Review: Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009)
Focus based. Bags of room and a comfortable ride, well equipped, saloon is the best looker and sharpest handling, depreciates slower than the 2004 Focus.
Steering of early 2.0 petrol cars lacks feel and panache of a Focus. Early UK Mazda 3s starting to rust quite badly.
Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009): At A Glance
Mazda is good and building attractive cars and this shows in the neat Mazda 3. It takes a little bit of inspiration from other Mazda models, such as the sporty RX-8 and is an attractive car. But this beauty is more than skin deep as the Mazda 3 is also very good to drive.
It's very comfortable with a firm but forgiving ride, plus it's more than capable on the twisty stuff with well weighted steering and a excellent grip. And like all Mazdas - the Mazda 3 is reliable and well built. Add in plenty of passenger space, particularly for those in the rear and the Mazda 3 makes lots of sense.
Although replaced in 2009 this Mazda 3 is still a good buy as a used model and there's plenty of choice too. The engine range includes some peppy petrols (although the entry-level 1.4-litre is a little lacklustre) plus economical diesels - there's even a high performance turbocharged MPS version.
In 2006 the Mazda 3 was given a light makeover with a newer front end and grille plus changes that improved the handling. Equipment levels were also upgraded, making the Mazda3 even better than before.
What does a Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009) cost?
Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009): What's It Like Inside?
Engines will be a 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrol, plus 1.6 common rail diesels with 90 or 110PS. The Americans also get a 2.3 litre with the same 150PS power output of the UK 2.0, but a bit more torque. The only UK automatic will be a four speeder attached to the 1.6. But when the car arrives in the UK in January we'll only get the 1.6, 1.6 auto and 2.0 litre for the time being. The 1.4 and the diesels will come later in the Spring. Bodies are either a handsome 5-door hatchback or a stunning 4-door saloon.
As well as looking great outside, the Mazda 3 is nice inside, with bags of head and legroom front and back. The dash is pleasant to behold, with easy to operate controls. The optional satnav is DVD, so carries much more information than a CD based system. The radio has a single CD player. The airconditioned glove box is huge, and cleverly split with storage in the drop-down lid. The doorpockets are deep with bottle/can holders built in. There's a combined can/bottle holder or oddments bin next to the handbrake lever. And, as on the new Toyota Avensis, the armrest cubby between the seats is split level. So there's somewhere for everything.
The steering wheel adjusts up and down or in and out. The driver's seat has height adjustment. And, very sensibly, just like the RX8, the driver's seat rake adjustment is by wheel so you can get it just right, while the passenger gets a seduction seat which can be instantly reclined.
Child seats that fit a Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009) like to drive?
Turn the key and the engine note of the 1.6 is a bit weak, but at 100PS the power output is standard muscle for the size. Power steering on the 1.6 is simple hydraulic and there's plenty of steering wheel ‘feel'. The car handles neatly, sacrificing the ultimate in sharpness for good ride quality. It's no sports car and doesn't pretend to be. But it's a damn good compromise.
With 50% more power, the 150PS 2.0 litre is obviously quite a bit quicker. But to get that magical 150PS figure, Mazda opted for electro hydraulic power steering which absorbs less engine power and that robs the steering of some of the feel of the 1.6's. But it's still a good, very competent car, with enough power for most people and a sensible compromise between ride and handling.
The surprise of the range is the 1.6 automatic. Sometimes you get into a car and it immediately feels exactly right. This was one of those cars. The first thing I spotted was the manual control for the autobox: forward to change down; back to change up: exactly as is should be but isn't with Tiptronic systems. Like indicator stalks on the right, its intuitive, so you don't have to think before you change gear, And the box itself is a delight, changing up or down beautifully smoothly. That allows you to concentrate on braking, lining up and turning into your corners perfectly and gives you a very satisfying drive. Though the figures imply this is the performance dunce of the trio, out on the road it's the best driver's car.
The only dislikes I had were minor ones, like the slatted grille and clear rear light lenses on posher versions. But they are very minor quibbles. If the new Volvo S40 and the new Ford Focus match the promise of the Mazda 3, then Ford won't have to worry too much about the new Golf and Astra.
Update: 2006 Facelift
The Mazda 3 was given a discreet facelift and a general tweaking.
Nothing hugely significant. Merely a good car made better using lessons learned on the Volvo S40/V40 and Ford Focus with which it shares its floorpan, suspension and drivetrain. The Mazda 3 was the second car after the C-Max on Ford's C1 platform, preceding the Volvo S40/V50 and the Focus itself. So the new version benefits from three years of lessons learned with the shared technology.
Outside, the Mazda logo in the grille is slightly bigger. The rather ugly optional slatted grille has been abandoned. The front bumper is restyled. The alloy wheels are a new design. There are some new colours: Carbon Grey mica, Phantom Blue mica, Aurora Blue and Icy Blue mica. (Happily, the best old colour, a very rich solid red, has been kept.) And there's an extra diesel: the 90PS version of the Ford/PSA 1.6 offering combined economy of over 60mpg. Under the skin, suspension settings have been altered slightly to make the car more responsive, improve ride quality and refinement and reduce noise levels.
Other improvement include a keyless card entry system and cruise control on high spec models, an optional 7 speaker Bose sound system and an optional 20GB hard drive sound system capable of storing around 3,000 music tracks. All models offer slightly improved fuel economy at the expense of around a tenth of a second off their 0-60 acceleration times. The 2.0 now has a 6-speed box rather than a 5-speeded and the 1.6 4-speed automatic box has also been slightly improved.
As before, you can have a five-door hatchback or a four-door saloon for the same money, though prices are now up by between £500 and £830.
We tried a 2.0 Sport 5-dr and a 1.6 109PS 4-door. The electro-hydraulic steering on the 2.0 has a bit more ‘feel' than before, and the car now benefits from a 6-speed transmission. And its new electronic throttle and new sequential valve timing mean the engine reaches peak torque 500rpm earlier, which makes it more flexible and more amenable to block changing (3rd to 5th, 4th to 6thm etc.) But the most obvious choice is the 1.6 diesel. It's quick enough, pleasantly flexible, doesn't give you anxious moments waiting for the torque to come in on roundabouts and grips, steers and handles very well indeed. And Mazda has waved a magic wand over the ride quality. On the sometimes rough and pock-marked test route it soaked up everything the road could fling at it.
However, one strange thing happened. In both cars at about 100mph a noise cut in. Not a warning buzzer. Not a police car behind us. Discussions with Mazda engineers concluded that the tyres and road surface must have been the culprits. Very odd, but consistent between two completely different cars. Not that it's going to bother UK customers much.
In the pecking order and status stakes, the Mazda 3 fits between the Focus (because it's a Ford) and the S40/V50 (because they're Volvos).
It sells on looks and the fact it's a Japanese-built Mazda with a very impressive reliability record.
Buy it for its looks, its ride comfort and its reliability and you won't be disappointed.
April 2011 1.6 automatic Test:
So is it a good choice compared to a Focus, Golf, Astra, Corolla, cee’d, i30, Auris or Civic automatic?
The first thing in its favour is that under the bonnet you’ll find Mazda’s robust, chain-cam 1.6 MZR 105PS motor that manages a reasonable 145Nm torque at 4,000rpm. No fireball, of course. But buyers of used 1.6 automatics aren’t exactly intending to burn rubber on a race track. Coupled to that is the same 4-speed torque converter autobox you’ll find on a Focus or old-shape Fiesta 1.6 auto. And they make good companions.
First out into a Bangkok traffic jam and the combination made an excellent account of itself. You can manually override the shift using the lever the logical way round: forwards to change down and back to change up. (No weird ‘Tiptronic mind games to overcome.) The system is both responsive and driver friendly at the same time. No nasty jerks. No unwanted surges. It just gets on with it. Though I have to emphasise that in Bangkok traffic, left foot braking is not just recommended, it is a life-saver. It certainly saved multiple injuries to a motorbike taxi driver and his fat passenger who U turned around me left to right while I was making a right turn. If I’d been one foot braking they’d have been under the car, after which we’d have all got T-boned by three lanes of no-prisoner-taking lunacy.
That sweet drive in traffic translates to a less than exhilarating experience out on the open road. You have to learn to make the most of what you’ve got and drive within its limits. But it’s still best to keep your hand off the lever and let your right foot and the box itself do the work. That way, you and your passengers get a nice, smooth drive and a decent 75mph, 3,000rpm cruise. Not brilliantly fuel-efficient. We only averaged 33mpg on the first leg of our journey (I’ll publish the full figure after I fill up for the last time on Monday or Tuesday**). And with 179g/km – 183g/km CO2 coming out of the exhaust pipe you’ll be asked to fork out £210 - £245 a year in what used to be called ‘road tax’.
The steering felt a little light at times. But no complaints about handling and ride quality. The Mazda 3 is 2nd generation Ford C1 Focus based, which is best in class. So, if you really want to, you can whang it round a fast corner at very impressive speeds without any deviation. The ride quality was also five-star, despite 205/50 R17 tyres that don’t normally help much in this respect. And on top of that, the seats were very comfy too.
|1.4||42 mpg||14.5 s||157 g/km|
|1.6||41–45 mpg||11.2 s||149–162 g/km|
|1.6 D||59–63 mpg||10.0–12.2 s||119–128 g/km|
|2.0||36–42 mpg||9.1–9.4 s||159–189 g/km|
|2.0 D||47 mpg||9.9 s||162 g/km|
|2.2 D||52 mpg||9.2 s||144 g/km|
|2.2 D 185||50 mpg||7.2 s||149 g/km|
Real MPG average for a Mazda 3 (2004 – 2009)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.
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