I purchased my SP25 Soul Red Mazda 3 auto brand new back in August 2014. I bought it due to the perceived reliability of the brand and on the basis of four test drives at four different dealerships. My experience was anything but pleasant. I disposed of the car three months ago with just over 70,000km on the clock.
First, let's cover the positives. The overall fuel economy ended up being 7.1L/100km, according to the trip computer. The 18-inch wheels delivered sharp handling and the auto transmission was brilliant (for the first 20,000kms). The Soul Red paint looked brilliant and the car was easy to manoeuvre and park. However, that's about it.
The MZD system that was original raved about by reviewers is a piece of junk. When it is working it is absolutely brilliant. However, my system was found to be faulty and updated on 15 separate occasions. The actual MZD unit was replaced as Mazda could not fix all the glitches in the system.
The new MZD unit was no better. What glitches, you may ask? Okay.
1) Freezing, as in the car starts up and the screen just stays with the Mazda logo. You have no ability to control the volume, the rear-view camera didn’t work and obviously the sat-nav was unavailable. The only solution was to continually turn the car on and off and eventually this would fix itself. This would happen one in four times you used the car.
2) Sat-nav dropping out – basically the car forgot where it was and it could take anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to reboot. This would happen two to three times a week.
3) Voice guidance/warnings would be fed through the front right speaker, cutting the music. That’s fine, when it works. Often the music would cut, but the voice commands wouldn’t come through. It sounded like the speaker had dodgy wiring – and no amount of fiddling with the options in the MZD would fix this (as Mazda technicians can attest).
4) The sat-nav losing its mind in large areas – like Sydney’s CBD. It couldn’t handle the complexity and would often just shut down.
Remember, Mazda had 15 separate attempts to fix these glitches. Noticeably, I have found on sites like this that MZD glitches are casually mentioned during a review but because the reviewer doesn’t live with the vehicle it isn’t as big a caveat to a review.
As an aside, a December 2016 magazine review compared the Mazda 3 against two of its competitors and it lost and they made an explicit point of noting the MZD was ‘glitch-prone.’
Additionally, the MX-5 too, was derided by the same magazine for its poorly performing MZD system.
One saw why the poor public had no chance of getting a faulty MZD fixed – if Mazda couldn’t get their press cars right what chance were we?
Regarding the MZD, I am aware some will be reading this and thinking ‘but I’ve never had a problem.’ Great. That’s fantastic. However, there will be others who will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Moving on. The auto transmission. I believe its an in-house job by Mazda (as opposed to a ZF et cetera). And it was great – for the first 20,000kms. I rarely used the paddle-shifters as the ’box was intuitive and slick. However, after 20,000kms (about 10 months) it became sluggish and harsh.
Mazda deemed it to be working ‘within spec’ and nothing was done until the car was virtually undrivable at 45,000kms. The pan was dropped and there was little fluid and metal in the pan. The car was off the road for two weeks as a new gearbox was sourced and fitted.
For those playing at home – that’s $6500. When I sold the car the second gearbox was again feeling ordinary. Interestingly, the reception staff at my local dealership – friendly and very talkative – informed me that they ‘often’ replaced gearboxes on the new Mazda 3. So my experience was by no means unique.
The car died at 30,000km. As in lost power while driving, then wouldn’t start. It did it twice more before 35,000kms before Mazda suggested I run it on 98RON. Considering that it was exclusively fuelled on 95RON beforehand this added extra cost.
I believe that the dreadful i-stop was playing up (as it did with the Mazda 6 and its recall – the SP25 has the identical engine/trans combo).
The steering rack required replacing. At 50,000km the steering developed a knock – a bit like a bearing or very worn shock. It then started to ‘stick’ as you turned the wheel – this was very disconcerting when driving the car.
A week at Mazda and I was assured it was fixed. Driving home it happened yet again. And once more the car was off the road for two weeks while a rack was shipped exclusively from Japan and fitted that eventually fixed the problem.
The insulation around the bottom of the windscreen lifted. Mazda cut it off and that induced a severe rattle in the dashboard for the last 15,000km that I owned the car.
I must warn people about the i-stop. Yes, you can turn it off, as I did when leaving my home or work each time. However, if you stop at the shops et cetera, on your way home, I would often forget to switch it off again. This caused some nasty near misses – as turning out of a blind driveway near Bunnings a car approached at a good 80km/h in a 60 zone – I slammed on the brakes, the i-stop then stalled the car leaving my car momentarily stuck in the middle of the road.
It’s a horrible thing and is just dangerous. Customers should have the ability to permanently have it switched off at a dealership, even if they need to sign something that says they understand it will add 0.1L to their fuel consumption.
The road noise people often complain about with this car can be half-fixed with decent tyres. I grew weary of the noise and swapped to Michelins at 50,000km when I was told I still had a good 20,000km to go on the original Dunlops.
The Michelins made a huge difference but were much more expensive. I don’t understand why Mazda doesn’t fix them as standard as an extra $400 on the overall price of the car is nothing really. Surely they’re not that tight.
The paint on the car is extremely thin. It chipped very easily. I was informed that it was 47 microns thick, whereas a Commodore is 157 microns thick. You don’t notice these things in the showroom, only through experience.
The sedan’s boot is not only small but difficult to load due to the small opening. The goose-necked hinges then swallow up (or crush) more space.
I understand that this will sound like a ‘whinge.’ However, this is my experience with the car. In total I returned on 22 occasions to have warranty work carried out. Prior to this car I had owned three other brand new cars and two near new. My only warranty concerns were a battery needing replacing and some trim needing fixing.
My experience did allow me (through many many loan cars) to test, back to back, the old and new Mazda 3 with the ‘torque-vectoring’. I can tell you now, back to back, that the new Mazda 3 SP25 needs scientific instruments to determine whether its any better than the old one. There is no difference.
Ditto the torque vectoring. Often driving up to 700km in a week in a loan car – there’s no difference. Great marketing – but Brocky’s Polarizer does more for a car’s performance.
Other positives? Mazda’s frontline staff were always helpful and friendly. They honestly did try but were let down by an ordinary product. According to my receipts, my car that cost me just over $27k new had just under $15k worth of warranty work carried out on it in just under three years.
It appears that while Mazda is pursuing sales, its build quality has suffered. Obviously, I won’t ever be returning to the brand. I wonder how many others will be just like me?
Note: Stock image used for illustration purposes