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Last weekend, my Mazda3 passed its 30k km mark, suitably, while climbing the Appalachian range. Seems like I do this on weekly basis.



Just 10 months into ownership, it's already been up to Montréal and Tremblant, to the beautiful ridges of West Virginia, and spent remaining majority across NC. Not a bad ride; by the numbers it's been good. Cheap to run, 2 trips to the dealer for warranty issues, and just the right size for every situation. Fair warning, I'm very demanding for some of the things in my life, and automobiles is right up at there at the top of my list for stringent expectations.



I some complaints with the 2,5 litre petrol, which seems to make all its power in one big lump between 3000-5000rpm. The output itself is fine, more than enough for overtaking. But below 3k, nothing happens- it's like turbo lag but modern small turbos spool up by 2000-2500rpm. Under moderate load the transmission shifts right as the surge of power happens and falls out of the peak torque zone; not the smoothest thing. Speaking of smoothness, it's fine at idle but I don't really appreciate feeling the vibrations thru the controls/pedals as the revs get higher. Not asking for inline-6 smoothness, but other 4 cylinders I've driven aren't this thrashy. Fuel consumption is quite good in suburban/urban driving but out on the autoroutes this thing gets thirsty. Maybe its the aerodynamics of this vehicle, but stick with the 2 litre version. Or better yet, go with a turbocharger, Mazda.

Quality: It's better than average, and certainly better than the BL. However, I can't help feel the cheapness and corners cut. The doors feel like they're made out of cardboard. The paint on my vehicle has orange peel everywhere and is thin. The precision of the switchgear, MZD controller excepted, isn't where I expect. The actual assembly is good; no rattles or buzzes at all over rough surfaces. It's just the material and attention to detail. For example, the manual shifting gate on the automatic gearbox- there should be more resistance in the shift lever when pulling/pushing +/-; put a stronger spring for a more positive shift action! The cargo floor is made out of a cardboard-like backing so it collapses under moderate weight if the spare tire is removed. There's more out there, but I will keep it short.

Suspension: Great for those who live in areas where roads are poor. Great for those who live in the suburbs and drive up to 8/10ths. I don't fall into either of these; roads here are good, lots of wonderful curves, and open autobahn segments between cities. The suspension damping isn't stiff enough, me thinks the rebound and the spring rates are bit soft. Go over an undulating section of autoroute at 140km/h and the car takes an extra moment before setting in completely. Not unstable, just not as "road hugging" as I would like. There's also too much body roll and pitching fore/aft; the weight shifts aren't handled as well as needed to be as sporty as the marketing people claim.



Technology: The Driver assist features work well, and I like them. I never have had a false activation of the City Braking function. ACC is a surprisingly good stress reliever- I use it all the time, even on my 10km commute. Forward Collision Warning has aided me in quicker reaction times a couple times. I really like the extra safety net these features provide and will order them on future cars. Kind of a "in case the driver messes up" insurance.

This feels like a "80% done" car. Maybe 85%. Nearly everything about this car is 80-85% there. Which means very, very good, but short of excellent. The level of engineering isn't quite there with the Germans. The little gripes I thought I'd get used to, still grate on me everyday. The lack of rear visibility. The switchgear. The road noise. The weak sauce bi-xenons and half-arsed adaptive function. The sat nav that works 50% of the time and reboots randomly. And more. It adds up. :cursing:

Coincidentally, with the 30k km anniversary last weekend I also ended up driving a particularly fun mountain road. This is a favourite of motorcyclists and car enthusiasts alike (think "drag your knees/MotoGP" kind of mountain road). I opened the Mazda3 up, asked 100% of it and took at an aggressive pace. The confidence-shaking body roll was expected, but the small-ish disc brakes were unable to cope with the heat demands. Toasted the brakes after just 7km (admittedly, a 7% gradient driven at speeds up to 125km/h); no fade, but that wonderful burnt smell permeated the cabin. It also made the pre-existing brake judder worse. I also hope that burnt smell coming from the engine after going up same 7% gradient @ full throttle was just engine oil and nothing else. :001_unsure:

That experience pretty much sealed the deal. The Mazda3 BM is very good for a car company with a R&D budget much smaller than the major automakers. But the nail in coffin for me is that I never bonded with the car. It never made me smile. I never wanted to go out of the way for a fun drive with it (partly because of the drivetrain and handling complaints mentioned above). I did what I could; I loved the ContiSportContact 5 SSR summer tires I put on the car. The tires shouldered the burden of braking and handling even when I pushed it and clung on even after the chassis had me thinking "too fast". Perhaps too much tire for the car though.

Work has me going overseas for 6 months. I've decided this is a good time for me to hit the restart button. I will say farewell to the Mazda3 in a few weeks after just 10 months. Disappointing considering I thought this really was the one for me after 8 months of research and test drives prior to ordering it. I just cannot love the vehicle; may as well save on the car payments and insurance (quite expensive to insure) while I'm out of the country. And if/when I come back, there will likely be a VW GTI to pick up.
 

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Also you seem like the kind of person who would appreciate the driving characteristics and subtleties of a bmw. Why VW?
 

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Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights. Very much appreciated. Sorry to hear you'll be leaving the Mazda community, but best wishes during your overseas stint!
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Also you seem like the kind of person who would appreciate the driving characteristics and subtleties of a bmw. Why VW?
Thanks guys.

I actually came from BMWs, which is why I have such a detailed feel for things. The 2004 X3 I had may have had great thirst for fuel (no better than 10,5 l/100km combined) and required weeks of planning to overtake anyone, but it was competent in the bends and quite entertaining in the process.

I took the longer way home today; shoved the link somewhere into my user profile if anyone's interested.

Alas, a new BMW is not in my pay grade. The 328d touring is mid 40 k$. Asked a couple BMW drivers if they were happy going from their BMW to the GTI and they were quite satisfied. The Mini Cooper 5-door is a bit too short to fit my DH bike behind the front seats even with the front wheel off. I did greatly enjoy it when I had one as a rental though, the 3 cyl engine is quite the motor.

No other mature hatchback choice on the market on this side of the pond.
 

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Great honest review. I wonder if some of your complaints could be addressed with upgraded performance brake pads and springs/dampers. I agree on the brakes feeling a bit underpowered as I am coming from a 2008 GTI. How is the aftermarket support for these cars in regards to suspension upgrades?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Great honest review. I wonder if some of your complaints could be addressed with upgraded performance brake pads and springs/dampers. I agree on the brakes feeling a bit underpowered as I am coming from a 2008 GTI. How is the aftermarket support for these cars in regards to suspension upgrades?
I'm personally not a big fan of mods and upgrades unless if it's original equipment (for example, adding a rear foglight or amber turn signals) to bring the vehicle in line with ECE regulations. I'm sure there's plenty of aftermarket support if one digs deep enough; for starters Mazda offers a OEM spring/lowering kit as an accessory. But I demand a well-engineered car from the factory, I shouldn't have to spend money to make it better.

In regards to the brakes, I think it is more the insufficient rotor size and thus the inability to cope with prolonged high heat scenarios. The fronts are 295mm and the solid rear discs a tiny 265mm. In comparison the GTI comes as standard with 312mm/282mm with further upgrades possible. I believe Akebono is the OE supplier of pads on this platform (I work for the brake supplier, but they come from our China facility). Ultimately it is what Mazda decides to equip on their vehicles.
 

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I think upgraded rotors and pads would have changed your experience. The pads used for daily driving and the pads used for driving at the limit are very different pads and they behave very differently. Though, you could easily swap out the oem rotor caliper setup from the mazda6 and get the options from there.

Anyways, I agree with much of your critic, though, when compared to others in the class like the focus. While the focus feels more complete there are certain subtle things I like more about the Mazda. The ability for the rear cargo cover to be easily removed is a big one. The rear floor is easy enough to replace with a jigsaw, pencil and some chip board and add a door while you are there. Though, I would greatly appreciate lightup switches on the doors. I've driven the GTi, and it's not bad, but the maintenance on it says that my monthly bill at the shop would be double the Mazda bill. Considering I do an oil change very 6 weeks that's kind of a big one.
 

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I wonder, was the MZ3 appropriate for your consideration to begin with? It's in a class a vehicles which was never really meant to appeal to what appears to be your standards of automotive driving experience. Just the notion that Mazda 3s are being compared to lower end BMW models by auto publications (and others) is remarkable. Really speaks volumes about what Mazda has managed to do with rather limited resources. And in the end, a GTI is an upgrade, as it is a more premium automobile, from a more distinguished auto maker. Now, a fairer comparison to a GTI would be the presumed-to-be Gen 3 Mazdaspeed (MPS) 3, which is sure to benefit from much enhanced braking, handling and accelerating capabilities, in addition to enhancements to features and materials above the lower MZ3 offerings.

Not a big deal. Just chalk it up as a misstep. Hell, it took a year in a new Ford SHO for me to realize that that car was poorly suited for me.
 

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GTI may suit you. The new GTI drives well and has some better materials. But if you compare the current North American GTI to its European versions, there are tons of cost cutting. If you compare it to older GTIs, you can also see the cost cutting. Sadly this is the trend for VW with its Passat, Jetta and Golf for the north american market.
 

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True, The level of engineering isn't quite there with the Germans, but I only paid $23k U.S. for my fully loaded SGT. A stripper Audi 3 runs about $32! 10k more for German engineering and 1/3 the options? No Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter #13
GTI may suit you. The new GTI drives well and has some better materials. But if you compare the current North American GTI to its European versions, there are tons of cost cutting. If you compare it to older GTIs, you can also see the cost cutting. Sadly this is the trend for VW with its Passat, Jetta and Golf for the north american market.
True. Hopefully I will be able to stay in Europe beyond the 6 months and not need to worry about buying a car back in the US. During the 6 months I will be located about 20km from Wolfsburg, so test driving a GTI there is in the cards. :w00t 1:

The Golf, esp. the GTI, overall is less compromised North America compared to ECE. No EPB, and some lighting changes (which I can undo), but overall the suspension and drivetrain isn't really compromised.

I paid 30 k$ USD for my full-spec GT with technology package inclusive tax and 600$ for the summer tires; (not inclusive winter wheel/tires) which is roughly the same price I'd pay for a GTI with performance in the US, which has no-cost summer tires. I thought I'd love the toys in the Mazda (and I do) and I'm supporting my own company, but the core of the vehicle falls short. And even beyond that, it lacks that intangible appeal to me.....like I said....it can't make me smile. There are flawed cars out there but if I can get a chuckle or a grin out of them, I don't care if it visits the shop every month. I want to enjoy the drive.
 
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