I’ve been trotting around in a first generation Mazda3 for long enough to know that I needed to make this guide. A review of the very same car can be found here. Just as well, some Canadians outside of Quebec and Ontario don’t even know what this car is – looking at you, Vancouver. If you want an incredibly fun-to-drive, economical, practical, and well-built car for a great price, look no further.
The 2004-2009 Mazda3, much like the current model, came with a choice of two body styles and two engines: a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback and a 2.0L MZR 4-cylinder and the 2.3L variant, respectively. The 2.0L was only available in the sedan until 2008 when it became available on both models. Transmissions included a delightful 5-speed manual and a piggish but smooth 4-speed automatic (a 5-speed auto was later made available on the 2.3L models). Unlike much of its competition at the time, the Mazda3 was offered with such luxuries as xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic climate control, options you should look out for when shopping for this car. They are worth the extra coin. Air conditioning, however, was not standard, so make sure to check that the car is equipped with it if you want it.
If you stick to later models, namely 2007 and up, common issues are few and far in between. Earlier models suffer from notorious rust issues and weak paint. The paint is so thin, that an extended highway drive would leave the car littered with paint chips. If you live in a snowy climate where road salt is used, make sure to go over the body and suspension pieces with a visual fine-toothed comb before committing.
Other potential issues include engine mounts that can crack or break prematurely. Make sure the engine is running smoothly at idle and at speed when testing. These engines are extremely smooth at idle, don’t accept any worse. Some owners also have had complaints about excessive rear brake wear on the factory setup, but most used copies will have had their brakes changed to something else by now.
Things that you shouldn’t be too worried about: the interior was almost designed to be scratched. It’s no secret that some of the interior materials are a bit cheap, and with cheapness comes scratching and scuffing. Don’t let what seems to be major interior wear deter you from an otherwise clean copy. If the seats are still in good shape, chances are the rest of the interior is as good as it’s going to get. Also, the 4-speed automatic suffers from the same “lurch into 1st” problem that most econoboxes of yesteryear have. This is simply characteristic of the transmission, and should not usually indicate trouble.
If your prospective 3 has survived the scrutiny of the items on this list, chances are you will be in for a very enjoyable ownership experience, both from a driving standpoint and a value one. The first generation Mazda3 was built in Japan and oozes of build quality no matter how much some of the interior materials might suggest otherwise.