Mazda Mazda3 Review

Joe Chiaramonte
by Joe Chiaramonte

Opportunity doesn’t always knock; sometimes it breaks down the door with a crash. When my daily driver became the caboose in a rush hour conga line gone bad, I found myself in that placeless place where car reviewers go when the press fleet is permanently out to sea. To the chagrin of Saturnistas everywhere, I passed on the Ion proffered by the perky rental car desk jockey. At the appropriate moment, I gratefully grabbed the keys to a 2006 Mazda3 sedan. The four-door filly had been ridden hard and put up wet, bearing 16k miles. Another TTAC road test had officially begun.

Mazda’s designers have done everything possible to rescue the Mazda3 from Generic Econoboxland. And I do mean everything: long nose, deep cut creases running fore and aft, flared wheel arches, perky antenna mast, high-booty rear end, wraparound taillights; the whole modern car identikit. The overall effect is sporty enough to please the college grads, yet sensible enough for mom and dads. Or, if you prefer, a zoom-zoom-tuned Nissan Versa.

Inside, the rental spec 3 served up a bizarre farrago of features: engine immobilizer, ICE wired for satellite (normally a $430 option) but not sound (this is not my beautiful Bose), AC, manual locks and mirrors and (gasp!) hand-cranked windows. Maybe some Dearborn bean counters took a Japanese junket (Escape? Expedition? Excursion?). If you feel like getting jiggy with the options list, the $1750 pop-up DVD nav makes an interesting conversation piece– provided you consider voice instructions a form of human intercourse.

The Mazda3's [cloth] driver’s seat is like your best friend after your dog dies: it gives you a nice, firm hug and then provides lots of short and long-term support. Once embraced, you’re free to rest your left elbow on the same plastic toymakers use to construct products able to withstand untamed toddlers’ force-ten tantrums. The only compliant horizontal surfaces (seats excluded): the uppermost center console and the door handle. The rest of the interior is about as haptically happening as an electric fence.

The Mazda3's 60/40 folding rear seat gives the car terrific cargo access and capacity. With the rears in place and passengers in situ, the rear seating section won’t trigger an Amnesty International investigation– provided you’re not schlepping two six-footers on a long drive or three passengers of any age, sex or national affiliation (but especially well-fed teenage Japanese sumo wrestlers). To say the four-door’s rear compartment is somewhat cloistered would be like saying Benedictine monks are a bit on the shy side.

Once underway, the well-used Mazda3 didn’t shake, rattle or squeak. With just 2700 pounds to motivate, the car's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder 150hp mill can sling the machine to sixty in a shade under nine seconds, or deliver excellent economy (26/34). Unfortunately, mashing the go-pedal yields precious little sonic satisfaction; it sounds like switching an electric fan from low to high. In relaxed use, the 16-valve VVT powerplant hums along quietly enough for government work.

When pressed, the autobox equipped sedan dips deeply into revs, wringing out all available torque (135 ft.-lbs.) before jumping down a gear. Having rowed gears for 30 years, I just don’t get these manumatics. Although the sedan’s computer controlled tranny makes for less hesitant gear choices, you can’t get anywhere near the car’s 6500rpm red line. Control freaks and speed demons should stick with the stick.

At speed, the Mazda3 feels a bit like an MX-5 with a booster seat. The platform’s fully independent chassis and electro-hydraulic helm don’t deliver all the delicious feedback of Mazda’s legendary Lotus Elan-a-like, but there’s enough precision in the system to inspire genuine confidence. And that’s all the reason a sporting driver really needs to drive the Mazda3, um, sportingly.

Should you press on towards the point of no-deposit (refunded) no return (except on the back of a recovery truck), the Mazda3 doesn’t betray its underpinnings until you’re close to eight-tenths. Then, finally, the beginnings of a nose-first understeer slide serve a not-so-subtle reminder that you’re piloting a front wheel-drive machine.

The Mazda3's four-wheel disc brakes are feelsome, fearsome binders; with optional ABS, I might not have needed a rental car in the first place. Road ruts don’t rock, though rough surfaces generate plenty of noise. Of course, I’d expect a deeper sense of happiness riding on the optional 17” wheels, instead of the stuck-pig-when-pushed 15” all season shoes.

When it comes to driving pleasure, the Mazda3 owns the Toyota Corolla and more than holds its own against the increasingly bloated, visually challenged Honda Civic. While you can laud the Mazda3's price, design, build quality, practicality and economy, the best bit is that the Japanese sedan lives up to its brand’s performance-oriented promise. Sigh. If only we hadn’t met under such difficult circumstances.

Joe Chiaramonte
Joe Chiaramonte

- Could identify anything on four wheels at age five. - Had to drive Mom's Vega first year in college (I know bad cars). - Was allowed to drive a Rolls Royce Corniche for a day. Took it to Jack in the Box (I know very good cars, some opportunities squandered). - Spent 21 years in broadcasting. Sprang free 11 years ago. - Need to win Lotto so I can write full-time for TTAC.

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  • Translog Translog on Feb 07, 2012

    I might as well chime in. I picked up a 2005 Mazda 3 GX with only 63,000 KM on it. Within a year and 20,000 KM I had to change first the left then the right wheel bearing. As a note, as I had the second one changed there happened to be another 2005 Mazda 3 exactly like mine having its wheel bearing replaced as well. Of course, lets not talk about how they all rust around the rear quarter panels. They are sporty and handle well, and of course gas mileage is ok for a small 4. But that is about it. I would NEVER and I mean NEVER purchase a Mazda product again. My 2 cents

  • Rosa Rosa on Jun 22, 2012

    I'm with you as well. I will never purchase another mazda again. I am on my second mazda RX8 and my husband has a 3 2006 the rust is unbeleivable. Dealing with Brampton Mazda is even worst. Horrible Service. Mazda canada did nothing to fix the problem. Looks like Mazda wants to promote that their cars RUST!

  • Arthur Dailey 'The capitalists will sell use the very rope that we use to hang them.' In our household we have cut down our shopping/spending and pay more to purchase products from 1st world nations or 2nd world nations that are our 'allies'. That also means quite often only buying and eating fruit and vegetables that are in season. Just like our parents and grandparents did.At least TTAC published an article on May 21st regarding LAN transformers that contravene the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act being used in some BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, and VW products?
  • ToolGuy I wouldn't buy any old Chinese brand of vehicle, but the right EV at the right price, maybe possibly yes. If you told me this would alarm Ford and torque off FreedMike, all the better. 😉P.S. I would *definitely* consider an EV made in Taiwan. Take that, paramount leader!P.P.S. China batteries/components to convert one of my ICE vehicles to EV? Yes.
  • Wolfwagen I expect Renault to be less popular than Fiat
  • ToolGuy Helium-3, baby!
  • Roman Our 1999 Pontiac Sunfire Gt is still running without any issues. 25 years and counting.