2012 Mazda 3 Long-Term Road Test - Wrap-Up

2012 Mazda 3 Long-Term Road Test

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2012 Mazda 3 Long-Term Road Test: Wrap-Up

December 14, 2012

See all of the blog posts on the 2012 Mazda 3.

What We Got
A year ago we added the 2012 Mazda 3 i five-door Grand Touring with Skyactiv technology to our long-term test fleet. Quite a mouthful, but it's really not that complicated. In a nutshell, Skyactiv is Mazda's collection of fuel-saving technologies. Some are big, some are small, but they're all geared toward extracting every last mile out of the average tank of gas.

Our 2012 Mazda 3 benefited from the new 155-horsepower Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Also new was the Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. Together, they earn EPA fuel economy ratings of 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. Mazdas were not historically known to be miserly at the pump, so this was newsworthy.

We added one major option to our $22,000 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv, the Technology package. It set us back $1,400 but was worth it, as it added a blind spot monitoring system, satellite radio, alarm, rain-sensing wipers and the trick headlights (xenon, auto-leveling, pivoting and auto on/off). For a few hundred dollars more we got the Skyactiv-specific interior lighting kit and auto-dimming rearview mirror. Total MSRP was $25,520.

Admittedly, we had some concerns going into the test. How much had the team at Mazda compromised on fun to deliver fuel economy? Would these Skyactiv upgrades deliver on the claimed 39 mpg? Here is what we learned.

Our Impressions

  • "So far I'm impressed with the new six-speed autobox. I'll always prefer a stick, but as autos go this one does a lot of things right. There's very little torque converter syrupiness. Upshifts and downshifts are quick and smooth. Downshifts are rev-matched! The shift calibration is cooperative — downshifts are served up willingly when you dip the throttle. Yes, this transmission is a big improvement over the old five-speed automatic tranny in many more ways than just the extra cog." — Jason Kavanagh

  • "The tires aren't very grippy.... But I realized that I could still drive at a quick pace and enjoy the good stuff about the car without overstepping the tires' limits. The 3 is still fun. The steering, if not all that communicative, is quick and makes the 3 feel playful. Even on a bumpy road, the suspension does a nice job of being compliant without being soggy. And sure, our car has an automatic transmission, but it shifts quickly and smoothly in manual mode.... The 3 with Skyactiv is plenty enjoyable." — Brent Romans

  • "I like this car. It's that simple. There a certain fundamental goodness about the way Mazdas drive that's appealing to me. Nearly all of them offer it. Even this, the fuel economy-obsessed compact hatch has built-in qualities that make driving it meaningful. Its steering, for example, feels like it was tuned. It's not just a product of electrohydraulic, but rather an integral component of a larger system. And it's one that contributes to the overall experience — even in a slow car." — Josh Jacquot

  • "I like the way our car rides. It's highly controlled. No matter what kind of pavement you encounter, the suspension is able to cope with it. It never gets unsettled, and this builds up your confidence. No other car in this class feels this good." — Erin Riches

  • "The steering and well-tuned suspension are trying to write checks the low-grip, high-fuel-economy tires can't cash.... The blame goes to the Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires, which run out of grip too quickly." — Mike Monticello

  • "Chassis feels better than the tires allow. Feels like tires are inflated to 36 psi because they are. Lively, happy to play and rotate off-throttle, but there just isn't any grip. Steering is precise and friction-free without much feel." — Chris Walton

  • "There are times when I'm left-foot braking into a corner and the throttle will cut completely. Nothing dangerous, but certainly annoying. And even more annoying when the automatic transmission seems to lose its place for a moment, prolonging the whole episode." — Michael Jordan

  • "Parents or potential parents should consider this when shopping the Mazda 3. Rear-facing child seats are massive. Their depth consumes considerable longitudinal space. So much so that with this child seat behind the driver side I can't access my preferred seating position. I'm only 5'9" but I've got a 32-inch inseam. Anyone exceeding those dimensions will have bigger problems." — Josh Jacquot

  • "I had forgotten about the 3's seat, though. Its bottom seat cushion is just unyielding, and after a couple of hours my butt was dead. Otherwise, the seat works well — good seatback comfort and driving position." — Jason Kavanagh

  • "We have seen just five 400-mile tanks. But there were plenty of tanks pushing high 300s. Anyway, here are the numbers from my trip to Napa.... I drove 433.3 miles on one tank and used 11.55 gallons of 87-octane gas. That works out to 37.5 mpg. Since it has a 14.5-gallon tank, I might have gone another 110 miles and logged a 500-mile tank." — Philip Reed

  • "I'll get right to it: The Mazda 3's air-conditioning doesn't cut it. Not even close. SoCal had mid-80-degree temperatures last weekend — not that hot by desert standards — and we spent a lot of time being uncomfortable.... The system needed about 15 minutes of driving time to drop the 3's interior temperature to comfortable levels. Bring it to a halt and the cooling efficiency drops significantly." — Josh Jacquot

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: The 2012 Mazda 3 requested routine service every 7,500 miles. Mazda of Orange charged us $65 for the 7,500-mile service, which covered fresh oil, a new filter and a tire rotation. Long Beach Lincoln Mercury wanted $74 for the same items at the 15,000-mile visit. Our test ended prior to the 22,500-mile checkpoint.

Service Campaigns: No recalls or TSBs occurred during our test. We did encounter one issue outside of the norm, however. The driver seat shifted slightly upon acceleration and deceleration. After confirming the problem, the dealer called Mazda for direction. Mazda informed them it was still researching the issue, of which it had only a handful of claims. Nothing was done to remedy this concern prior to the end of our test.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy: We learned quickly that Skyactiv was a difference maker. We averaged 31 mpg over the course of our 20,000-mile test. During this span we surpassed the 400-miles-per-tank milestone a handful of times and witnessed 41 mpg as well.

Resale and Depreciation: When the 2012 Mazda 3 entered our fleet, it carried an MSRP of $25,520. After 12 months and 20,000 miles it depreciated 26 percent, according to a private-party sale on the Edmunds TMV® calculator. Coincidentally, this is exactly the same depreciation as our long-term 2010 Mazdaspeed 3.

Summing Up

Pros: Still fun to drive, quick-shifting automatic, precise steering and suspension tuning, can hit its advertised mileage numbers.

Cons: Hard, mpg-friendly tires limit handling performance; no USB port; tiny navigation screen; limited room for infant safety seats.

Bottom Line: Mazda successfully made the 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv more fuel-efficient without diminishing the fun factor that has made its entry-level hatchback one of our favorites in the class.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: $139.25 (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 41.7 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 22.0 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 30.9 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $18,894 (private-party sale)
Depreciation: $6,626 (or 26% of original MSRP)
Final Odometer Reading: 20,080 miles

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Past Long-Term Road Tests