Message sent successful!
Expect to receive a text message on your cell phone within the next 15 minutes
Mazda has a tradition of building zippy, entertaining small cars, something that's evident in the Mazda 3, which always has been known for its sharp handling and engaging nature. Of course, the Mazda 3 still provides suitable levels of economy and practicality, too. That's because even the base Mazda 3 comes with a refined engine and a surprisingly sophisticated suspension and interior, while higher trims offer more power and plenty of useful convenience and luxury-oriented features.
There have now been two generations of the Mazda 3. The newer model is a bit more stylish and refined, but either way we highly recommend the Mazda 3, whether shopping new or used.
Current Mazda 3
The Mazda 3 is available in two body styles: a sedan or a four-door hatchback. The sedan is offered in six trim levels -- i SV, i Sport, i Touring, s Touring, i Grand Touring and s Grand Touring. The hatchback comes only in the four upper trims. No matter which Mazda 3 you buy, expect an impressive level of convenience and safety-related equipment for the money. The base trim counts a height-adjustable driver seat and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls among its standard features, while the Grand Touring versions provide a luxury sport vibe with leather seating, heated front seats and a navigation system.
For power, the 3i SV comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a five-speed automatic is optional. The 3i Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims get a more fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder (Skyactiv-G) that's also more powerful with 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. The sprightlier Mazda 3s trims are powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 good for 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard here, with a five-speed automatic optional.
While most economy cars have little in the manner of interior aesthetics, the cabin in the Mazda 3 shows impressive attention to detail. The materials used are some of the nicest found in this class and there are lots of standard features, so your passengers are bound to think you paid more than you actually did. Even taller folks will be comfortable up front, and the driver will appreciate the standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. As expected, the hatchback offers more cargo capacity than the sedan's trunk. And should you need more, both body styles provide a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
The current Mazda 3's refined road manners will come as a surprise to most economy car shoppers. Thanks to its performance-oriented chassis tuning, the 3 is blessed with athletic handling and -- with the s trim's superior tires -- a healthy amount of grip on twisty blacktop. Furthermore, its steering is quick and reasonably communicative. In the real world, this translates into a greater sense of driver confidence. The 3's highway ride is smooth enough to please most commuters, although drivers who prefer softly sprung compacts like Toyota's Corolla might think the 3 is too firm.
Altogether, we think the Mazda 3 should be one of the first vehicles you test-drive when shopping for an economy sedan or hatchback. It hits all the right notes and its flaws are few and far between.
Used Mazda 3 Models
The current, second-generation Mazda 3 debuted for the 2010 model year. Compared to the previous-generation car, this 3 has a similar underlying architecture. But improvements were made in terms of interior refinement, ride quality and power. The second-gen Mazda 3 was unchanged for its first couple of years, but then gained minor exterior styling differences and the more fuel-efficient Skyactiv-G powertrain for 2012. Also, the optional navigation system found in 2010-'12 cars was smaller and not as easy to use as the larger touchscreen found in the current car.
The original Mazda 3 was produced from 2004-'09. Much of the current car's underpinnings were carried over from its predecessor, so both generations will offer similar driving dynamics. The original base 3 featured essentially the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as today, although in its first two years in production, it lacked variable valve timing. The upgraded inline-4 displaced 2.3 liters, and its output was 156 hp. A four-speed automatic was optional with the 2.3-liter for 2004 and '05, and was replaced by a five-speed auto thereafter. Beginning in 2006, cars sold in California-emissions states were partial-zero-emissions-vehicle certified.
From its introduction, Mazda expanded the number of trim levels from the initial three when the Mazda 3 was launched: i sedan, s sedan and s hatchback. The many convenience and luxury features were available in packages and as stand-alone options. In 2005, Mazda released a SP23 Special Edition as a top-of-the-line trim for both body styles. For '06, the SP23 was gone and the trim levels expanded to include the Touring and Grand Touring trims. Antilock brakes also became standard on all s models.
For 2007, there was a very minor exterior refresh along with a standard auxiliary audio jack and a rear seat armrest for the 3s. Stability control became optional for the first time, but was available on the Touring and Grand Touring trims only. Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags became standard on all s trim levels the following year. In its final year in production, all Mazda 3 models came standard with antilock brakes, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
Like the current car, the original Mazda 3 was the top choice of Edmunds in the economy family sedan segment. It also provided a refined driving experience that reminded us of a junior sport sedan rather than a lowly econobox. Both engines offered satisfying power, though the bigger 2.3-liter engine was noticeably peppier. Fuel economy lagged behind the class standard, however. Other minor gripes involved engine noise and the Mazda 3's firm ride.
While the Mazda 3 represents an attractive used car choice, we'd look for an example equipped with antilock brakes, and if an s model is in your sights, try to get one with stability control.
Read the most recent 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Mazda MAZDA3 page.