By on April 22, 2011

Mazda has joined the party at the 40 MPG beach, rolling out its new SkyActive engine technology in order to give its Mazda3 refresh a 40 MPG EPA highway rating (with autobox, 39 MPG with manual). Power is up as well with the new engines, generating 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 lb-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm. But possibly the biggest Mazda news: as part of its goal to become “the Japanese Alfa Romeo,” Mazda’s stylists have toned down the 3’s goofy grin, giving it a slightly more grave countenance. Again, by addressing the 3’s traditional weaknesses, namely weak fuel economy and overwrought styling, Mazda has helped make the NYIAS a banner year for well-executed mid-cycle refreshes.

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38 Comments on “2012 Mazda3: More Efficient, Less Happy...”


  • avatar
    daviel

    It still looks goofy tome.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    I’ve always loved the driving dynamics of the Mazda3, even looked at one, but with a 5’11” 17 year old and 5’3′ 11 year old the back seat is a no go behind the 6’1″ dad.
     
    I wish they had “de-smiled” it a bit more, but it is an improvement.

  • avatar
    redrum

    It’s still way too overwrought.  I thought the original design was “eh”, but the current incarnation is still downright ugly.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Definately an improvement. It no longer looks like a cartoon.

  • avatar
    SecretAznMan

    I’m actually not all that thrilled by the revised front end. The smiley grille opening is basically the same. The different camera angle is what’s making it less smiley. It’s the fog light areas that flank it that have changed. It was the old fog light area of the old design that I liked best. It gave it just the slightest resemblance to the gorgeous Furai. Now that is gone.

  • avatar
    redliner

    Ugh. They gave it eye shadow, but only managed to turn the demented grin into maniac smile.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Forget the smile, if Mazda can approach that kind of gas mileage while still maintaining the kind of responsiveness and handling for which they are generally known, then this should bring a huge boost to their sales.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Whatever happened to manuals being the more fuel efficient choice? I know that there is only a minor difference of 1 mpg highway, but isn’t that one reason why “cheap-skates” always bought them? I think mine is rated 1 less in the city, but the combined rating is the same.

    Not talking down about “cheap-skates” because I just bought my Forte and saved the $1000 by selecting a manual.

    • 0 avatar
      Demetri

      They still are.  The EPA figures aren’t directly comparable between manual vs auto.  Some of the recent change has to do with gearing.  Manuals are geared more for performance now, while automatics are set up to game the EPA cycle as much as possible.

  • avatar

    From overjoyed to adorable!

  • avatar

    I wish the grille openings were just that — openings — and not solid plastic with a grid overlay. I think this looks cheap on my 6 where the optional fog lights would go; the larger the area, the worse it looks.

    Still, given the mileage and power improvements… I think I may be looking at my next new car.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    These changes might have been enough to get me to put the Mazda 3 back on my recommended list, but the first one I recommended has turned into a VW. With about 70K miles, the check engine light came on for the 4th or 5th time and the engine started stumbling at idle. I googled the symptoms and found out that LOTS of people on Mazda 3 boards had experienced this and the likely causes were a failed purge valve or a dirty throttle body. Considering the sudden onset, the purge valve was the most likely and common cause and I told my friend to expect a repair cost between $200 and $400 depending on the ethics of the shop she deals with. Instead, a few miles later(about 7 miles) the engine failed catastrophically at a cost of about $4,000. The car was repaired in time for her wedding this weekend, when the check engine light came on during the trip to the ceremony. Honda or Toyota. That is all.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Gee CJ, never missing a chance to bash VW, even on a Mazda post!  :)

      But what was this catastrophic engine failure?  And more to the point, what caused it?  Maybe it could have been similar to all the VW engine failures that turned out to be caused by a clogged oil screen from using the wrong oil??

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I didn’t inspect it, but according to the shop whatever happened resulted in something foreign becomming free in a cylinder and destroying a bore. Sounds like a dropped valve to me. I guess a broken spark plug could have done it too, not sure if that would have caused the initial diagnosis to be a headgasket though.

        I feel bad about the whole thing because when we were car shopping she kept emailing me craigslist ads of low mileage 9-3 Saab convertibles for less than the Mazda cost. I told her she’d be better off with the Mazda, which is probably still true but I’d wonder if I were her. Her previous car was a VW cabriolet, so she’d already learned that particular lesson. She sold the VW to another woman who told her she was a neighbor right after she bought the car, so my friend had to move.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        $4k was most likely a total ripoff… but then again when you dont know anything about cars and your at the mercy of your repair shop, most people get screwed over.  The damage you described could have been fixed by any decent shop for around $1500.  I am betting the replaced her engine with a new one.  There are not a high percentage of engine failures reported on Mazdas, especially the non-turbo engines.  Anecdotal evidence is just that… anecdotal.   A Saab wouldnt be any better than a Mazda, or a VW, or even your beloved Honda.

        Some people should just buy new cars with warranties, she is probably one of those people. 

        The Cabrio was never known as a “problem” VW, it is nearly impossible to find one with less than 150k miles on them and even then they still look good.  Other than ripped leather on the seats and some of the knobs and levers breaking, they wear well, and neither of those issues is uncommon on any convertible because of sun damage.  They never made an Mk4 version of the Cabrio, it was always an Mk3 with a clone front end.  But as we all know, you cant help but bash a VW.

        Hondas, on the other hand, obviously have terrible engines, since it is nearly impossible to find a used Honda Civic that hasnt had an engine swap or two done…   :)

      • 0 avatar

        mm4ever. Actually if you look at my MR2 photo closely you will note that the front bumper isnt stock. Its the German TTE front bumper – anything but a smiley face. I hated the OEM front as it didnt match the aggressive design of the rear of the car. The TTE is a much better match.

        Actually when I first saw the new Mazda3 I didn’t think of it as a smiley face. I noted that it looked like the Nagare concept and the big black inserts in the front bumper reminded me of a porsche GT3’s gapping holes. (a poor mans copy of course)

        In general I prefer designs that push the envelope – even if they are not attractive in all angles. Look at the much maligned Pontiac Aztec for example. Sure its not pretty – but at least they were trying to do something different. I would rather drive the Aztec than a bland camry or corolla which are about as aggressively designed as my Bosch dryer and washer.

        Regarding if a car is too cute or for girls. That’s ridiculous. A good design is a good design period. If its more attractive to the other sex that shouldnt be held against it. The new Fiat 500 is a hell of a great design. If I could I would buy one and in bright red!  Much better than driving a “man’s car” such as the Dodge Challenger or the Trans Am which look like they are 130% oversized and weigh a ton.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I wasn’t particularly involved in the Cabrio, but I do recall that the A/C didn’t work after multiple expensive dealer attempts at repair and that SMOG was an ordeal each time. I don’t know where you live, but here in the P.R.O.C. you really can’t get away with a marginally engineered car unless you have ties to a crooked SMOG check shop. Otherwise, the little things that defenders of crappy cars ignore have to be attended to at great expense every year or two. That’s why you see so many ‘awsome’ German and Swedish cars with no body damage in California scrap yards. Not to even mention Detroit detritus and Nissans needing exhaust manifold catalysts.

        I don’t recall exactly what she said about the Mazda engine, or why she didn’t ask me to look at it. The options she was offered were a used engine with no warranty or a rebuilt with 2 years/24K miles, with the rebuild being the $4K option.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        @Buzzy — I cant really see your bumper in the pic, but I am going to check it out for our own.  If I can find a tastefully upgraded front end for it, I would like to swap it out, I just hate the overdone body kit styles you mostly find for these cars.

        And I like your way of thinking, I like cars that are unique.  I just never liked that Mazda3 front end, the first time I saw it the dealer had a front mount plate on it, and that combined with how the grill trim juts out, just made it look like a big buck-toothed caricature.  IMO, it simply wasnt a good design, they could have done way better.  I agree, it doesnt matter if its a “girls” car, I also like the 500, cant wait for the Abarth version, but that IMO is a good design.  I like the Mini too, and its often accused of being a girls car, same with the Miata and the old vw Cabrio.  I dont even have a problem with smiles… my all time favorite car in the world is a 80s Porsche 911 that looks like its grinning, I still love it.   Just not the Mazda.  I happen to like the Challenger design though, great lines, simply 130% too large as you say.  Thats a platform issue.  I defend the Trans Am though, as an Italian American it is rooted in my DNA to love the Trans Am!!  I almost bought one, but it was just too creaky and low quality, even though I loved the look.  :)

        @CJ — you make a very valid point, I live in FL and we dont have smog tests here, thank God, I remember from my brief time in VA how much of a PITA that is.  And I suppose an older car would have problems with it, from what I recall VW wasnt any more or less likely to have those problems, simply an issue with any car getting old.  There are tons of stinky old Hondas and Toyotas around here, as well American and European cars.  And your comment brought up the first glaring problem:  expensive DEALER repairs.  VW dealers suck, everyone knows it.  Once you are out of warranty you need to go to a reputable independent shop.  Ditto with old Mazdas that had engine failure.  Heck, even an old Honda, who would go to a dealer??  They all basically suck!  BTW, whats the PROC??

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        People’s Republic of California. In my experience VW-Audi, BMW and the like(including otherwise tank-like ’80s Mercedes) are more likely to have expensive, almost impossible to trouble-shoot problems come SMOG check time than Toyotas or Hondas because their circuit boards biodegrade. You need a doctorate in Fluke to sort them out when they start throwing codes, and they do start throwing codes. Bosch sensors have the ability to fail intermittently, which sometimes defies physics.

        I ride my bicycle regularly here, and the cars that are dirty tend to be Mexican operated, whether registed in Mexico or due to the reality that laws don’t apply to illegal aliens in this state. Nissans are definitely the dirtiest cars on the roads of California in big numbers, but that is because the Sunny/Sentra has been the best selling car in Mexico for years. US citizens have to scrap anything else that can’t be brought into compliance. When I’m pedaling up Mount Soledad and huffing and puffing like a stuck pig, I can tell you exactly which passing vehicles aren’t driven by second class citizens(meaning actual citizens).

  • avatar
    Bob12

    Looking forward to SKYACTIV (note trendy all-caps spelling) technologies in other Mazda products. It’s definitely needed.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Forgive me if I’m being obtuse, but are we looking at the 2011 on the left and 2012 model on the right?  Aside from the fog lights, I can’t see a difference.  Is there anybody that actually likes that stupid grin, and assuming the answer is no, how can Mazda think that barely tweaking it solves the problem?

    • 0 avatar
      Demetri

      You can’t see it as much in the comparison shot, but if you look at some of the other pics you’ll see that the cross bar on the grille is a lot thicker.  The shape of the grille is also a little bit different.  This is an early mid-cycle refresh (the 3 is only 2 years old), so there is only so much that they could do with front end without making major changes.  Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is.  It sticks out more in press shots like these anyway.  But I don’t look at the front of a car like a face.  I never thought it looked like a grin, it just looked like a big grille opening to me.  It was a little weird at first, but 2 years later I don’t even notice it. I’m surprised that more people aren’t lambasting Hyundai’s new styling.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    Still not good enough, Mazda. Make it snarl. Then maybe we can talk.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    The front end is somewhat of an improvement but not enough. The new engine is a big MPG improvement. When I testdrive one what I’ll be looking for is the road noise level and ride quality. The current version failed miserably on both counts. The previous version I testdrove didn’t have either problem. I’ll reserve judgement on the styling and the car itself until after I see and drive it.

  • avatar

    I liked the front end and that was a big reason for why I bought a Mazda3 last year. Cars in the US are boring. Especially the economy cars. Travel to Europe and compare the Mazda3 front end with all the other cars for Renault Peugeot and the rest and it blends right in. It amazes me that even car “enthusiasts” want bland cars.  What’s wrong with a happy face anyway??

    The new revised front end kills the appeal of the original and doesnt work as well with the large front fenders.  And gone are the fog lights which added visual interest to the front. Oh well. I guess at least Fiat and Alfa are coming to the US.  

    What’s considered exciting design these days are the LED lights inside AUDI headlights so go figure.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      I agree.  Actually, I suspect the big grin was a response to European reviews calling the 1st-gen Mazda3 “boring,” both to drive and to look at.  Must be hard to make people happy in such different markets…

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      You guys may have liked it, but most people thought it looked stupid.  Happy faces look on on cutsie cars, the Smart, the 500, VW Cabrio, cars like that can get away with it.  But most people want a sporty car to look aggressive.  They are selling cars, so obviously a lot of people dont mind the look, but I personally dont know anyone who bought one except a 17yo girl my daughter is friends with (her dad bought it for her), and she likes the cute smiley face on it.  Just that fact alone was enough to keep me out of one… LOL

    • 0 avatar
      tuckerdawg

      Honestly, the happy face grew on me once I saw it more often in person. I actually like it now and I can’t really tell the difference between the old and new one. To me it seemed like a badge of honor among the sub compacts. If anything its the difference between happy face and lecherous grin.

    • 0 avatar

      Buzzyrpm:

      Totally, totally agreed. This one doesn’t especially do it for me, but 2nd generation Clio is an example of a well done smile. Now, as to people in the US yes, it does seem they like to be like lemmings in terms of design. Brazilians have a strong tendency for that, too. But an iconic design is not going to come from the aggressive side nowadays. I mean, nowadays even an Aveo wants to look aggressive. My question is why?

      Anyway, see above poster. He said he was turned off cause a neighbor’s daughter liked the car. Can’t believe the thought process leading to that conclusion…

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I understand that they dont have sarcasm in France, so you might not understand my comment.  Us lemmings in the US can at least understand a joke.  What I MEANT was, it wasnt the fact that she liked the car, it was the fact that she liked it because “it has a happy smiley face like Hello Kitty”, I think those were her words.  I didnt want to drive a car that people associated with a happy smiling kitty cat.  I much prefer the angry bunny face on my GTI.  :)

        Once again, for Marcelo, that was SARCASM.

        Seriously though, if Mazda did the styling to appeal to Europeans, then they could have easily given the US model a different grill from the beginning.  They didnt because they thought we would like it.  We didnt.  I am not making that up, this isnt personal opinion, almost every review and blog post about the 3 mentions the silly smiley face.  The great majority of posters dont like it.  A few do, and more dont seem to car either way, those are the people who bought the car.  My point is, Mazda could have sold a lot more had they done something better with the grill.

        And Buzzy, props on the sweet MR2 in your pic, we have one too.  But that just solidifies my point that you like funny looking cars, the MR2 has a smiley face too.  :)

      • 0 avatar

        Hey mnm4ever. OK, maybe I didn’t get your sarcasm. 3 points: I said Brazilian are lemmings, too so that wasn’t a rip on the good ole USA. You have so much more choice in your market than we have in ours and even so, it seems people seem to think that only 2 or 3 cars per segment are aceptable. That seems sad to me and was the gist of my comment on lemmings.

        As to your thought process you made it clearer this time, but…if you allow me…ONE girl said she saw that. Did you see it when you first saw it?? One 17 year old girl. Why allow her, or anybody for that matter decide what you like? That’s my question. Again, for me this Mazda doesn’t work, but not because of the smile. A smile wouldn’t turn me off automatically.

        Mazda in Europe point: maybe Mazda doesn’t sell in Europe for 3 points: little marketing; little efficiency; Mazda’s design is not that original, different or out-there when you compare the competition.

        Final point: Thanks for keeping it civil!

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I hope I didnt come across as un-civil, its all good IMO, just havin some fun with you!  :)

        I actually agree with you, American are total lemmings, they dont appreciate good cars, cheap gas, and everything else we have here.  But its funny you mention the better choice of cars we have here, since WE think the same thing about Europe.  So many cool cars that they wont sell here, I hate it!!  It may seem like we have a lot of choice, but most cars limit things to packages, they bundle good stuff with bad or expensive items, it really is limiting.  You dont get that in Europe as much.

        And it wasnt ONE girl, thats the only person I happen to know who bought one.  I have 2 teenage girls, a wife, and I’m a car nut.  We talk about cars, and them and all thier friends think the same thing.  My daughter begged me buy the Mazda3 because she loved the smiley face, my wife liked it too.  I didnt like it, and didnt like thier opinions on top of it!  But the smile wasnt the only reason… I could have dealt with it, I think there will be aftermarket bumpers for it anyway.  I have always been a huge Mazda fan, and I loved my Protege5 almost as much as I like my GTI now.  There were other things about the 3 I didnt like: the feel of the interior, the style inside wasnt as nice, I liked the GTI handling better, etc.  But had they had no grin, and the SkyActiv MPG increase??  I probably would have gone for it…  If CJ turns out to be right about VW horror stories I am really going to regret not getting a Mazda or Honda… LOL

      • 0 avatar

        Hi mn4ever

        I read your other posts in this thread and I totally agree with you :) Even about the Challenger. I personally love it and agree it should be shorter. As to Mazda 3, yeah, the original design was unfortunate. The re-skin helps a little, but it doesn’t represent the car the way it should.

        Now, buzzy has a poin, too, but maybe theAztec is too far out there! OOn the other hand, the Fiat Multipla is so ugly it actually becomes an intriguing buy. Crazy design that envelops a pretty good vehicle and idea. Vel Satis, too. Could go for them.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    This very small change makes a big difference.  Its still happy without looking silly, and its not boring or a copy of everyone else.  This grill design combined with the SkyActiv engine would have most likely convinced me to buy a Mazda instead of my GTI.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    THis is still one of the few cars I would look to the Fast and Furious style aftermarket front ends to actually improve the looks of a product.

  • avatar
    nearprairie

    Our test of the ’12 Mazda3 with SkyActiv was good enough that we’re considering buying a hatchback.

    Impressions:
    1. SkyActiv engine noise at start-up sounded like someone shaking a Folgers coffee can full of bolts and washers. I even asked the salesman if there was oil in the engine. Turns out the noise is short lived and an anomaly of the compression engineering.
    2. The speakers in the Sport model are some of the worst I’ve ever heard. The Bose system in the Touring and Grand Touring models is pretty good. Adding Bose to the Sport model costs $1500 and includes a sunroof. Hello Crutchfield!
    3. The SkyActiv engine provided plenty of scat, but required a lot of RPM to wring it out. Turning radius was tight, not Smart fortwo tight, but tight enough that maneuvering in a parking lot was easy. And speaking handling, the car was tight on zigzags and around corners, and those brakes — suh-weet! — just the right amount of pedal travel and the whole car seemed to squat under hard braking, instead of the dreaded nose dive.
    4. Ergonomics, while not ’91-era Honda superb, were decent and major controls and buttons were easy to find and read. The drivers seat was easy to adjust, but it was the telescoping steering wheel that made the seat-to-steering wheel relationship workable.
    5. The sunroof doesn’t rob nearly as much headroom as it does in the Honda Civic and Accord.
    6. Rear seats in the sedan are easy in-easy out; in the hatch they are waaaay low, in order to have enough headro0m under the sloping roof.
    7. Fit-n-finish were very good with tight seams, no ugly gaps, tactile controls and an overall feeling of quality.
    8. 40+ MPG is sweet icing on a pretty tasty cake.

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