2009 Mazda MAZDA3 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
May 2, 2009

The 2009 Mazda 3 is practical, affordable, and well built, with a sporty, fun-to-drive character.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Mazda 3 in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com also researched available road tests on the new Mazda 3 to produce a full review that surveys the most useful comments and observations.

The 2009 Mazda 3 is easily one of the best compact cars for sale in the United States and one of the favorite compact cars of the editors at TheCarConnection.com.

Available as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback, the Mazda 3 has a more rakish, aggressive exterior than most small cars; it's paired with an instrument panel that feels like it could be in a more expensive performance coupe.

Both body styles claim to fit five, but that’s a little optimistic. With only four aboard, the interior is roomy enough, but because this is a compact car, don't expect the space of a full-size SUV or the convenience of rear cup holders. However, you can look forward to easy-to-use controls and a high level of fit and finish. The Mazda 3 is a quality piece. Seating and visibility for the driver are both good. As you'd expect, the wagon carries more than the sedan, offering 43.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, 16.5 with the seats up. The sedan's trunk holds 14.6 cubic feet, and this increases when the rear seats are folded.

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On the road the front-wheel-drive Mazda 3 is a fine-maneuvering small car with agile moves. It's entertaining to drive. However, its ride is a bit on the stiff side for some drivers. Road noise is also present and gets tiring after a few hours on the road. A 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in the base-model Mazda 3. Uplevel "s" four-doors and the five-door wagon get the 2.3-liter four-cylinder that generates 156 horsepower. The five-door also dons sporty body add-ons, 17-inch wheels, and fog lamps. Five-speed manual transmissions are standard on these models, and optional gearboxes include a four-speed automatic on the base sedan and a five-speed automatic on the uplevel Mazda 3.

The high-performance Mazdaspeed3 has a turbocharged 2.3-liter that uses a sophisticated fuel delivery system called direct injection. This technology improves both power and fuel economy. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available to handle this engine's 263 horsepower. Hang on, because the Mazdaspeed3 will take you for a great ride. Quarter-mile performance is musclecar strong, and its top speed is more than 150 mph.

The 2009 Mazdaspeed3 comes only in the wagon body style, and this special model includes many unique features, such as wider front fenders, different front and rear fascias, and a spoiler attached to the hatch. Unlike some other factory hot rods, the Mazdaspeed3 doesn't scream "I'm fast, give me a ticket." The look is conservatively aggressive. The Mazdaspeed3 edition is trimmed in leather, has front seats that are more heavily bolstered, and sports bits of aluminum detailing throughout to complement the car's impressive performance.

Mazda significantly improves the safety of the Mazda 3 by making side and curtain airbags standard. Government and IIHS crash tests show this is a good move for consumers. The Mazdaspeed3 also offers electronic stability control as standard equipment, and the feature is optional on other models. Anti-lock brakes are standard on all but the least expensive "s" trim levels.

The top-of-the-line Grand Touring model features a leather interior, a premium sound system, heated leather seats, high-gloss-finish 17-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing front windshield wipers, and high-intensity xenon headlamps. Top options include a moonroof, a navigation system, and Sirius Satellite Radio.

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2009 Mazda MAZDA3

Styling

The 2009 Mazda 3 is aging gracefully; its sharp, sporty looks are still popular among buyers, and the hatchback is especially utilitarian.

Buyers seeking a sporty, economical car that has the looks to compete with more expensive sport sedans would do well to check out the 2009 Mazda 3.

Various reviews read by TheCarConnection.com heap praise on the styling of the Mazda 3; 2009 models "have enough style to sit beside an Audi A3 and look right at home," says Kelley Blue Book. They note, "A new front end features a revised grille and headlamp treatment with a large rectangular air intake." Depending on the trim offered by Mazda, 2009 3s are equipped with either 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels. Introduced in 2004 by Mazda, 2009 Mazda 3s are "distinguished by taut, chiseled styling that hint at the car's athletic personality," remarks Edmunds. They add, "A sign of a great design is typically one that doesn't require a sizable midlife refresh...only miniscule changes have been made to the 3 over the years."

ConsumerGuide isn't as lavish with its praise of the Mazda 3’s interior and comments, "The cabin décor tries to go for a sporty, upscale look, but it falls short...The plastic-looking woven inserts on the door panels and seats are unimpressive." But for the most part, praise for the exterior design carries over to the interior's styling. Edmunds says the 2009 Mazda 3 has "a handsome interior that hints at the car's athletic personality," while Touring and Grand Touring trims "feature a distinctive and upscale interior design that looks far richer than its price would suggest." Kelley Blue Book has similar feelings: "You can shop this segment until the cows come home and not find as handsome an interior is in the 2009 Mazda [3]...A racy three-pod instrument cluster [and] red dash lighting...make the MAZDA 3 feel like a high-priced sports sedan."

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2009 Mazda MAZDA3

Performance

The 2009 Mazda 3 has exactly what many practical but performance-minded drivers want: adequate pep, a sport-oriented suspension, and good brakes.

The 2009 Mazda 3 rewards drivers looking for sport on a small budget.

Motor Trend is taken by the 2009 Mazda 3's handling. "Around the skidpad," they contend, "the 3 s Grand Touring runs circles around its competitors...[and] perhaps most impressive is the Mazda's 60-to-0 mph, which at 112 feet, matches that of the all-new Pontiac G8 GT." 2009 Mazda 3s are tuned more for sport handling, which influences its ride. Edmunds says, "the Mazda 3 tends to drive like a much more expensive sport sedan...thanks to its performance-oriented chassis tuning." ConsumerGuide observes, "All 3s have firm suspensions that show good composure except over large high-speed dips and swells...and is among the best handling compacts." The Mazdaspeed, they note, is "nimble and balanced, helped by precise, linear steering with good road feel." They relate, "Braking on all is stable, but be sure to get ABS." Motor Trend sums it up: "Nothing else in this field feels so lively and well-planted—you can feel the racing DNA in the 3's bones."

The Mazdaspeed3 comes with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four with 263 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque, and it sprints to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, according to J.D. Power. It comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. ConsumerGuide notes the "Mazdaspeed is very quick, though acceleration is blunted a bit by turbo lag." In their test of a 2009 Mazda 3 Grand Touring sedan with the 2.3 and automatic, Edmunds reports "the Mazda did the 0-60-mph sprint in 8.6 seconds." According to Edmunds, the standard 2009 Mazda 3 i sedans use a "2-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 148 hp and 135 [pound-feet] of torque, while s models use a 2.3-liter four-cylinder rated at 156 hp and 150 [pound-feet] of torque.”

"Both engines come standard with a five-speed manual...A four-speed automatic with [manual mode] is optional on i models," states Edmunds, "while s models upgrade to a five-speed automatic with [manual mode]." ConsumerGuide thinks the automatic transmissions are "smooth and responsive," whereas the manuals have "precise shift and clutch action." But Motor Trend, after their test of a Mazda 2009 3, cautions, "the [auto] tranny did occasionally suffer from 'erratic gear tenacity,' in which it refused to engage a higher or lower cog upon input."

ConsumerGuide tests a few models of the Mazda 3 and finds that 2009 manual sedans "averaged 27.1 mpg in mainly highway driving." An s hatchback "averaged 20.8 mpg in mostly city driving, including gas-easting performance runs." A Mazdaspeed3 "averaged 20.6 mpg." The turbocharged engine requires premium-grade gas, and the others use regular. According to the EPA, the 3’s fuel economy rates up to 24 mpg city, 32 highway, or as low as 18/26 mpg for the Mazdaspeed3.

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2009 Mazda MAZDA3

Comfort & Quality

2009 Mazda 3 models have good room for their compact size, and the hatchbacks are especially versatile.

Front-row riders get the most room in the 2009 Mazda 3, while the rear row suffers somewhat.

Edmunds says, "The rear seat is a little snug for larger adults, but those of average height will find a decent amount of space." All Mazda 3s have a 60/40-split rear seat with center armrest. ConsumerGuide reveals, "Legroom is especially tight with the front seats far back. Headroom [is] ample in hatchbacks, only OK for taller folk in sedans." For front seat occupants of the Mazda, 2009 3s have "good legroom [and] headroom, even below the sunroof housing," commends ConsumerGuide, which adds, "MazdaSpeed has particularly well-bolstered sport buckets." 2009 Mazda 3s have standard tilt and telescoping steering wheels, a rare feature at this price point. Edmunds notes, "Even taller drivers will find plenty of room in this compact car's front seat."

Motor Trend feels the interior detailing is "posh and stylish" and "all the controls have seemingly graduated from ergonomics school with honors." 2009 Mazda 3s have "solid build quality" (ConsumerGuide) and "an upscale interior [that] looks far richer than its price would suggest" (Edmunds). But ConsumerGuide thinks the Mazda 3 also "falls short in several areas." One is "the plastic-looking woven inserts on the door panels and seats." Another shortcoming is that there are "very few soft-touch surfaces."

Regarding the 2009 Mazda 3’s cargo space, reviewers differ in opinion. Edmunds claims the sedans "offer 11.4 cu ft of trunk space, while the hatchback boasts 31 when [the seats] are folded.” On the other hand, J.D. Power states, "Mazda 3 sedans have 11.5 cu ft, while hatchbacks offer 43.8 cu ft with their rear seats folded down." A visit to a dealer to view the cargo space in person will give you a better impression of the available room. Nevertheless, the 2009 Mazda 3 hatchbacks are "more versatile [and] include a handy cargo organizer. The hatchbacks' liftgate rises high enough to clear the heads of taller [people]," contends ConsumerGuide. They do caution, however, "Its handle is in an awkward position that makes it difficult to open without hands scraping the top of the rear bumper." Finally, they add, "Interior storage is good, highlighted by an extra-large glovebox."

ConsumerGuide attests, "Road noise is noticed more in hatchbacks than sedans, but isn't intrusive for the class." They add of the Mazda 2009 3, "Engines get loud at full throttle and aren't that quiet in gentle cruising...MazdaSpeed's low-profile tires and sporty exhaust note generate more ruckus."

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2009 Mazda MAZDA3

Safety

The 2009 Mazda 3 now gets a competitive set of standard safety features, yet it’s still not at the top of the class.

No Mazda 3 has been side-tested recently, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested a previous-year Mazda 3 without side airbags, and the results of the test weren’t pretty. While it received a "good" rating for the front offset impact test, it earned a "poor"—the lowest rating—for the side test. Now that side bags are standard across the line, results should be better. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) frontal-impact crash tests, the 2009 Mazda 3 scored four (out of five) stars.

Side and curtain airbags are now standard on the Mazda 3, but electronic stability control is still limited to top trims.

Motor Trend notes that with its short hood and ample glass, the 2009 Mazda 3 will let drivers see well. Only in the hatchback will the C-pillars "cause some blind spots.”

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2009 Mazda MAZDA3

Features

2009 Mazda 3s offer a wide range of body styles, trims, and features to fit most any budget.

Have some aspirin handy when deciding which 2009 Mazda 3 you want because computing the choices will give you a headache. According to Edmunds, "There are five trim levels available for the Mazda 3 sedan: i Sport, i Touring, s Sport, s Touring and s Grand Touring." Confused yet? "The hatchback/wagon comes only in the s trims," they add.

Standard equipment on the 2009 Mazda 3 i Sport includes "a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; cloth upholstery; split folding rear seat; AM/FM/CD stereo; auxiliary input jack; outside-temperature indicator; theft-deterrent system; and P195/65R15 tires on steel wheels,” says J.D. Power. The Touring trim of the Mazda 2009 3 i "adds air conditioning; cruise control; interior air filter; driver's seat height and lumbar adjustment; power windows, mirrors and door locks; remote keyless entry; and P205/55R16 tires on aluminum wheels."

According to Kelley Blue Book, the s models adds "a 2.3-liter engine, air conditioning, illuminated remote keyless entry, fog lights, dual power mirrors, power locks, power windows, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels." J.D. Power notes fog lights on the 2009 Mazda 3 s Sport and says the "s Sport hatchback also has a rear cargo cover, rear spoiler and P205/50R17 tires." Kelley Blue Book reports that all 2.3-liter 2009 Mazda 3s have "Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control as standard equipment."

Of the 2009 Touring versions, the s Touring "gets the P205/50R17 tires as well as traction control and anti-skid control, while the top-line s Grand Touring provides leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic climate control, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers and Xenon automatic headlights," according to J.D. Power.

Adds J.D. Power, "MazdaSpeed3 Sport has s Touring equipment, plus a limited-slip front differential, upgraded brakes, sport suspension and P215/45R18 tires. To this the MazdaSpeed3 Grand Touring adds automatic climate control; leather upholstery; Bose AM/FM radio with 6-disc CD changer; trip computer; rain sensing wipers; and Xenon automatic headlights.”

Kelley Blue Book points out the "navigation unit is an unheard-of feature in a car in this price range." And Edmunds says, "Available options include a sunroof, DVD-based navigation system, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, and remote engine starting.”

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July 15, 2015
For 2009 Mazda MAZDA3

I would buy another one

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I loved this car, perfect car for me. Never got to the garage other than for regular maintenance.
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April 13, 2015
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I'm a Mazda guy for life. Mazda has earned that loyalty.

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This is my 3rd Mazda since 1986, and all three have been every bit as reliable as any other car in their class. Honda makes a big deal of how reliable their cars are -- and they probably are, but I like... + More »
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