I've owned and driven this car going into my 3rd Michigan winter, and aside from routine oil changes and brake maintanence, have had ZERO problems with this car. It's been a rock solid little go-kart. It's also totally boring. I might think higher of it with a splash of color (as mine is silver with grey interior), and it has no fun toys to speak of (typical PW/PL/cruise) but I can count on it to run and run well. Engine still has some 'zoomzoom' even after 170K miles. Very impressed with this thing's longevity.
Build quality, reliability
Styling (they did so with the 3), better suspension, less road noise.
Bought it new in 2000, only repairs have been new brakes, alternator, battery and rocker arm. I've only put 90,000 miles on it, luckily, but it just keeps on running. Gas mileage has consistently been 27-28. It's a little loud on the freeway, but not bad for an inexpensive small car. Only disappointment has been the radio.
Acceleration is great, even after 10 years of driving. Handles well with small turning radius. Lots of fun!
Would love a remote trunk latch, and if the noise issue were solved, it would be about perfect.
Background: My parents bought the car in 1999 and I got ownership by mid- 2005. The car is still doing well but starting to show its age. Despite being intended as an economical vehicle with great mileage, it looks beautiful in green and has above average handling for its class, making driving a more enjoyable experience. The fun is enhanced by its features such as cruise control. Driving on hilly roads can be a bit of issue due to small engine but it was a needed sacrifice for better mileage. Reliability is rather average as the car needed some costly repairs during these eleven years.
Fuel economy for 1999: I hit around 30- 35 mpg on highways. An enjoyable driving experience. Outstanding external design despite mazda3s being superior in that department.
Road noise is a common Mazda complaint and this car is an example of it: sound insulation is inadequate, but not overly so. Door rubbers are lousy and acceleration can be a problem with the A/C on, especially when going uphill. Seat design is a bit rough for thin people during long trips.
My Mazda was a college gift from my parents bought in great condition. I learned stick in this car and it was very smooth. The gas mileage was also great, and being a college commuter who drives 60miles a day to and from school, the gas was quite cheap. Got in one accident with a deer that completely demolished the car costing around three grand to fix (fix enough to pass inspection that is). The a/c has broken, check engine light is very flighty, had many pipe clogs, brakes failed... all within six months of purchase.
Good handling in snow, gas mileage, good handling when weaving through traffic, great amount of room up front and in the back seat
Car fell apart could have been going before purchased (but not likely), quite flimsy exterior, not particularly fast