The Top Reviewers and Advisors at Epinions are a fairly diverse bunch, but they tend to have a couple of things in common. They tend to put a high priority on driving enjoyment. And they tend to not have a boatload of cash. So I guess it should come as little surprise that one car stands out in terms of "I can see myself buying this one:" the Mazda3.
I reviewed the Mazda3 last year, but recently took a more extended test drive of a sedan in five-speed S form to refresh my sense of the car.
I'm liking the styling of the Mazda3 better than I did last year. The sedan still looks a bit stubby, but no longer awkwardly so. It certainly looks more sophisticated and distinctive than any other sedan in its class. Especially now that the Jetta resembles a Toyota Corolla.
I remain on the fence with regard to the unique styling of the hatch. I own the car's predecessor, the Protege5. To my eye the P5 has classic lines that will not appear dated any time soon. The Mazda3 hatch, in contrast, has a much more avant garde
look, in both the good and bad senses of the term. It's certainly more noticeable, but the long roofline, flared fenders (absent on the sedan), and reverse kinked D-pillars are trendy details that likely won't age well. Also, the front end is awkwardly shaped and simply too large and bulbous for the car.
Inside the Mazda3 earns some major points. Though the materials are chiefly from the hard plastic family, the interior does not seem cheap. Rather, its sleek, sophisticated, sporty styling suggests that this is a car to desire, not a car to settle for. I also find the interior of my P5 sporty and sophisticated (for what is basically an economy car), but the 3's interior outdoes it by a wide margin on all aesthetic counts.
The Mazda3 has a more conventional driving position than the P5. You sit considerably lower relative to the dash top, putting you somewhere close to the car average. Visibility is reduced, but the car feels more substantial and upscale as a result.
Mazda recently introduced a new SP23 trim line that includes heated dark brown leather seats in a charcoal sedan. The dealer had one in stock, and I planned to drive it, but the salesman couldn't initially find the key to the lot where it was parked, so I drove a cloth-trimmed sedan. The cloth has a rugged, sporty look and feel to it, with small red dots on the center panels serving as accents. But if you want leather the SP23 is the way to go. While I was out driving the salesman found the key, and I had a chance to sit in the SP23. Very sharp interior. And seat heaters are an SP23 exclusive, at least for now.
The front seats are moderately firm and well-shaped. I like them much better than the odd-looking, uncomfortable seats in the more expensive Mazda6. Still, the 3's seats would benefit from more lateral support. This is likely to be a larger issue with the leather trim, as the cloth is fairly grippy.
The 3's weakest aspect is its rear seat. Said seat is less roomy and less comfortable than that in my Protege5, despite the newer design's additional exterior length. As a result, it's marginal for the transportation of adults. The VW Jetta also used to have a cramped rear seat, but the new one is significantly roomier. Luckily for the Mazda, the new Cobalt has a similarly tight rear seat, so they can share "worst in class" status. If you want a roomy rear seat in a small car, the Ford Focus is likely the way to go.
Cargo room is simply average in either Mazda3 bodystyle. If you want to haul lots of stuff, buy one of the compact tall wagons out there. I'm leaning this way myself. This summer Mazda will introduce the Mazda5. Based on the Mazda3, the 5 will have six seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Essentially a very small minivan, it could resolve my need for a manual transmission and sporty handling on one hand with my possession of three young children on the other.
On the Road
This year's test drive was more extensive. And I took it solo, which always helps. But my impressions remain largely the same.
The 2.3-liter engine in the Mazda3 s is refined to a fault. It's so smooth and quiet (for a four-cylinder) all the way to the redline that the experience of taking it there doesn't do much to get the adrenaline pumping. Combine this refinement with a lack of punch in the midrange, and the Mazda3 doesn't feel nearly as quick as it is. Keep an eye on the speedometer, or you're heading for trouble with the law.
The shifter has a very mechanical feel to it. I tend to like this in a shifter, so I forgive that in the 3 for sometimes feeling a bit balky and even clunky. Though not as good as those in the Subaru Legacy and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, the unit in the 3 is certainly much better than the average front-drive car's shifter.
The Mazda3's brakes feel more powerful than those in my car, but that's not saying a whole lot. (I am frequently underwhelmed by the brakes in my car.) Figure about average, maybe a touch above average in this department. Generally, if you want strong-feeling brakes you need to buy a European car.
The Mazda3 technically handles much better than my Protege5, but isn't as fun to toss around at moderate speeds. The newer car's steering feels more solid and is better weighted in hard turns, but doesn't provide as much feedback and doesn't feel as quick just off center. Overall it's well above average for the class, but could be better still.
The 3's chassis is more balanced and stable than that in my car. Throwing it hard into turns elicits little in the way of complaint. Lean and understeer are minimal, and the outside front tire doesn't feel as if its being scrubbed into black dust. Hit the gas in a turn, and the car simply pulls--no unexpected tire squeal, insignificant torque steer.
Ride quality depends on your reference point. Compared to my car, the Mazda3 rides quietly and smoothly. But it's still a bit below average on both counts. If you want quiet and smooth, buy a Corolla.
Mazda3 Price Comparisons and Pricing
The VW Jetta has always been the priciest car in this class, and the new one heads further upmarket. It lists for about $4,000 more than the Mazda3, and even after adjusting for its additional features costs about $2,000 more.
The Mazda3 shares a platform with the Volvo S40. They feel quite different, though, with the Volvo feeling every bit a premium luxury car, just in a compact package. The Mazda is more fun to drive. The Volvo lists for about $8,000 more, and adjusting for equipment reduces the gap by about $1,200.
What the Mazda offers is an almost European level of sophistication at a Japanese price. A Toyota Corolla XRS is similarly priced (especially comparing invoice prices), but doesn't look or feel as sporty.
American and Korean competitors cost less. Even compared to the 2.0-liter Mazda3 i, the Chevrolet Cobalt LS lists for about $1,700 less, and the Mazda's additional features only cut this gap in half. A Ford Focus ST is similarly equipped to a 3 s, but costs about $1.700 less. Finally, a Kia Spectra runs nearly $4,000 less than a Mazda3 i.
Notably, Mazda has yet to offer a rebate on the Mazda3. Just about any competing car has one (reflected in the above price comparisons). So while I feel it's price is a touch high, the market seems to disagree.
Prices change frequently, and differences will vary based on feature level. To quickly generate these and other comparisons with the specific features you want, visit my Web site, www.truedelta.com. (It's the only site that provides true "apples-to-apples" price comparisons.)
TrueDelta's page for the Mazda3:
A second, more extensive test drive did not significantly affect my evaluation of the Mazda3. This is still my favorite affordably-priced compact. Strong points include very good handling and a sophisticated, upscale interior. If you also value driving enjoyment, but care less about aesthetics (and resale value), the Ford Focus and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart are worth a look. They are also fun to drive, and cost less.
A Note on Mazda3 Reliability
I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.
Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy a Mazda3 rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Mazda3 reliability comparisons.
Before I can report results, I need data on all cars--not just the Mazda3--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access
to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.
For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.
A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews
can be found on my profile page
Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
(more detailed review of the 2004)
Mazda Protege5 review
(replaced by Mazda3)
Chevrolet Cobalt review
Ford Focus ST review
Honda Civic review
Hyundai Elantra GT review
Saturn ION review
Toyota Corolla XRS review
VW Jetta GLI review
Volvo S40 review
Amount Paid (US$):
2005Model and Options:
s with Sunroof package