Sedan / Hatchback
Mazda unveiled the last complete generation of Mazda3 in 2013, launching their latest for model-year 2014. With a laundry list of awards for owner satisfaction, overall value, interior styling, safety, and more, this generation of Mazda3 proved to be one of the most compelling machines on the scene.
It’s also the most highly awarded vehicle by the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada (AJAC), which reflects its consistent delivery of features that Canadian shoppers want, according to a judging panel of Canadian automotive experts.
Look for sedan and hatchback body configurations, the latter being dubbed the “Mazda3 Sport”. Various trim grades were available, with GX as the entry model, GS as the mid-range, and GT as the top-line unit.
Feature content was abundant, and included no shortage of upscale touches, including Bose audio, performance lighting provisions, a central-mounted touchscreen interface, full steering-wheel-mounted controls, heated leather, a head-up display (HUD), and push-button ignition.
The Mazda3 was available with a near-complete set of the industry’s latest safety technologies, too.
All units ran a four-cylinder engine, enhanced with Mazda’s fuel-saving SkyActiv technologies. A 2.0-litre unit with 155 horsepower was the standard engine, while an up-level 2.5-litre unit developed 184 horsepower. Look for a six-speed transmission in your choice of manual or automatic on most models. All models were front-wheel drive.
What Owners Like
The Mazda3 seems to have impressed owners with its dynamic and sporty drive, good fuel mileage, decent performance, and an upscale interior look and feel. Upscale exterior styling and powerful headlight performance were also noted. Many owners also report that the central command interface is easy to learn and operate with minimal practice.
What Owners Dislike
Some owners wish for more rear-seat space for larger occupants, and many note that quieter-riding cars are available for the money, too. Taller drivers may quickly run out of headroom, and the centre armrest up front is only accessible by the driver, not the passenger. Finally, note that while the standard 2.0-litre engine is excellent on fuel, sportier drivers will likely prefer the larger, more powerful engine.
Pro Tip: Direct Injection Maintenance
The Mazda3 has a highly specialized engine and driveline designed with numerous advanced fuel-saving features and technologies built in. It runs direct fuel injection, and an extremely high compression ratio, which help in its battle to reduce fuel consumption.
As such, strict adherence to maintenance is vital to long-term reliability and efficiency – and shoppers are advised to confirm the model they’re considering has only ever been serviced by a Mazda dealer, using the specific intervals, parts, filters, and fluids (including engine oil) outlined in the owner’s manual. Make sure previous owners have followed the maintenance schedule to the letter, and plan to continue doing so yourself during ownership.
Pro Tip: Diagnostic Scan
If you’re gravitating towards the Mazda3 for its advanced safety features – many of which are powered by advanced camera and radar sensor tech – consider having the vehicle inspected by a Mazda technician before you buy. A diagnostic scan can reveal potential issues with the safety equipment (and others), and this is especially important if you notice a Check Engine Light (CEL) or any warning messages or lights related to the safety systems.
The Test Drive
Scrutinize the Ride
Head to the roughest road available on your test drive, to assess your acceptance of the ride quality in used Mazda3 you’re considering. If the model you’re considering seems too rough or stiff for your tastes, a lower-grade model (with smaller wheels and thicker tires) may help improve ride quality.
Further, during this exercise, listen closely for signs of worn suspension components, which include banging, popping, snapping, or thudding sounds from beneath the vehicle. A healthy suspension in this car should emit no such noises. If that’s not the case, have a technician assess the suspension before you buy.
Safety System Notes
In this discussion from a Mazda owner’s forum, various owners report malfunctions and false alarms from the systems, and varied degrees of success at having dealers provide a remedy.
Note that in some situations, the use of non-factory accessories (specifically, a toll-highway transponder, and an aftermarket remote start system) may have led to issues. Also, note that in some situations, a cracked windshield may negatively affect system performance, if the crack interferes with the view of the outward-facing camera.
Check for Rust
Some owners have reported premature rusting of certain components, including exhaust system parts, shock absorbers, and (especially) upper control arms. In most cases, these issues have been remedied under warranty, and may be traced back to improper manufacture or protection of these parts by Mazda suppliers. A pre-purchase inspection (PPI) by a qualified technician will quickly reveal any premature rusting. As it goes with all vehicles operated in most Canadian climates, regular application of a quality oil-spray treatment is an excellent idea.
Check the service schedule in the Mazda3’s owner’s manual for the lifespan of all important fluids. The transmission fluid, for instance, is a “lifetime” fill, meaning it never needs to be changed, when the vehicle is operated outside of the “severe use” schedule. Most drivers in a Canadian climate should, however, follow the severe-use schedule, meaning that occasional fluid changes are still necessary. Further, many owners (and technicians) choose to change lifetime-fill fluids every few years regardless, for further peace of mind. Others don’t. If in doubt? Change it out. Fresh fluids are the lifeblood of any vehicle.
Perhaps thankfully, the most commonly reported issue related to this generation of Mazda3 by owners seems to be the occasional presence of weird or annoying buzzing or clicking sounds, possibly in or about the dashboard area, while driving. Temperature, vehicle load, and road quality may all play into the presence or absence of such noises, the sources of which are often hard to track down.
Be on the lookout for noises like these on your test drive, noting that some owners have had varying degrees of success in having dealers remedy them. Other owners have gotten creative with some peel-and-stick felt pads, strategically placed to help quell offending noises.
Here’s a list of recalls. You can look up if any recalls apply to the vehicle you’re considering by looking up its VIN on the Mazda website.
According to my research, this generation of Mazda3 stacks up nicely as a used buy: a nice-to-drive, fuel-efficient machine that won’t likely cause you any serious headaches down the line. A healthy and carefully maintained unit is best for maximum peace of mind, and most of the more serious issues noted above are reported relatively infrequently against overall sales volumes.
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2015)
IIHS: Top Safety Pick+ (2015)