about 40k miles, but that’s because around 30k, I started flogging the tires mercilessly so I had an excuse to buy better tires.

        I replaced them with Yokohama Avid ENVigors, and I haven’t looked back. The RS-A’s were terrible in the rain, and the ENVigors have been great on dry roads, in rain and in snow in Western Colorado.

    • 0 avatar

      Carguy, you and I had precisely the same experience. Fun car, but the tires were gone in an instant, even with alignments and balances. And this wasn’t on OEM. The cost was an annoyance, but when it started getting tailhappy and almost spinning out continuously one night during hard rain on an expressway, I totally lost trust in the car.

      As for 2, my dad’s Accord got better mileage, both city and highway. I was pretty disappointed. The car lasted two years (two sets of tires, winters not included) with me.

    • 0 avatar
      sean362880

      +1 on the craptastic Eagle RS-As. I’ve got an ’05 3 hatch 5-speed, and I could only drove about 5,000 miles on the OEM tires, at which point I just couldn’t take it any more.

      Currently running Yokohama S-drives in the summer and Dunlop Winter Sport 3Ds in the winter. The S-drives are great. The Dunlops grip pretty well in deep snow but ride is hard. What do you want from a winter tire I guess?

      About 25 MPG mostly driving around town.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        2004 Mazda3 2.3L 5-speed, 60k miles, purchased new, driven aggressively during cornering and acceleration but not much over the speed limits on freeways and highways.

        OE RS-As were done at 20k miles with 3/32″. Michelin Pilot Sport A/S are at 8/32″ after 20k miles with much more grip in all conditions. Studded Cooper Weathermaster ST2 are also at 8/32″ after 20k miles.

        Average fuel economy is 29.5 USMPG, with probably 75% highway. Best tank was 37.9, doing 60 mph in the mountains during spring. Worst tank was 22.2, doing short trip city driving in cold winter weather.

        I expect to own it for as long as I can keep it running.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    What bugs me about the Mazda3 hatch/wagon is that the Mazda5 just seems to be so much more car in every way, and is priced below the 3.

    By a grand!

    • 0 avatar
      Madroc

      For a fleeting moment not too long ago we thought we might need a third row, so I drove a 5. I did not expect to like that car nearly as much as I did. We didn’t end up needing the extra space after all (bullet dodged!) but I would seriously consider it if I were looking for a new car right now.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yup, the three is one of the few small cars on my radar and you just nailed why it is.

  • avatar
    ringomon

    Nice review- agreed on almost all points. For my money this car deserves to sell a lot more than it does in America. The Canadians seem to know what’s what.

    I just wish Mazda offered the wagon in the lower grade. The 2.0 engine is perfectly powerful for a car this size, and the MPG is a little better. For the current model I actually prefer the 2.0 to the 2.5- it’s just smoother and better matched to the car IMO. (Plus it’s cheaper and the insurance costs less).

    Disclaimer: I own a 2006 and a 2010- so I in no way have an unbiased opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      Elusivellama

      Up in Canada, Mazda does offer the wagon with the 2.0L in the GX trim level, and recently in the GS-Sky trim with the new 2.0L SkyActiv engine.

    • 0 avatar
      mannygg

      Not just Canada either. In Australia this is THE number one selling car. At various times it has moved around the top few spots, but now sells more per year than any other car on the market, including corollas, civics the once dominant locally produced Falcons, Commodores and Camrys!

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I cross-shopped the 3 with the GTI and Civic Si, in the end I had a real tough time not getting the 3. The Mazdaspeed version was great, but price-wise it was more than I was looking to spend. But even overlooking the price, the regular 3 was extremely fun to drive in real world situations, and the price was perfect. Sounds like you had a pretty loaded up one, I was looking at a base hatchback S with the stick, which came with everything I wanted and nothing I didnt, perfectly equipped for $19k. The poor gas mileage rating scared me off… looking back I would probably be doing better in the non-turbo 3 than I get now in my GTI. But the final nail in the coffin was that stupid grin — I just couldnt get past it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robbie

      You also got an interior that is much better… You made the right decision!

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Yea that was another big thing, the interior wast quite up to VW standards. But it probably doesn’t squeak and rattle as much either. I used to have a Protege5 and I really loved that car. The Mazda3 was just as fun. So far though I still like my GTI more, but comparing new to new prices, the GTI is significantly more expensive. I was comparing a used GTI to a new 3!

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        Another GTI driver here.

        +1 on the interior fit and finish comparison
        +1 on the mileage comparison concern
        +1 on the fun handling of the 3

        I might be the only VW driver in the world that actually digs on the Nagare design. I appreciate Mazda and Nissan’s bold design attempts, particularly compared against their other domestic automakers.

        What did it for me was the complete package. Launch off the line, take a tight turn at a dangerously high speed, or run your fingers across the top of your dash and then ask yourself if you’d be doing better had you chose otherwise.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Brendan,

    Nice review—like the kind I used to see on CanadianDriver back when they posted reviews from actual humans rather than from AutoJournoAtor3000.

    As for Michael’s comment about rust: yes, they do that. If you treat them they tend to hold up better, but you do need to rustproof them yearly. I do this anyway—anyone in the salt belt really should—but it’s doubly important here.

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    “I replaced them with Yokohama Avid ENVigors, and I haven’t looked back. The RS-A’s were terrible in the rain, and the ENVigors have been great on dry roads, in rain and in snow in Western Colorado.”

    I have the ENVigors on the stock 18″ ers on my Mazda6 wagon. Love ‘em. Don’t know what they’d be like in the snow though……..!

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    .

    Brendan…VERY nice.

    In fact your review kind of reminds me of the original reason I became a fan of TTAC, unbelievable writing.
    Hell, I don’t care if you ever completely disagree with me on cars…reading this was fun and I wish the review was longer.

    What is with all the rust talk and the 3? I have an 05 hatch and no rust that I can see. And this car started in Michigan and spend all but this year in Chicago…where the salt stays weeks after the snow!

    And finally somebody calls the Mazda3 what I have been calling it…a poor man’s BMW.
    Exactly right.

    And enough already of the anti smile crap! I mean, to me nothing is more bothersome than the Dodge or Audi big mouth bass looks. Mazda said lets have a fun, happy look to match the spirit of the car while Dodge and Audi say Manly, Macho, Tough Guy and such braggadocio. Really?
    Well just be glad this ain’t gun fighting or you’d be dead from all the young, faster guns willing to call you out.

    The smile is fun and cool and does really grow on you…at least it does me.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I just love the way this car drives. I would like a bit more open seating position and could overlook the overrated interior quality and mediocre fuel economy. But I couldn’t get over the cramped backseat and cargo area. Had to look elsewhere.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Great review, but I still don’t like the car – or its looks. I drove a friend’s 3 once and didn’t like it much – too small for me, with an awkward driving position. I zoom-zoomed out of it.

    Guess I’m in the minority on this one.

  • avatar
    Elusivellama

    Great review… one that speaks directly to me as I drive a 2010 MS3 w/ Tech Pkg (Canadian spec).

    - The big goofy smiley face was a shocker in late 2009, and continues to polarize opinions. All I can really say is that I’m not a big fan of the base Mazda 3 grille – the MS3 grille is better by far, and only if the car is black (what I have), red or silver (in that order). Wait for the Kodo redesign to catapult Mazda back from the depths of Nagare hell.

    - Mazda interior design is mostly good and well thought out. The interior door handles (the big silver ones, not the latches) do get in the way somewhat if you rest your arm on the door armrest… which I find that I almost never do because the car isn’t autotragic and I actually DO have to hold the wheel constantly with my left hand, leaving my right hand free to shift at a moment’s notice. All the controls are well arranged and accessible without looking away from the road.

    - Interior aesthetics blow away most other cars in the price range, except the GTI. I used to dislike the silver centre stack, but now it’s grown on me… it’s a nice contrast to the otherwise matte-black colour scheme. Even the silver buttons on the radio unit look nice. All the buttons and dials have a satisfyingly solid ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ to them – they give the impression of higher quality in both looks and touch. I have a quibble with the chickenpox plastic trim pieces and the patterning on the seats…. but after a while they sort of fade into your peripheral vision and you don’t find yourself hating it after a month or two.

    - I got used to all the buttons on the wheel after a month. It’s no big deal.

    - The nav sucks. Why? Not because it was too small. Oh no. It’s the shitty software that I have a problem with – even in established neighbourhoods, I don’t see street names even if I adjust the zoom level. Plus you have to pay Mazda something like $200 for a map update… ridiculous, I can buy a good Garmin unit for that much money. Or I can use my iPhone’s google map app.

    - AFS lights are really nice, something you don’t really think much of until you get on a tight on-ramp at night where there are few streetlights at said on-ramp. They work, period. I also love the push-button start.

    I can probably write more stuff about the interior and tech toys, and convenience/comfort features, but I didn’t really buy the car for all the above. It’s the handling and power delivery that I bought the car for. I realize my car is a MS3 and the car reviewed here is a Mazda 3 GT 2.5L, but I find it of significant interest that TTAC still rates the ‘driving experience’ of the base car high enough to be compared to a poor man’s BMW.

    This just makes me even more interested in what Mazda is planning for the Kodo redesign of the Mazda 3… and especially for the MS3:

    - Kodo styling means no more smiley face
    - SkyActiv engine line up to possibly include a 2.5L version? Maybe a 2.0L twin-scroll turbo version for the MS3 (and CX-5, CX-7, CX-9)?
    - SkyActiv 6 speed transmission seems to be a real winner, and the 6 speed MT will likely be better than the Aisin stuff
    - a committed push to build a lighter, nimbler and more efficient car (another mandate of the SkyActiv way of thinking)
    - like the CX-5, possibly a new in-house chassis

    More importantly, the Kodo redesign will probably mark the first time the Mazda 3 combines fuel efficiency, power, handling and styling all under one roof. When that happens, and the 3rd Gen MS3 has all the above and hits the 2nd model year with no major issues… I will likely trade in without a second thought.

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    Fine job on the review part, but you went a little overboard joking about the staff. Somebody before did that, let’s not make it a “new guy” thing.

    • 0 avatar
      david42

      Agreed–really great review of the car itself, though the intro could be toned down a bit.

      General point: I like it when reviews compare the tested vehicle to its competitors. Why buy the Mazda3 instead of, say, an Impreza? (I think I know the answer, but I want to hear from someone who has actually done his homework.)

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    What is it with Mazda and the cartoon faces….go back and look at the second pic of the piece…peeking at the steering wheel and IP cluster….the Speedo and Tach binnacles over the crossbar of the wheel look like eyes and the whole picture made me see Roger Rabbits depraved cousin…..creeping me out big-big, dog!

  • avatar

    Brian – I hope you’ll keep writing for TTaC; it was an entertaining review about a car I enjoy despite the weird face. And I tell myself that when my 335 shows the inevitable signs of electronic self-destruction, I’ve got a place to land in a small, sporty car which could stay in my driveway for ten years on oil changes, tires and the odd repair. Unfortunately, in my area, the Mazda dealers are terrible. In the past I’ve owned an RX-4, a GLC and a Miata, and the dealer service was at the bottom of the barrel. If I can wrap my arms around the idea that once it’s out of warranty, I can find a good independent, I may end up with the next version of the 3. Living in California, we don’t have to worry about rust.

    Great review!

  • avatar
    redav

    I really like the Mazda3, and it is on the short list of cars to replace my Protege5 (along with the new Focus), but I’m waiting to see what comes of the SkyActiv tech. I’m eagerly awaiting its review(s).

    The problem I have with the ’3 is the styling–can’t stand the smiley face. (IMO, that single feature has done more to kill sales and hurt Mazda’s bottom line than anything else.) I also don’t like the bi-level display on the dash. The ’12 models will keep the smiley, but I’m hoping that Mazda will roll out a full Mazda3 remake for the ’14 model year that has all the SkyActiv tech & the Kodo design style. I’m sure by then we’ll know for sure whether SkyActiv is all it’s advertised to be.

  • avatar
    VelocityRed3

    I drive an ’06 3i (natch). Frankly the overall experience is that this is the best car I have ever owned in some 24 years of car ownership. At 154000 + miles, she is not as quick on the uptake, but I get about 31MPG in ALL driving situations. There are a couple of loose ravels of fabric on the drivers door, she has a new windshield & some minor front passenger bumper damage, but she starts everytime. I bought this car in the fall of’05 for 16,600 USD (dealer would not come off one penny in the wake of Katrina; all puns intended) & it was the best automotive money I have ever spent. I did drive a ’10 model for a day while maintenance was being performed & it was nice on the inside & mucho quitter than my current model, but I’m holding on this old girl until her velocity red paint becomes velocity dead. :)

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The 3i has the smaller engine, which does get better mileage, at the cost of power. I personally found it adequate, but it isnt as punchy as the bigger options. The issue is, you cant (in the US anyway) get a hatchback Mazda3 with the smaller engine.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I have a 2008 GTI, we bought our daughter a 2010 Mazda 3, 2.5 GT in that same blue as the one you tested, oh and hers is the 4 door – she didn’t want a hatch. So, having both to drive, detail, and change the oil on – I like the 3 better. Why? runs on regular, leather seats, oil change is much easier, ride and comfort is better, and I think the dash in the 3 is cooler! If I wasn’t broke (anybody got a teenager on their car insurance) I’d trade the GTI on a 6 with the v6. But, it doesn’t work out financially to do that now.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I test drove an ’08 Mazda 3 back in February. I don’t remember if it was the 2.0 or the 2.3, but it was nice enough and felt really planted for the brief time I was driving in it. The reason I didn’t buy, might you ask? Simple, 90k miles for $15k.

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    Reviews like these are why my eyes light up when I see the link for a new review on here. I simply love the old-school-TTAC flowery writing style, and throw in some internet memeing and a little sarcastic self-depracation, and you’re speaking my language. Thanks for the review.

    On topic, I think I actually liked reading the review more than reading about the car itself. I can’t get over the styling, I just can’t, even though I really want to like the car. Too bad, the previous car was one of the few that I seriously considered purchasing new. But, the snot-nosed sales boy at the Mazda dealership made sure that didn’t happpen for me, previous gen.

  • avatar
    Short Bus

    I really want to love the new 3….. I just can’t get over the styling. I guess I’ll stick with my GTI until I get annoyed by too many unscheduled trips to the dealership and pray that Mazda gives us a nice, handsome design like the one this replaced before then.

  • avatar
    Advo

    Would a chromed front bumper sort of like the one in the Acura movie car, or even a body colored one, make a difference to the styling?

    The ‘grin’ looks pretty big when there’s a black grill beneath a black bumper. A relatively simple change like a non-black bumper will reduce the size of that gaping maw.

  • avatar
    acura9927

    I have a 2011 3 Hatchback with the 2.5. Let me speak up for the MPG of the car, its varies a lot. Around town I get 22-23, but just a few days ago I managed 33.8 HWY which for a 2.5 4 banger is pretty good. I have the automatic. This car is a total blast. I sometimes feels like I’m in the cockpit of a small plane in there. My only other choice was a GTI with DSG but man oh man, how expensive is that thing. And the 2.5 motor is a gem, the torque is so refreshing in a small car. After driving this I dont think I can ever go back to a Honda car ( bad torque curves).

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    In a world of so much automotive blandness, where most makes and models seemingly blur into indistinguishable hues on wheels, Mazda offers the most rewarding driving experience of any of the mainstream, affordable manufacturers, and by a country mile.

    Whether the 3, the 6, the 5, the MX-5, the CX7 (the weakest Mazda link, but still better than most competitors in driving dynamics), the CX9, or the RX-8, no one does ingrains as much sporting DNA into their cars (again, in the context of mainstream manufacturers).

    Mazda is the antithesis of Toyota.

    I have a 2005 Mazda RX-8 6MT with 64,000 miles that has never been in the shop for a single problem, has never flooded, and has only required oil/filter changes, a coolant flush and the other scheduled service/maintenance items, and the car is as tight as new and draws looks everywhere (probably because they’re so few and far between).

    I have thought about replacing it for two years now, but after test driving what must have been 15+ potential replacements, the sublime steering feel, exotic-level handling and quiet and comfortable ride (all the more impressive given the handling), I just haven’t been able to find a car I would be willing to trade for. My 8 even has a fully useable back seat, and I’m fortunate enough to even average 20 mpg (which is good on the rotary relativity meter – highway mileage would be much improved had Mazda put in taller gearing, as anything above 70 mph in 6th puts the RPM at about 4k).

    I know of no other cars that offer steering feel, handling, general tossability and utility that are so close to BMW standards (my 8 has 50/50 weight distribution, limited slip diff, and handles better than a 330 that I owned), for anywhere near the price of Mazdas, and I do think this is why cars like the 3 are so incredibly popular in so many countries (such as Australia, Canada & the U.K.).

    As far as the rust issue, I drive my 8 year round (it does exceptionally well in the midwest snow and ice with a set of dedicated snow shoes) and I’ve not seen an iota of rust anywhere on the vehicle after 6 years.

    Driving would be so much more boring for so many more people without Mazda around.

    p.s. – I saw a Top Gear episode (I think it was from 2009 or so) that had Jeremy Clarkston testing and gushing about a vehicle built in the Czech Republic & sold in Europe (but not the U.S.) called the Skoda Yeti. If it rides and performs as well as Clarkston claimed, and given its nice looks and apparent reputation for quality and reliability, we would have considered buying that vehicle from day one. Why don’t we Americans get that choice?

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Solid and hilarious review Brendan!

    I’m also the resident car guru among family/friends and I usually push people towards Mazda if they love to drive (to Toyota if they merely want an appliance). Mazda really knows how to make a well-sorted platform for the person who loves driving as well a decent value. I drove the new 3 a few years ago and needless to say the driving magic is there, but the exterior (so often panned already) didn’t do it for me. I’ll admit it has grown on me after a few years but back then that would have stopped me from buying it outright.

  • avatar
    Eastern Roamer

    Kudos to Mazda for making a fully loaded car available with a manual transmission. All too often these days, it seems that opting to manually shift gears practically means also manually rolling up your windows. I love my ’07 Mazda 3 hatchback – leather, Bose speakers, moonroof, three pedals and a stick. If I get a newer one it’ll have to be black to hide the Cheshire Cat grill somewhat.

    I can’t comment on the rust issue. I’m in the sunshine state, FL.


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