The Mazda 3 is a roomy, affordable compact with spirit. It has a sporty demeanor and is fun to drive. The Mazda 3, or Mazda3 as company renders it, is available as a neatly styled four-door sedan or as a more adventurous five-door hatchback.
The sedan has a sweet, rounded shape and smooth, cohesive design. The five-door looks more aggressive, and provides a lot of utility with its hatchback design and folding rear seats.
Quick, nimble handling makes these cars fun to drive on twisty country roads. The Mazda 3s features a free-revving 2.3-liter engine that delivers spirited performance. The 2006 Mazda 3i benefits from increased power this year from its 2.0-liter engine. The five-speed manual transmission shifts beautifully and there’s an automatic available with a manual-shift feature.
These are comfortable, friendly cars with terrific seats, big electroluminescent gauges (on 3s), a huge glove box and excellent attention to detail. Premium sound systems and luxury options, such as a sunroof and leather interior, are reasonably priced. A Mazda 3i Touring with leather, sunroof, and a CD changer stickers below $20,000.
Side-curtain airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard on some models and available on all, enhancing safety.
Two engines are available, both four-cylinders. Mazda 3s models come with the larger, more powerful 2.3-liter engine, and are available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. The Mazda 3i available only as a four-door sedan comes with the smaller, 2.0-liter engine.
The Mazda 3i 4-Door sedan ($13,710) comes with wind-up windows and manual door locks, four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio, tilt and telescope steering wheel with audio controls, 15-inch steel wheels with 195/65HR15 tires, side repeater lights, and a stainless steel exhaust system. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, a four-speed automatic transmission ($900) is optional. Air conditioning is optional ($880) and comes with a pollen filter.
The 3i Touring sedan ($15,990) comes standard with air conditioning with the pollen filter, plus power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; cruise control; a height-adjustable driver’s seat; and six-speaker audio; and 16-inch cast aluminum wheels with more aggressive 205/55HR16 tires.
The Mazda 3s sedan ($16,880) and 5-Door hatchback ($17,370) come with the more powerful engine; all of the i-Touring equipment, plus anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); variable-intermittent windshield wipers; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; brighter interior upholstery and trim; electroluminescent gauges that adjust for intensity; and delayed courtesy lights. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional ($950).
The 3s Touring sedan and hatchback list the same manufacturer’s suggested retail price ($17,615). They start with all 3s equipment and add side-impact and side-curtain airbags; side-sill extensions; and 205/50VR17 tires on 17-inch alloy wheels.
The 3s Grand Touring sedan and hatchback ($19,165) add heated leather seats, automatic climate control, trip computer, xenon headlamps with automatic on/off, rain-sensing front windshield wipers, a tire-pressure monitor, and a more sophisticated security system.
An option package ($890) combining a power glass sunroof with a six-CD changer is available for 3i Touring, 3s, and 3s Touring. For the 3s Grand Touring only, Mazda packages the sunroof and six-CD changer with a 222-watt Bose premium sound system ($1335). DVD-based satellite navigation ($1750) is also available on 3s Grand Touring only. Leather seating is available ($590) on 3s Touring. Spoilers, cargo mats, fog lights, stereo upgrades, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink are available as dealer-installed accessories.
Safety features include dual front airbags that sense the driver’s position and the weight of the front passenger. Side-impact and side-curtain airbags are standard on 3s Touring and 3s Grand Touring. Optional safety packages add the additional airbags to the 3s ($245) and full airbag protection and ABS to the 3i ($395). ABS with EBD is standard on all 3s models.
Both the 3i and 3s are available as Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (PZEV) in California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. The no-cost option trades 5-7 horsepower for significant reductions in emissions. All Mazda 3 models meet Tier II Bin 5 Federal standards for near-zero evaporative emissions.
- Air Conditioning
- Anti-theft Protection
- CD/Am/Fm Stereo
- Cruise Control
- Garage Door Opener
- Manual Transmission
- Power Locks
- Power Seats
- Power Steering
- Power Windows
- Tire Pressure Monitoring
Whether four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, the Mazda 3 is a wonderful car to walk around. The four-door and the five-door share no body panels. This represents what Mazda is known for: innovation and the risk that comes with it. When you look at the two cars, you can see that the styling of each nose would only work with its own tail. Grafting a hatchback onto the nubile nose of the four-door would never do. The five-door needed an edgy proboscis, which it got. It's uncommon for a manufacturer to go to the extra expense of tooling more panels than absolutely necessary for a second body style, but Mazda set a high styling standard for this car.
The four-door sedan has a sweet rounded shape forward of the A-pillar. Mazda's trademark wedge grille has body-color horizontal bars on the 3s, plain black mesh on the 3i. The standard headlamps on the sedan have a smooth and sexy shape, swept back like cat's eyes and sparkling with three beams inside. The whole front bumper, including the air dam at the bottom with foglights in the corners, is impressively integrated. There's a small seam on each fender between the headlights and the wheel opening, and between the headlights themselves there's only the hood opening. Everything south of that is one smooth and effective piece.
The rear of the sedan is another smooth, cohesive design with an integrated bumper, and again only small seams at the edges. The deck is short and high and nicely softened at the top. Taillights have red lenses on 3i, clear on 3s. At all four corners, the wheelwells fit tightly around the tires; there used to be a rule at Mazda that there had to be enough of a wheelwell gap to install tire chains without removing the tire, which the stylists hated and finally defeated for the Mazda 3.
The five-door hatchback is no wider, but it appears wide-shouldered because of its aggressive nose. The fenders are dropped and sculpted to rise to the hood and flow into the front doors. The boxy top half makes the whole car look wide. There's less rake from the tops of the doors to the roof (affording more shoulder room), but the rear of the roof is gently rounded to the liftgate window, to soften the profile. There's a tidy spoiler above the rear window.
The rear fenders of the hatchback are aggressively defined over the wheels. There's a big notch in the rear bumper, under the liftgate, to clear the back of your hand when you grab the latch. We thought the design was a bit exaggerated until we used it the first time and appreciated its excellent function.
It's especially nice that there's no chrome trim. Black around the windows, body colored everywhere else.
Mazda 3 is a global car, sharing technology and components with the Volvo S40 and the European-market Ford Focus that isn't sold in the U.S. It's like a talent co-op. People say component sharing makes cars all the same but it's not so. Mazda developed the engines and transmissions, Volvo did the chassis and safety, and Ford of Europe did the basic suspension design. The fine-tuning of the suspension was in Mazda's hands, worked out at its Hiroshima test track. Each manufacturer did what it does best, and the result is the best of three worlds.
A lot of work went into the rigid unit-body chassis. In a head-on collision the front of the chassis is designed to redirect energy to the outside rails, and not down the center toward the front seats. The steering column is crushable and the pedals are designed to retract away from the driver's feet.
The standard interior in 3i is black or beige cloth. In 3s, black-bolstered seats offer a choice of blue or red-check cloth inserts. The optional leather seating surfaces are smooth and black and priced well compared to other cars.
The seats are great, with adequate bolstering. The 3s has adjustable lumbar support, and the hip position is elevated, reducing front legroom a touch, but providing excellent forward visibility as well as a tidy relationship with the pedals and especially the short shift lever. There's no dead pedal. The outside of the driver's right shin rests comfortably on the edge of the center stack.
The three-spoke steering wheel, leather-wrapped in the 3s, feels great in the hands, and the control buttons for the cruise control and sound system have a positive feel The dashboard shelf is golf-ball grainy, not unlike the new Cadillacs, although Mazda says it was the Porsche Boxster that inspired them. Instrument panel trim is Piano Black on 3i and Silver on 3s.
Three big gauges are dead ahead for the driver, but they're down in tunnels where they effectively hide from the glare of the sun. They are electroluminescent on 3s, which means day or night the numbers are lit in reddish-orange with blue highlights. Even without the color, the 140-mph speedometer would be awfully busy, with hash marks for miles and a smaller kilometer measure with more hash marks inside the mph numbers. The dash panel looks better at night than during the day, with the reddish-orange lighting having its chance to be seen. There are glowing rings around most of the dials including the cigarette lighter, in kind of a dull maroon.
The glovebox is huge (9 quarts), the door is dampened and the compartment has its own light. There's a deep but not long console under the driver's right elbow, and between the seats are two built-in cupholders with a neatly hinged cover in black plastic. The cupholders have a canal between them so other things such as a cellphone can be stored and easily reached there. The window switch for the driver is illuminated at night, a very useful feature.
The back seats in the five-door hatchback are surprisingly roomy and supportive, even when relatively tall people are sitting in front. There are acres of rear headroom and decent legroom with room for big feet to slide under the front seats. The rear door opening is a bit narrow, though.
Cargo space in the five-door with the seats folded flat in is 31.2 cubic feet. We came out of an Ikea store with an unassembled table in a flat box measuring 48 inches long and 30 inches wide, and it slid neatly into the back. Flipping the seats down is easy. We reached in from behind, pressed down on one small square button on each side, and an easy shove forward dropped each seat flat. A separate compartment is hidden under the floor. Fold the seats back up into their passenger-friendly position, and there's still 17.1 cubic feet of cargo room, a fair amount for a compact car. The rear floor section can be raised to create a partition, dividing the space into separate upper and lower compartments. The Mazda 3 can't carry as much cargo as a Toyota Matrix, but it's a lot more fun to drive.
Visibility is limited in the rearview mirror of the five-door by the two rear headrests and the center brake light, which intrude a little into window space.
The sedan has an average-size 11.4 cubic-foot trunk, but its rear seats still fold 60/40 for carrying long objects.