A cut above the other compacts.
What’s new for the 2004 Mazda 3: All-new model.
What’s new for the 2005 Mazda 3: No changes.
What’s new for the 2006 Mazda 3: The smaller 2.0-liter engine gets a slight power boost courtesy of variable valve timing, while the bigger 2.3-liter engine upgrades to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The existing i and s models get divided further with new Sport, Touring and Grand Touring sub-models.
What’s new for the 2007 Mazda 3: All models get styling changes and a tire pressure monitor, while the interior adds an MP3 input jack and a rear seat center armrest. Stability control becomes a new option. A new addition to the line is the MazdaSpeed 3, with a turbocharged 263-horsepower engine, 6-speed manual transmission, and sport suspension.
What’s new for the 2008 Mazda 3: Side and side-curtain airbags are now standard on the s model.
Most automakers are content to let their small cars serve as basic transportation and little else. Mazda is no longer one of them. When the time came to replace its old Prot?g? in 2004, the zoom-zoom company started fresh with a car whose styling, engineering, and driving dynamics were targeted at the top of the class.
It worked. Various sources have hailed the Mazda 3 as best or second-best in the compact car segment, and it’s easy to see why. Its hardware is certainly first-rate. Both of Mazda’s engines (a 2.0- and a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder) are smooth operators that endow the 3 with peppy acceleration. Quick steering and a tight, all-independent suspension give it sporty handling, and disc brakes make for smooth, sure stops on every model. With the bigger engine, Mazda even throws in a 5-speed automatic with a manual shift mode. Despite some road noise and ride firmness, the 3 drives like a car from a higher price bracket.
One could also argue that the 3 is the style leader. Along with its expressive body, Mazda’s interior is a place full of tight, snappy controls and nice firm seats, plus one of the world’s biggest gloveboxes. Upscale features like a telescoping steering wheel are easy to appreciate, and this is one of the only cars under $25,000 to offer a navigation system. On the downside, back seat legroom and trunk space are a bit tight, though still enough to get by.
Finally, the 3’s reliability and resale value have always been very good — well above the Mazda average. Put it all together and you have a car that’s every bit as safe to buy as a Civic or Corolla, and likely more satisfying to own.