I had the s Grand Touring Hatchback Mazda3, and I only say "had" because I lost it in a flood this month. It was without a doubt the most fabulous car I've ever owned. Mechanically perfect, exceptionally safe, hugged the road like a warm sweater, comfortable, gorgeous - everything I wanted in a car. The basics were outstanding and the high-level bells and whistles were even better. The only problem I ever had was with the navigation system joy stick - it would, literally, intermittently stick and not allow me to input things, so that I couldn't finishing adding an address I wanted to navigate to. As many times as I took it to the Mazda dealership for this, it never did that for them - so it never got fixed. But that is IT for cons. It hauled a s***-load of stuff in the hatchback, while at the same time looking like a "poor man's BMW" in the interior. Beautifully appointed and the "cockpit" was intuitive (except for changing the time!) - everything was where you would expect it to be. This was going to be the last car I ever owned - and would have been, considering its reliability, if it weren't for the rains...
Here is my take away from owning a MS3 for about 8 years.
Here are the cons. There were quite a few annoying issues and repairs that needed to be done. There was the notorious smoking issue that needed to be fixed. I replaced (by Mazda) the turbo (because of annoying turbo whine that sounded like an ambulance was always behind me), valve/solenoids, suspension 2 times, and I had issues with the Transmission freezing up on cold days (Mazda dealer couldn't solve after 3 transmission fluid changes). I also did not like the creaking noise the suspension made on cold days or how the transmission didn't like to be rushed. The rear seat was not very comfortable for any adult passenger and a baby seat was a bit tight to fit in. The fog lights were useless with the HIDs. This car was just OK in the snow. Costs for a MS3 will be a lot more than a regular Mazda hatch.
Now for some positives. The MS3 was just fun to drive. The stiff ride made you feel confident on turns and the turbo had some good pickup. There was a lot of room in the back if you folded down the back seats. I even hauled a full sized futon across state and transported my Kayaks on top without any issues.
Overall, I enjoyed this car a lot and did take good care of it, but it was quirky and a little expensive to fix.
The old man would have loved the Mazdaspeed3, too, even though he was a Porsche guy. I bought my Gen 1 new in 2007. It just turned 96-thousand miles and I have loved each and every one of them, especially those on California's coastal mountain range. Many an older Mustang, BMW and Corvette has been surprised by this mighty mite.
There are 3 things every Speed 3 owner will need to deal with: smoke, the clunky 2 to 3 shift, and the rear bar which comes loose and needs to be re-torqued periodically (in my case, twice in 8-years).
First the smoke. The car was allegedly spec'd with the wrong size PCV. There are 2 fixes. First, run "the pill" or some sort of restrictor in the crankcase vent tube. Look up "the pill" online. It's made by a company in Washington, I think. Second, start running 10W-30 synthetic motor oil. No more smoke.
When you start hearing the rear bar "clunk" as you go over the curb into a driveway, it's time to have the dealer torque it town again. 20-minutes and no more smoke.
Finally, the 2 to 3 shift problem was supposedly fixed in Gen2 models. For Gen 1 you can go to more slippery transaxle fluid like Royal Purple or Redline and that will begin to mitigate the problem. Next fix would be a good short shifter kit at around $150.
Other than those things, it has been the most fun car I've ever had. The bright red paint is even more eye-popping than ever. I also had a Gen1 RX-7 with great red paint like this. Only complaint is that in order to replace everyday items like a PCV or thermostat, something big, expensive and time-consuming has to come off first...
Loved it at first, then things started falling apart.
Broken motor mount recalled, EGR failure,
Started smoking at idle at about 30k miles.
I replaced the turbo inlet pipe,
valve cover vent (added restricter).
Made my own oil restricter bolt 66 instead of 98,
swapped out the bpv and springs and shims, still needed a custom tune to up the idle to 1100.
Now I find myself babying the thing so the turbo won't blow.
Canada made Mazda recall the k04 turbo.
We didn't get so lucky here in the USA.
So unless you're a mechanic or really good with a wrench stay away from this year and maybe a few others too.
Turbo when it is not smoking and suspension when the rear sway bar doesn't pop off.
Upgrade the EGR system.
Better ecu tune.
Better LSD instead of restricting the 0-60 in first and 2nd gear.
Better motor mounts.
Bought car new.
Like most owners have written, lots of power for the buck.
Surprise to get 30 mpg on highway driving 75.
So far it's been very reliable which I was concern since this was the first year model which by the way quicker than the latest models due to weight.
Much has been written about torque steer and touchy clutch.
Haven't experience such problems because I don't floor the car from a dead stop or release the clutch out fast which the dumb car reviewers from Autoweek, Road and Track, etc.do when testing the car out.
Can keep with BMWs, Porsches, etc. once you are rolling.
Some say VW GTI is a better daily driver which isn't true if you drive the car like normal driver.
Awesome power for highway and big turn mountain roads. Can't believe gas mileage due to the 6 spd transmission compared to the WRX which only has a 5 spd.
Interior is quality whereas the WRX is plain cause Subaru puts its emphasis to the engine and AWD.
Trunk is large 4 lots of cargo.
Love seeing expression of faces of drivers of BMW and Porsche drivers when you can keep up with them.
You will have more fun for the buck here than those expensive cars.
Besides, Mazda drivers are lot nicer than those snobs owners.
I had a Porsche before but never like the other owners.
Sold it after 6 months.
Great driving on the twisty roads with combo of power and nimbleness even for a heavy car.
The engine is too strong for a front wheel drive.
Mazda wanted to keep cost down which was a mistake because if it had AWD, it would outperform the 2011 WRX which is a great car in its ownright.
All Speed 3 owners I know would have gladly paid a few more dollars to have AWD.
This why the Speed 3 no longers is on the Best 10 list of Car and Driver as in the past.
I think the days of the Speed 3 is limited unless they make such improvement.
Speed 3 is no longer King of the Hill for Bang for The Buck!!