Review and road test of the Mazda3 (2011 - 2013)
THREE MARK TWO POINT FIVE
By Andy Enright
The recipe for the Mazda3 family hatch seemed to be a surefire winner. Take the best chassis in the business, namely that of Ford's Focus, and on top of that construct a car with a better reliability record, aggressive pricing and distinctive styling. But when you looked for the Mazda3 at the top of the sales charts, it just wasn't there. Nevertheless, this model has racked up some respectable sales for its Japanese brand, both in the first generation guise launched back in 2003 and with that car's swoopier, higher-tech successor, this second generation version, a model that arrived here in 2009.
If you're looking to buy a MK2 Mazda3 on the used market, we'd suggest you try and track down one of the later facelifted versions that we're going to look at here, cars produced between 2011 and 2013. These were smarter, better equipped and more cost effective to run. Here's what to look for when tracking down a used example.
5dr hatch (1.6, 2.0, 2.3 petrol, 1.6, 2.2 diesel [S, TS, TS2, TS2 Nav, Tamura, Venture Edition, Sport, Sport Nav, MPS])
Mazda launched the facelifted version of the second generation Mazda3 at the tail end of 2011, with the first cars actually arriving in dealers in early 2012. For a car that would be replaced at the end of 2013, the changes were fairly wide reaching, with a focus on improving interior quality, offering better value and bettering the old car's efficiency.
The car launched with a big range straight from the start, with three diesel and three petrol engines and a trim structure that ran S, TS, Tamura, TS2, TS2 Nav, Sport, Sport Nav and MPS. In August 2012, Mazda added a Venture Edition special, with front fog lights, gun metal alloy wheels, sports front grille, side skirts and rear spoiler and privacy glass. Inside, you got Sanyo TomTom navigation with 5.8-inch touch-screen display and integrated Bluetooth, plus climate control air-conditioning and cruise control.
Mazda updated the flagship MPS hot hatch model to give it a good deal more visual clout at the end of 2012, adding a new gunmetal finish for the 18-inch alloy wheels, whilst the inner roof spoiler, door mirror housings and lower rear bumper trim were finished in a Black Mica finish. At the same time, the brand took the red pen to its model range, offering only Tamura, Venture and MPS models from that point. This range lasted until the model was replaced by an all-new third-generation car at the end of 2013.
What You Get
Enhancements to this post-2011 facelifted model over the original post-2009 second generation Mazda3 included a subtly re-styled front grille and bumper and updated alloy wheel designs. At the rear, where again a re-sculpted bumper features, the differences are even harder to spot, but the look remains clean and neat. Fairly practical too, with between 300 and 340-litres of boot space on offer, depending on the variant you choose. Push forward the backrest and the load bay isn't completely flat, but it is quite big, with 1360-litres on offer in a cargo area that's long, deep and practical.
As for passenger space, well, rear room is adequate, with good foot space under the front seats, but a central adult passenger won't enjoy themselves given that the rear bench has been carefully shaped for two. Three children should be OK there though. The rear doors are smallish and don't open as wide as some rivals, so getting in requires a bit more suppleness.
At the wheel, the designers tried to add some extra class to this facelifted model by replacing the previous silver colour of the lower dashboard console with black. Meanwhile, the dials and controls most used by the driver were ringed in satin-polish silver that was supposed to be easier to see. The result was a more cohesively styled cabin and while you wouldn't think yourself to be in a Mercedes A-Class in terms of materials quality, the result was definitely a step or two upmarket in terms of this Mazda's look and feel.
What to Look For
The Mazda3 has proven one of the UK's most reliable small cars and not a whole lot goes wrong. The stereo system can fail to recognise MP3 files on occasion and the MPS model is very susceptible to misaligned suspension, so check for uneven tyre wear. Other than that, the Mazda3 is a dependable partner.
(Estimated prices, based on a Mazda3 1.6S). Consumables are quite reasonably priced. An air filter is around £14 and a fuel filter retails at round £24. An oil filter is £6, spark plugs are about £3 and a timing belt is around £40.
On the Road
Keen drivers will know what we're talking about when we say that some cars seem to want to fight your inputs and are a bit of a battle to drive, whereas others just work in harmony with you. The Mazda3 is one of the latter. Its sophisticated suspension just works on British roads and should you feel the urge, you can cover ground at real pace without the car feeling ragged or tiring to drive. The front end is incredibly good, and you'd have to be doing something extremely ill-advised to bring the stability or traction control into play on a dry road. Refinement was improved on this updated MK2 Mazda3, with none of the suspension thump and whistle around the door mirrors that used to afflict the pre-facelifted model.
What's even more impressive about this car though, is the way it steers. Take this Mazda out for a spin and, if you like your driving, it'll be one of the things about it you'll notice straight away. This '3' gets an older-style electro-hydraulic system, rather than the full electric set-up most rivals use. These are supposedly more efficient, but personally, we'd trade any fractional fuel improvement for the accurate, fluent, fulsome helm that's on offer here. It was tweaked in this improved model to offer a more predictable linear feel and although the variable assistance still makes it feel a bit hefty at high speeds, it's a steering set-up that continues to make this Mazda feel different and special to drive.
The second generation Mazda3 was a car that was perhaps a little too different from the norm to appeal to British buyers. All of this is a bit of a shame because it's a well-built family hatch that drives well, looks good and is undervalued on the used market. Still, that makes it a great pick second time round, especially in the later facelifted 2011-2013 guise we've been looking at here.
The only real proviso we'd make is that there's not a massive amount of used stock from which to pick and choose. Nevertheless, a late MPS or a powerful 2.2-litre diesel really shows what this chassis has got. It might be a car that Mazda never really made the most of, but it's time to turn their loss into your gain.
Mazda3 (2011 - 2013) review by Andy Enright