Mazda3 first went on sale in Australia in April 2004, replacing the Mazda 323. A second generation was launched here in April 2009. We will begin our used car feature with that model as it’s significantly larger and more sophisticated than its honourable ancestors.
Sales were strong from the start and the gen-two was frequently at or close to the top in the overall sales race as buyers moved away from larger cars. This means that there are plenty on offer in the used car scene. Take your time, do your homework with diligence and see if you can’t hunt down the best one in your area.
Excellent styling is arguably the number one reason for sales success, but Mazda has a well-deserved reputation for building reliable cars and that certainly was certainly in the minds of potential buyers.
If we thought the ‘Kodo’ styling of the gen-two Mazda3 was good, the third generation launched in February 2014 took it to an outstanding new level. Bigger, bolder, with a long bonnet and vertical grille it still looks bang up to date today.
Mazda3 is built as a four-door sedan and five-door hatch. The sedan is comparatively conservative in its shape, the hatch comes with a slightly sporty element to its style.
Interior space is good for the small-medium class although you may have to juggle front seat legroom if you want to carry adults in the back.
The sedan is longer than the hatch and so has a larger boot, though the hatch obviously has a more versatile load area.
Ride comfort is good, but rough roads and coarse-chip surfaces created more noise than we expected. It seems to be worse in the lower cost variants of the Mazda3, perhaps because some insulation has been left out to trim the price.
Handling is competent enough but certainly not in the sporting department in the standard ranges. SP and MPS are obvious exceptions, being nicely set up for keen drivers.
Most Mazda3 models have a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. The sporty Mazda3 SP25 has a 2.5-litre. While it’s not a full-on hot-hatch the SP25 is a willing unit and has purposeful note when you get stuck into it. A standard 2.5 was introduced with the third generation.
Mazda3 MPS is a genuine hot-hatch with a turbocharged 2.3-litre engine driving the front wheels. It goes hard, but handling doesn’t match the engine as well as it should.
Turbo-diesel engines were starting to show signs of becoming popular around this period. Mazda offered a 2.2-litre in the ‘3 but it never really garnered worthwhile sales probably because you couldn’t get one with an automatic transmission.
In a major upgrade Mazda installed its interesting SkyActiv engine in the Mazda3 in October 2011. However it’s a detuned version of the engine as there wasn’t enough room under the bonnet to fit the lengthy exhaust extractors.
The third generation Mazda3 got the full house SkyActiv engine, however it was detuned to make it run on 91 octane fuel much loved by Aussies, not the 95 octane it’s designed for.
Transmission options in the standard Mazda3 are six-speed manual and five-speed auto. As mentioned, no automatic was offered in the diesel.
Spare parts and servicing costs are about the same as most others in this class.
The cost of insurance in the standard models is about average for this class. However, insuring an MPS can seriously damage the budget if you are young and/or have a poor driving record.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Damage in the cabin and luggage area is likely to be a sign of an uncaring owner.
Check for crash and dent repairs. Sight along the doors and look for ripples in the finish of the panels. Tiny specks of paint on non-painted surfaces such as glass, badges and brightwork are another clue the Mazda’s spent time in a smash repairers.
Make sure that the engine starts easily and idles smoothly. Ideally this should be done with the engine cold first thing in the morning. Rattles from the engine and/or a lumpy idle may indicate expensive problems.
Check for smoke from the exhaust while the engine is warming up, and again when you accelerate hard with it at normal temperature.
Look for severe tyre wear, particularly on the fronts and especially on the warmish SP and high-performance MPS.
Be sure that the clutch takes up positively, gearchanges are all light and easy and that there is no sign of clutch slip.
An automatic transmission that has harsh changes and/or which changes at the wrong time, or refuses to change at all, may need to be serviced. Or even require major repairs.
Expect to pay from $5000 to $9000 for a 2009 Mazda3 Neo Sport; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2011 Maxx; $8500 to $13,000 for a 2009 MPS; $10,000 to $15,000 for a 2012 Maxx; $12,000 to $17,000 for a 2012 SP20; $14,000 to $20,000 for a 2012 MPS; $16,000 to $22,000 for a 2013 SP25; $18,000 to $25,000 for a 2016 SP25 GT; and $22,000 to $30,000 for a 2017 SP25.
CAR BUYING TIP
Jumping from one insurer to another willy nilly may save a few dollars. But if you’ve a long clean record with a single company it may get you out of trouble if a claim is marginal for any reason.