Mazda 3 (2003-2008)

If you're looking for a small family car that's good to drive and reliable, but you don't want to follow the crowd, the 3 could fit the bill perfectly. With great dynamics and strong build quality, the 3 is well worth a closer look - but running costs can be high. If you're tempted, choose a post-July 2006 car as these have better chassis settings and improved interiors. While the 3 is class-leading in few areas, as an all-rounder it's a great small family hatch; just ask any owner.

Key Dates

12/03: The Mazda 3 debuts.

7/06: The 3 is facelifted, with a revised nose and tail, improved interior trim and recalibrated suspension.

11/06: The 2.3-litre MPS (Mazda Performance Series) arrives.

1/07: A 2.0-litre turbodiesel appears.

5/08: All cars get extra standard equipment.

Mazda 3 (2003-2008) Checklist

  • Steering creaks and groans mean new front suspension bushes are needed.
  • A knocking from the front when the engine is cold, is the exhaust rattling.
  • On diesels, black or blue exhaust smoke points to a failed turbocharger.
  • The exhaust gas recirculation valve can fail on early 1.6Ds; look for uneven idling or hesitation when accelerating.
  • The end of the plastic dipstick of the 1.6D engine can break and drop into the sump; the only fix is to remove the sump to retrieve it.
  • Some 2004/2005 cars have suffered from corrosion around the rear wheelarches.
  • The alloy wheel lacquer can bubble and blister.

We Like

  • Great diesel engines
  • Handling
  • Reliability
  • Value
  • Practicality

We Don't Like

  • Lacklustre 1.4 and 1.6 petrol engines
  • Unruly MPS is costly to tax