Mazda 3 (2009-2014)

If you’re looking for a small family car that’s good to drive and reliable into the bargain, but you don’t want to follow the crowd, Mazda could have just what you’ve been looking for; its Golf-sized 3. Despite its Focus roots, the Mazda 3 has never set the charts alight as Ford’s family car has done. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as you can enjoy many of the benefits of the Focus while also having something more distinctive on your drive. And while the 3 is class-leading in few areas, as an all-rounder it’s a great small family hatch. We’d avoid the MPS though, as while it’s enjoyable to drive, there are plenty of alternatives that do a better job.

Key dates

5/09: The Mazda 3 Mk2 is introduced. There are four-door saloons or five-door hatchbacks in S, TS, TS2 or Sport trims, with 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engines, a 2.0-litre petrol or 2.2 diesel, the latter in 148 or 182bhp forms. There’s also a 256bhp 2.3-litre petrol option, in the MPS.

3/10: The 1.6D engine is upgraded and gets a six-speed manual gearbox for better efficiency.

2010: The Tamura and Takuya special editions arrive in February and June respectively.

3/12: A facelift brings a reprofiled nose, improved refinement and extra standard equipment. The steering is also improved to provide more feedback and two new trim levels are introduced: the Sport and Sport Nav, the latter featuring standard navigation.


  • Servicing can be expensive thanks to short intervals and high costs.
  • Saloons are rare and unloved, so can be tricky to sell on.
  • The diesel particulate filter on 2.2 diesels can cause problems which require a dealer visit to change the oil.
  • Diesel-powered cars tend to get through front tyres quickly, thanks to the extra weight of the engine.
  • The Bluetooth sometimes play ups, but a software update usually fixes things.
  • The rubber boot button can crack, letting water in, leading to reliability issues.
  • While the headlamps are great on main beam, they’re poor when dipped. Upgraded bulbs don’t seem to help.
  • The front seats could be more supportive, so you might suffer back ache after a long journey.

We like

  • Distinctive looks
  • Sharp dynamics
  • Good value
  • Strong engines
  • Reliability
  • Equipment levels
  • Build quality

We don’t like

  • So-so MPS
  • Unrefined 1.6D
  • Busy dash design
  • Thirsty petrol engines


Mazda RX-8 (2003-2010)

When Mazda introduced the RX-8, it made the rotary engine mainstream once more. Buyers lapped up this neatly styled family coupé-cum-saloon with its rear-hinged back doors and curvy bodywork, to revel in its cocooning cabin and to enjoy its brilliant rear-wheel drive handling. The shine has now dulled somewhat; low values have led to many examples being neglected, which is why you have to have your wits about you when buying. But source a good example, and you'll be rewarded with one of the most engaging family cars of the past decade.

Key Dates

1/03 :The RX-8 arrives, in 189bhp and 228bhp forms.

2/06 :The 228bhp Evolve limited edition appears.

9/06 :The 189bhp Nemesis special reaches showrooms.

1/07 :The PZ and Kuro debut, each with 228bhp.

7/08 :A facelifted RX-8 is here, now badged R3, in 228bhp form only.

Mazda RX-8 (2003-2010) Checklist

  • The RX- gets through fuel and oil at quite a rate, so if you're a high-mileage driver, running costs will quickly add up.
  • The anti-roll bar links fail, leading to the car leaning in corners more heavily.
  • The rotary engine is designed to use oil; fail to top up regularly and the engine will seize.
  • A compression test is essential, to check the engine's health. Also see how old the plugs and leads are.
  • Make sure the clutch isn't slipping, as premature failures aren't unknown.
  • The pipe from the oil cooler corrodes, leading to the engine losing its oil, then seizing.
  • Ensure the xenon headlights work properly, as water gets in then wrecks everything.
  • It's worth having an emissions test, as the catalytic converters are prone to failure.

We Like

  • Styling
  • Handling
  • Smooth engine
  • Relative practicality
  • Cabin design
  • Affordability
  • Reliability

We Don't Like

  • Rear seat access
  • Thirst for oil and petrol
  • Lack of torque


Mazda 5 (2005-2009)

With its Ford Focus roots, the Mazda 5 is great to drive, yet it's comfortable too. Even better, thanks to its long wheelbase, the 5 offers comfort, space and practicality in equal measure. But thanks to a lack of awareness, even though the 5 isn't that common, depreciation can be savage - which only serves to make Mazda's compact MPV more appealing for the used buyer. But despite the Mazda being Japanese, reliability can be an issue.

Key Dates

6/05: The 5 replaces Mazda's slow-selling Premacy, with a choice of 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engines, plus a 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Unique in the segment is a set of sliding rear doors.

12/07: The 2.0 petrol models get a six-speed manual gearbox; this transmission had always featured in the diesel models.

2/08: There's now a five-speed auto option for the 2.0 petrol and CO2 emissions for all Mazda 5s are reduced.

1/10: An upgraded 5 offers extra standard kit and improved dynamics.

Mazda 5 (2005-2009) Checklist

  • Post-February 2008 cars are generally more reliable, better equipped and more luxuriously finished.
  • Newer cars also have lower CO2 emissions.
  • This isn't a true seven-seater; it's more of a 6+1 as the central middle seat is narrow.
  • Fuel economy can be an issue; even the diesels aren't always that frugal.
  • The sliding doors can stick, so check they slide freely.
  • Alarm systems can be erratic, usually going off when they shouldn't, sometimes the opposite.
  • Uneven tyre wear is common, especially with 17-inch wheels and Dunlop tyres.
  • The diesel engines can use a lot of oil.
  • Electrical faults are common and batteries can fail altogether.
  • Some interior plastics are flimsy, so they mark or get damaged all easily.

We Like

  • Good dynamically
  • Unusual
  • Good value
  • Well equipped

We Don't Like

  • Early cars unreliable
  • Not a true seven-seater


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