2004 Mazda Mazda3

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$13,680

starting MSRP

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

The good:

  • Stylish appearance, especially on the hatchback
  • Steering and handling
  • Automatic or manual transmissions
  • Driving ease
  • Front passenger space

The bad:

  • Instrument readability
  • Backseat passenger space
  • Engine noise on hard acceleration
  • Seat comfort

2 trims

Starting msrp listed lowest to highest price

  • i

    $13,680

  • s

    $16,615

Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 2004 Mazda Mazda3 trim comparison will help you decide.

Notable features

  • 2.0- or 2.3-liter engine
  • Manual or automatic transmission
  • Sporty Mazda styling and personality
  • Kinship to larger Mazda models
  • Two body styles

2004 Mazda Mazda3 review: Our expert's take

By

The verdict:

Versus the competiton:

I suppose in these days of freedom fries and the Boycott France campaign of Bill O’Reilly – about whom there has been much buzzzzz lately – few in the United States would agitate for the return of French-made cars. Quel dommage.

The French carmakers – PSA Peugeot Citroën (now a single company) and Renault – build some awesome cars. Partisans of the Mitsubishi Evo VIII or Subaru WRX STi ought to take a few laps in a Renault Clio V6, a rally-bred sport compact with a 255-hp V6 mounted amidships, where the back seat ought to be. Then we’ll see who the surrender monkeys are.

I particularly like Renault’s sense of adventure when it comes to styling. Cars such as the Vel Satis, the Scénic and the Mégane – with their strangely indented rear hatches, as if they had been kissed by a speeding lorry – exemplify French style, an attitude of shrugging indifference to convention and easy, sans souci confidence.

So, no French cars for us. But we’ve got the Mazda3 five-door, which could easily pass for a stable mate to the Mégane Hatch. Like the Renault, the Mazda3 five-door (four doors and a hatch, in case you were wondering) is a style-intensive little wagon with a bold face and its pants hitched up high in the back. It’s got some sharp edges to it, like good cheese: Sill extensions and rear hatch spoiler are standard. Its rivals include cars such as the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix, the Ford Focus five-door and the new Chevrolet Cobalt. Only the Mazda3 wouldn’t look out of place in a quiet arrondissement in Paris.

And like the Mégane Hatch, the Mazda3 five-door handily exceeds expectations for a low-cost urban runabout. Our test car, a Mazda3 S five-door in “Winning Blue” (it looks like LeMans blue to me), carried a price tag of $22,145, which included optional leather seats; navigation system; six-disc in-dash CD player; xenon headlamps; power moonroof; side-impact airbags and curtains; and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Standard on the Mazda3 sedan is a 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; the 160-hp, 2.3-liter mill, optional on the sedan, is standard on the wagon, shifted through either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Our five-speed-equipped wagon fended for itself quite well in contentious L.A. traffic – wherein the roulette of merging is less French than Russian – and hummed along effortlessly at freeway speeds. The car returns very decent gas mileage of 25 miles per gallon city, 32 highway, according to the EPA.

Mazda’s investment in zoom-zoom – vite vite? – is reflected in the car’s capable multilink rear suspension and stabilizer bars front and rear. For a front-drive car, the Mazda wagon feels surprisingly settled, with very little torque steer feeding back through the electric-assist steering under hard acceleration. The grippy, V-rated tires (205/50R17s) maintain good adhesion, and when you flex the four-wheel disc brakes, the car feels like you have plowed into a field of warm Brie.

This is a solid-feeling car – taut, quiet and well tempered – a feeling that begins with its thickly padded steering wheel and ends at the car’s hydroelastic body mountings and thick suspension bushings.

Our test car had a rich and interesting inner life. The leather surfaces – the seats, the gearshift knob, the steering wheel (the same as in the Mazda Miata) – offered tactile satisfaction worthy of a car costing $10,000 more. The optional navigation screen, situated centrally on top of the dash, pivoted upward as the car started; the controls, in a panel to the right of the gearshift, included a spin-and-click knob that was reasonably easy to fathom.

As straightforward as the three-dial climate controls were, just that much more complicated were the audio controls. The volume control is a center-position dial – not, as you might intuit, the left-hand dial in the lower set of two. This takes a day or so to get used to. As you change functions on the stereo, orange-red LEDs race back and forth in a superfluous display that seems to taunt you if you are vainly twisting the wrong dial.

Because of its rather upright rear-hatch styling, the Mazda3 five-door doesn’t offer quite the cargo capacity of other vehicles in its class – nothing like the PT Cruiser. But once I flipped down the rear seats I was able to put in an 8-foot piece of lumber, several shopping bags from the local man-mall (Home Depot) and two bags of mulch. The hatch itself has a concealed pressure-pad release and rear window defogger and wiper.

With its Euro-cool design, loads of value and affinity for vitesse, the Mazda3 wagon belongs to a growing class of small suburban wagons that takes the short shrift out of thrift. To that, we should all raise a glass of Burgundy.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

2004 Mazda3 five-door

Base price: $16,895

Price, as tested: $22,145

Powertrain: all-aluminum 2.3-liter, 16-valve DOHC inline four-cylinder, variable-valve timing, transversely mounted; five-speed manual transmission; front-wheel drive.

Horsepower: 160 at 6,500 rpm

Torque: 150 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm

Curb weight: 2,826 pounds

0-60 mph: about 9 seconds

Overall length: 176.6 inches

Wheelbase: 103.9 inches

EPA mileage: 25 miles per gallon city/32 highway

EPA cargo volume with rear seats folded: 31.2 cubic feet

Final thoughts: Continental riff

Automotive critic Dan Neil

can be reached at dan.neil@latimes.com.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.1
  • Interior design 4.3
  • Performance 4.3
  • Value for the money 4.2
  • Exterior styling 4.5
  • Reliability 4.2

Most recent consumer reviews

5.0

This car is a real surprise and a tremendous value

What an amazing car! It was purchased to replace a totaled Mustang and I also wanted a little more carrying capacity. I never expected it would be such a great, fun car. I just love it in all regards! A wonderful buy! I would be pleased to drive this winner forever!

4.1

Fun little starter car

We owned the 3 with 2.5L engine for about 5 years. It was a fun and sporty looking compact sedan. Handling was great, especially considering the price. However, the 4 speed tranny could’ve used an extra gear or two. It was too buzzy on the highway. And fuel economy was only high 20s on the HW. A Honda Civic would’ve gotten mid 30s. Overall, it was a fun and reliable starter car. Would highly recommend it over the Civic, Sentra etc if you don’t mind the extra fuel it uses.

4.9

Outstanding car!!!

Can't say enough about this car! It's very tough, and very reliable! Mine is an 04 w 199,000. 55,000 of I put on. Runs great and everything works! Love my Mazda! ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM!

See all 55 consumer reviews

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