Model: 2004 to 2009 Mazda3
Vehicle type: Small sedan or five-door
Approximate used price range: $7,500 to $13,000
History/description: For years, the Mazda3 has sort of owned the market when it came to offering exciting style and performance in the small car marketplace. Available in the used market as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, the 3 is largely touted as the car that paved the way for a re-emergence of sporty small cars in the North American scene. The 2010 model year saw a redesign, and the end of the line for the original Mazda3.
Standard 2004 to 2009 Mazda3 models came with two available engines and plenty of standard and unexpected options. Under the hood, look for a two-liter, four-cylinder with 148 horsepower, or a 2.3 litre unit with output rated in the 160-horsepower ballpark. The larger engine was an option in sedan models, but standard in the 3 Sport five-door.
A five-speed stick was standard on all models, and a four or five-speed automatic was available– depending on the model. All Mazda 3’s were front-wheel drive.
Shoppers can look for a used first-generation Mazda3 with equipment like a sunroof, heated leather seating, heated mirrors, xenon lighting and automatic climate control. The GX and GS represented base and mid-range models, respectively, while the GT designation was reserved for higher-end models with all the toys.
Note that air conditioning wasn’t standard, so be sure it’s present on the model you’re considering if you want to keep cool.
What owners like: First-generation Mazda3 owners tend to rate styling, driving dynamics, performance and comfort most highly. Owners of the five-door 3 Sport model also enjoy added versatility, cargo space and an under-floor organizer.
What owners hate: Common complaints included interior squeaks and rattles, road noise, knee room, a narrow trunk opening and limited rear-seat legroom for larger passengers.
Common issues: On a test-drive, ensure proper operation from all systems and features — including the air conditioning, stereo system, all windows, the sunroof and the power seat if so equipped. The audio display screen was known to fail over time, so be sure it’s in proper working order, too.
Check the condition of the brakes and tires. The latter can be pricey to replace, especially with the 18-inch wheels on board. Be sure the former owner isn’t trying to sell you a worn-out set of tires or brake pads.
Check for clutch slippage with the manual transmission, and note any hard shifting from the automatic. If either condition is apparent, be sure to investigate why. If in doubt, a trip to a Mazda mechanic may save you a pricey repair bill down the line.
Most commonly-reported issue? Rust. Scrutinize the body of the used 3 you’re considering for signs of bubbled paint, rust, or poorly-executed repairs or cover ups. Areas of concern, typically, included the lower part of the doors, and around the wheel openings. Look underneath, too.
The verdict: Ensure that your prospective Mazda 3 is clean, well-maintained and rust-free, and you’ll likely join a happy group of enthusiastic owners.