Mazda Mazda3 Review

Joe Chiaramonte
by Joe Chiaramonte
mazda mazda3 review

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.

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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!

  • Jeff S Some of us don't care either way we are not into this type of car. Most of these will be stored in garages waiting for their value to go up. As someone above noted this is an old body style which is retro 70s Challenger which after researching it came out in the 2008 MY which means a long run for a model that is in its 16th year. I have always liked these but if I bought one I would not spend this kind of money on one probably get the V-6 version and use it as a family car but then I am not into drag racing or muscle cars. For the type of car it is it has a decent rear seat and not too bad of a trunk. Most of us are not going to spend 100k for any vehicle at least currently so its not something most of us will buy and stick in a garage waiting for its value to increase. I am glad that these editions came out for those who can afford them and it keeps a little more color into what has become a very dull vehicle market but then with age I pick the dull appliance like reliable vehicle because that's what I need. Impressive car but not for me.
  • Jonathan The Germans. So organized they can appear disorganized. I agree with some others, classic names like Thunderbird, Imperial, Grand Prix, Ambassador etc. just have more appeal.
  • Bobbysirhan A friend had one when they first came out. He was CFO of some green California company and could charge the Volt at work. At home, the PHEV gave him an excuse to make his wife park her nicer car outdoors while the Volt get their condo's one-car garage. He liked the Volt, and he spent very little on energy during the 'first one's free!' era of EV ownership. Of course, the green company went bust soon after, and he wound up with a job that involved far more driving and ultimately the need for a more substantial car. I drove the Volt once after his wife had made a return trip to Los Angeles, depleting the battery. I don't know what a first gen Volt drives like with a charged battery, but it was really gutless with two adults, a yellow lab, and a dead battery. My other memory of it was that it had a really cramped back seat for a car that was about as large as a Civic. My friend who bought it liked it though, and that's not always been the case for GM vehicles.
  • MrIcky I think the Shakedown is more my speed of the last call editions- but this is impressive.
  • Dukeisduke I tried watching the live reveal last night, but after 15 minutes of jawing by MT+ personalities (and yes, I like Chris Jacobs and Alex Taylor), I turned it off.