Second-hand: 2004-2006 Mazda3

Overall, the 3 is a lively performer in the competitive econobox segment, but it may surprise you with its service regimen. It does, however, come in lots of designer colours, including violet.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Violet may be the new black and beer may be the new champagne, but in automotive circles the Mazda3 is the new Volkswagen Jetta at least according to consumer advocate George Iny.

Put another way, the 2004 introduction of the littlest Mazda supplanted the Jetta as the new gold standard in small cars.

And why not? It had the style, fussy attention to detail and fun-to-drive quotient that allowed this flyweight to hit well above its econobox class.

“I traded in a 2004 Acura TL because of financial reasons, and don’t feel like I have given up a lot,” blogged the owner of a 2006 Mazda3.

When it came to replacing its competent but mediocre-selling Protegé, Mazda had gone 10 rounds with the bean-counters and product planners to make sure the 3 was an unabashed overachiever.

By most accounts, it succeeded.


Thanks to Mazda’s masters at Ford, the all-new 3 would borrow heavily from the European Focus and C-Max microvan as part of the Ford C1 family, which would eventually include the Volvo S40/V50.

The new platform was 40 per cent stiffer than the outgoing Protegé’s, and borrowed the Mazda6’s sophisticated multilink suspension design at the rear, imbuing the 3 with some essential corner-strafing characteristics.

To retain a more natural steering feel, Mazda stuck to conventional hydraulic assistance rather than an electric steering pump. The rack-and-pinion steering system was accurate and quick at 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and disc brakes retarded all four wheels.

Like the Protegé, the 3 came in two body styles: a four-door sedan and an offbeat five-door hatch that took its cues from such European pop cars as the Peugeot 307 and Alfa Romeo 147.

The 3’s wheelbase – already among the longest in its class – was stretched almost 3 cm, while width and track dimensions also grew by more than 5 cm to improve stability.

Inside, the driver was greeted with a pleasant cockpit and premium finishes that belied the car’s budget mission. The bigger exterior dimensions resulted in a roomier interior than even the spacious Protegé, save for rear footroom, which was compromised by an extra structural beam.

Some owners disliked the red instrument lighting, which wasn’t always easy to read.

The base powerplant was an all-aluminum DOHC 2.0 L four cylinder, good for 148 hp and 135 lb.-ft. of torque. The optional engine, lifted from the Mazda6, was a DOHC 2.3 L four with S-VT sequential valve timing and variable intake runners, rated for 160 hp and 150 lb.-ft. of thrust.

Both engines could be ordered with a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic with a manumatic function.

The 3 changed little over the years, other than different trim and options packages being offered. The 2.0 L engine gained S-VT valve timing in 2006 and the automatic transmission grew an extra gear, but only on the 2.3 L motor.

Answering critics looking for more oomph, the Mazdaspeed hatchback arrived for ’07.

Its claim to fame was its turbocharged (to 15.6 p.s.i.) DOHC 2.3 L direct-injection four-cylinder from the Mazdaspeed6, making 263 frenetic horsepower through the front wheels, reined in by a sport suspension and 18-inch tires.


Thanks to some dedicated suspension fanatics in Hiroshima, the 3 delivers the goods: the taut ride and sparkling manners of a genuine road car rather than a mere grocery getter.

“Peppy 2.3 L engine, strong four-wheel disc brakes, quick steering, precise clutch/ shifter and firm suspension/tight handling,” lists the driver of an ’05 model, a former Honda and Toyota owner. “The Mazda feels like a race car in comparison.”

The numbers bear that out.

Equipped with the five-speed manual and the bigger 2.3 L engine, the Mazda3 could sprint to 96 km/h in just 7.4 seconds, grind out 0.87 g on a circular skidpad and haul down from 112 km/h in 52 metres – all numbers that wouldn’t embarrass a pricey sports coupe.

Ironically, where the econobox 3 falls down is where it was intended to compete: economical driving.

“Don’t waste your money on the larger engine,” blogged the owner of an ’04 model. “City fuel economy is poor for this class.”


In a segment overflowing with decent economy cars, Mazda deserves accolades for setting the bar far higher than it needed to. Rather than try to out-do the Civic and Corolla, it went about fashioning a driver’s car.

The Japanese-built 3 has won a legion of fans, many of them new to the Mazda banner. While most have enjoyed a flawless ownership experience, the 3 has exhibited a few annoying reliability issues that owners of other Japanese brands might find unsettling.

A number of drivers have reported automatic transmission failures in the 3, some at very low mileage.

Significant corrosion and blistering paint are problems on ’04 models in particular, according to an enthusiast website. “Last August I noticed bubbling on my front door inner lip. From that time to now the bubbling has increased in size and area,” reported reader Ron Rybak, who drives an ’05.

A very common gripe is a noticeably weak air conditioning system that barely keeps the cabin comfortable on a muggy day. Owners report dealers respond that the system is “within spec.”

Overall, the 3 is a lively performer in the competitive econobox segment, but it may surprise you with its service regimen. It does, however, come in lots of designer colours, including violet.

WHAT’S BEST: European handling, comely styling, slick manual transmission

WHAT’S WORST: Weak air conditioner, underwhelming fuel economy, early rust

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2004 – $11,000; 2006 – $14,500

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