Used car review: Mazda3 2004-2009Motor News Used Car Reviews Motor Reviews
- Badge Description
- Engine Configuration Description
- Gear Num
- Build Country Origin Description
- Car Size
- Overall Green Star Rating
- Fuel Type Description
- Petrol - Unleaded ULP
- Drive Description
- Front Wheel Drive
- Lots of them out there thanks to good sales when brand-new
- Works well with optional automatic gearbox
- Choice of body styles for those who don't like hatchbacks
- Can be thirsty
- Many have been used hard by younger drivers
- Cabin can be noisy thanks to engine and tyres
Like any other segment of the Australian car market, small cars and hatchbacks vary enormously in their quality and abilities.
But, since it was launched here in 2004, the Mazda 3 has been counted among the models that excel in both those categories.
While the Mazda 3 seems to have weathered pretty well, its relative shortcomings when it was new have remained to haunt it, highlighted as they have been by improvements in the competition as well as subsequent Mazda models.
Certainly a lack of choice doesn't hold the Mazda back and with two distinct body styles and a range of trim levels, there's something for every budget.
The range kicked off with the entry-level Neo, Maxx, Maxx Sport and SP23, which attempted to capture the disposable income of those buyers looking for a slightly sportier experience.
If you're looking at the cheaper 3s, try to find one with the optional safety pack that added side and curtain airbags and ABS.
The automatic transmission option was also popular, so plenty out there now are self-shifters.
In many cases (where the manual version is the far superior drive) that wouldn't be a great outcome, but the Mazda 3 broke new ground by being pretty good to use even with the automatic fitted.
When shopping for a used auto now, make sure there's no hesitation between moving the selector from park to drive or reverse. Any clunks or harsh shifts are bad signs, too, and could point to either a seriously worn transmission or one that needs adjustment badly.
Either gearbox option is tied to Mazda's 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which, though good for its day, made it one of the thirstier small cars and is now regarded as being a bit off the pace in most important areas.
The SP23 got the bigger, 2.3-litre unit from the Mazda 6, but even it hasn't stood the test of time very well. A diesel version was offered from 2007, but since there was no automatic option (only a six-speed manual), it wasn't especially popular.
Mechanical problems for the petrol engine include noisy timing chains or their plastic guides (the guides are cheap to replace, the chain not so), so listen carefully when the engine starts up for metallic rattling sounds.
On diesel versions, there were reports of problems with one of the engine mounting bolts breaking off. The engine could potentially move inside the engine bay and hit the car's body. A recall was issued at the time. Power windows can stop working for no apparent reason. Try holding the offending window switch in the down position for 20-30 seconds. It doesn't work every time, but it's worth a try before calling in the experts.
Reliable though it might have been, however, the engine just seemed a bit bland. It got the job done, but not with any flair.
It was noisy, too, and with short gearing (in the manual) and suspension and tyres contributing to the interior din, the 3 was not a quiet place to be at freeway speeds.
Even worse than the noise was the 3's fuel economy. Even on a gentle highway cruise, it can use fuel like a decent V6.
Make sure the service book is up to date and that no preventative maintenance has been missed.
We're inclined to offer a similar warning about the high-performance version, the MPS.
With the 190kW turbocharged engine from the 6 MPS, this was a pretty wild child. It was also tiring to drive in traffic and appealed to the type of driver who was likely to use the car hard.
On a brighter note, the 3 was given a facelift in mid-2006. Among the changes were improved sound deadening, slightly more power from the carry-over engine and, crucially, standard stability control across the whole range.
That makes the later version the better car, but prices of the first version suggest it's the bargain buy.