2005 Mazda Mazda3 s review: 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s

Pricing Unavailable
  • Trim levels i
  • Available Engine Gas
  • Body style sedan

Roadshow Editors' Rating

5.3 Overall
  • Cabin tech 4
  • Performance tech 6
  • Design 6

The Good Nice body style; huge glove box; responsive handling.

The Bad Low-power air conditioning; poor stereo options; very little in the way of technology.

The Bottom Line The Mazda Mazda3 has no major complaints but also few frills--kudos for looks and handling.

Mazda Mazda3 s

The 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s is a fun, energetically styled car with a bit of utility thrown in, but it doesn't have much in the way of high tech. Passenger room can be a little tight, especially for the tall or those behind them, but it is reasonably roomy for a compact. Nothing feels particularly cheap on the car, and the switches are, for the most part, well thought out and fit nicely with the interior layout. The stereo sound is adequate but not easily upgradable, and the six-disc changer can't handle MP3 CDs. There are a few other annoyances, such as no trunk release on the key fob and only a single intermittent speed on the windshield wipers.

Handling is great, thanks mainly to a large increase in body stiffness in comparison with the Protégé, the Mazda3's predecessor. The 160-horsepower engine pulls the front-wheel-drive car nicely out of corners, and steering is precise and not overpowered--perfect for either that energetic drive on the back roads or maneuvering in a parking lot. Fuel economy comes in at 25mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway. Passengers are protected by a three-fork safety structure and standard front-passenger air bags. An antilock braking system (ABS), along with side and side-curtain air bags, is available as an option. The price of our test car was $18,850, including the $800 ABS/side-impact air-bag option and $890 moonroof and six-CD changer package.

Comfortable and nicely styled, the 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s presents a very youthful appearance, with looks that would be at home on a rally car. From the side, the Mazda3 looks remarkably like BMW's 3 Series sedan, especially its roofline and C-pillar. The similarities continue at the front, with the wrap-around headlamps and front-nose treatment--the most obvious difference being the grille. We particularly like the crystal-ball look of the high-beam lamps, which, combined with the other lighting elements, is a real eye-catcher. Unlike many sedans, the Mazda3 also looks good from the rear. Echoing the front lamps, the rear-light assembly wraps around with the indicator and brake lamps on the body, while the reverse light is split on the trunk door. The waistline kicks up at the trunk for added visual effect, as well as a bit more trunk space.

Moving to the inside, the plastic and cloth interior trim doesn't feel cheap--everything seems solid and well put together. The driver is met with a manually adjustable telescopic/tilt steering wheel, complete with cruise control and stereo controls, and a fully adjustable seat, which is comfortable at first but could do with a bit more lumbar support for longer journeys. The passenger seat is the usual no-frills reclining/sliding affair. There is reasonable room in the back if the person in front is of moderate height, but when the seat goes back, legroom disappears fast. Rear passengers more than 6 feet tall may also find the headroom a bit restricted, but that might be the least of their worries on a hot day, since the air conditioner is rather weak--it can keep up with only two passengers in the car on a 90-degree day.

The stereo does not support MP3 CDs, although it does have an entertaining orange light strip.

The stereo had adequate sound, and it remained fairly clean even when the listening volume got to an uncomfortable level; more bass at lower volumes would have been nice. There are few stereo upgrade options, and the nonstandard layout means an aftermarket unit would be an expensive custom job or a poorly integrated add-on. The six-disc changer does not support MP3 CDs, nor is there an auxiliary jack in which to plug an MP3 player. The lack of a pause button for the CD player was a real annoyance, especially since the Mute button on the steering wheel could have easily served this function. However, we really liked the stereo's ability to quickly find and store the six strongest radio signals, which are in a special set of memory locations separate from the programmable presets.

The amber instrument lights adjust well and have a nice blue accent at night. The only minor problem is the need to manually turn the brightness up if you're running the headlights during the day--the nighttime illumination setting is too low for daytime use, and the daytime setting seems too bright for nighttime. It's only a single button-push, but you need to reach through the steering wheel to do it. The lack of more than one intermittent setting on the windshield wipers is also a minus, as is the lack of a fuel-economy display.

Other amenities include a huge glove compartment, which is able to fit a medium-size laptop; bottle holders in all four doors; center-console cup holder; and a dual-level center cubbyhole. One slight oddity is a pocket behind the driver seat but not the passenger's. The trunk looks a lot bigger than you would expect, and it also benefits from 60/40 folding rear seats. One minor quibble: There's no remote trunk release on the key fob.

The 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s is not a Miata by any stretch of the imagination, but for a four-door compact, it's a lot of fun to drive. The handling is excellent, with good ride quality and relatively little body roll, due in large part to the chassis, which has more than 40 percent flexural rigidity than the Protégé. The stiffer chassis allows for softer springs and dampers without losing cornering ability. On the road, the Mazda3 gives good feedback, and the front-wheel drive pulls nicely out of the corners. Steering is precise and fairly light at low speeds without being overpowered as the speed rises. Gearshift throw is short and precise but, again, not in the same class as that of its siblings, the Miata and the RX-8.

The profile of the Mazda3 s mimics that of the BMW 3 Series.

A 2.3-liter DOHC engine with four valves per cylinder and variable-valve timing on the intake valves supplies 160 horsepower to this front-wheel-drive car. The engine noise is so low that if the A/C or stereo is on, it can be easy to hit the rev limiter on the manual gearbox, as there's no loud engine wail signaling that it's time to shift gears. EPA fuel economy is reported as 25mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway, dropping off slightly to 24/29 for cars with automatic transmissions. With the air conditioning running most of the time, we observed 26.8mpg with an even split between highway and city driving.

Structural safety is mainly strong, thanks to the three-fork design, which directs energy around the cabin through the hinge pillar, dash cross-member, and side sills to minimize deformation around the occupants. The 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s has earned an NHSTA four-star rating for front and rollover collisions, as well as a three-star side-impact rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Mazda3 a poor side-impact rating, but the model tested did not have side or side-curtain air bags. The 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s comes standard with front-passenger air bags, but our test car was equipped with side and side-curtain air bags, which we strongly recommend for increased side-impact protection. Unfortunately, traction control isn't available, even as an option. The Mazda3 is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile warranty and a five-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty. Toll-free roadside assistance and a free loaner car during warranty repairs also come standard.

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