• First-gen hatch looks
    • Reliability
    • Manual, and no pesky tech
    • Noise, vibration and harshness
    • No cruise control

    About the Mazda 3

    Steve purchased this Mazda 3 used for $16,500 (including all on-road costs) in 2008. Steve would buy this car again because: “It’s bulletproof. The HiLux of small cars. By a large margin, it is the most reliable car I have ever owned. And still an enjoyable drive after 16 years. I love the manual gearbox. The stock exhaust is just (just) throaty enough. It’s great around town and eats up the highway. And first generation is still my favourite Mazda 3 body shape.”

    How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

    I’m at 237,000km and it’s going strong. It’s never missed a beat.

    Over the years I’ve frequently replaced engine mounts as part of regular servicing, but they’re not a big cost. Replaced a seat sensor once, and treated myself to a new sway bay and control arm a few years back – but that was self-inflicted from belting too hard, too fast down too many rutted dirt roads.

    The only recurring quirk is that it would frequently blow headlight bulbs. I’m talking every few months. I removed the rubber boots behind the bulbs, which seems to have fixed the problem. I expect they don’t get as hot now.

    What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

    I’m loving it. I’ve been to car yards and test driven new cars – the fourth-gen Mazda 3 (a beautiful car), the Hyundai i20 N (fun) but I can’t bring myself to part with it. I still enjoy it for my daily inner city commute, interstate road trips, and weekend bashing down national park dirt roads to remote camping spots.

    Still looks great after all these years. First-gen hatch is still my favourite Mazda 3 body shape (as classy as the fourth-gen is). And the hatch is great for carting my mountain bike, camping gear, and the like.

    Sure, from new the first-gen 3s were criticised for noise, vibration and harshness. But for me that’s all part of the experience. How do other drivers cocooned in highly soundproofed cabins even know they’re alive?!

    Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

    I bought this privately at 3.5 years old. It was ex-lease. The seller had opted for lease buyout and loaned it to a mate who drove it around for six months. I paid a grand over what he paid the lease company and we were both happy.

    By today’s standards features are pretty basic: standard air con (not climate controlled); there are basic stereo controls on the steering wheel. Cruise control was an option, which my car does not have. I have a plug in FM transmitter for hands-free phone calls.

    The Maxx Sport’s interior trim (fabric), alloy wheels are, little spoiler, are a big step up from the base model (vinyl inserts in the doors, ergh, and plastic wheels covers) which I’m glad for.

    What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

    The Maxx Sport has the 2.0L engine (100kW @ 6500rpm). At times I’ve wondered if I should have sought out a SP23 for the extra grunt. But it’s got plenty of go around town, overtaking, uphill, and revs out nicely.

    Around town I get just over 10L/100km – high by current standards. That drops down into the 8s per 100km for highway trips.

    What do you think of the technology in your car?

    I’m sad about the demise of manual gearboxes, and not a fan of all the new tech. My 3 has everything I need and nothing I don’t.

    ABS is a safety feature I find reassuring to have. Good to know that the air bags are there in case I ever need them. Otherwise, I get to enjoy the drive, without all the beeps and chimes of lane departure, auto stop, and the like.

    What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

    When I bought the car I was drawn to the 3 for its better handling, larger engine, and generally being more fun to drive than a Corolla or others in the class. There’s no doubt that handling and cabin comfort are down compared to new cars, but I still enjoy it on winding roads.

    Cabin noise and some bumps are all part of the experience, right?

    Do you have any additional comments about your car?

    There’s a recall out currently. (That’s right, on a 16 year-old car.) Apparently the plastic in the Mazda emblem in the middle of the steering wheel goes brittle over time and is a risk if the airbag deploys.

    So I took my car in to Mazda and got a brand new horn pad.

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    Overall Rating

    Ride & Handling7.5
    Price & Features7.5
    Performance & Economy7.5
    Ownership Experience9