Used Mazda 3 2010-2013 review

Overall rating:5 Star Rating
June 15, 2014
1997 Mazda 3 2012 Skyactiv
2012 Mazda 3. Click for larger photo

The sporty and reliable Mazda 3 is one of the best choices for a compact fun-to-drive used car. In its second generation, the 2010-2013 Mazda 3 comes as a sedan or hatchback, with a 2.0L or 2.5L 4-cylinder engine and manual or automatic transmission.
The interior is stylish and nicely finished. The seats are comfortable and supportive, the steering tilts and telescopes. Available features include heated leather seats, Bluetooth, push-button start, dual-zone climate control and navigation. The optional Bose 10-speaker audio system is one of the best you can find in a compact car. The Skyactiv package became available from 2012; Mazda 3 with the 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine is one of the most fuel-efficient in its class. Of course, Mazda 3 has its downsides, like the firm ride and tight interior. Does this mean that you should pass on this car? Let's see closer.

Mercedes-Benz E320 interior
Mazda 3 2012 interior. Click for larger photo
Mercedes-Benz E320 interior
Mazda 3 2012 Skyactiv 2.0L engine. Click for larger photo

Engine: The Mazda 3 comes with the tree engine choices: the base 2.0L MZR DOHC is a well-proven simple motor. The 2.5L MZR DOHC is essentially the same engine, but with more power. The 2.0L direct-injected high-compression Skyactiv-G engine available from the 2012 model year is much more technologically advanced and fuel-efficient. Either engine is very reliable and require minimum maintenance aside from regular oil changes. All three engines can run on regular gasoline. All three engines have a timing chain; there is no timing belt.

Skyactiv technology: Skyactiv is a collective name for the well-tuned package of technological advances that became available for 2012. The most impressive is the engine design, where better fuel efficiency is achieved without a hybrid drive or turbocharger. With higher compression ratio and direct injection, the Skyactiv engine can still run on 87 gasoline and is generally fairly simple and reliable. The Skyactiv transmission is another interesting story. It delivers higher fuel efficiency without sacrificing the driving experience. Unlike the continuously-variable (CVT) or dual-clutch automated-manual transmissions, the Skyactiv gearbox is still based on a traditional automatic transmission, something that is disappearing in newer cars. Another part of the Skyactiv package is a lighter and more rigid body and light-weight chassis. Read more: Mazda Skyactiv page

Handling and ride: Mazda 3 is the benchmark for sporty handling and road feel among compact cars. The vehicle drives very solid in curves and on the highway; the steering is precise and readily snaps back to center when driving straight. The turning radius is tight, which is a big plus. What you may not like is the stiff ride and a fair amount of road and tire noise. Overall, Mazda 3 is a perfect choice for driving enthusiasts looking for a small fuel-efficient car.

Pros: Reliability, Zoom-Zoom driving experience, rich high-quality interior, available fuel-efficient Skyactiv engine, tight turning radius, low maintenance and repair costs.

Cons: Firm ride, road noise, low seating position, tight interior space, fuel economy for the 2.5L models.

Mazda 3 NHTSA crash tests
Overall Frontal
2011 4 Star 5 Star 2 Star 4 Star
2012 4 Star 5 Star 3 Star 4 Star
2013 4 Star 5 Star 3 Star 4 Star

Safety: The ABS, side and side curtain airbags are standard. Traction control and stability control were optional for 2010, standard from 2011. The the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recognized all 2010-2013 Mazda 3 models except 2010 hatchback with the Top Safety Pick award. See NHTSA crash test results in the table.

Common problems: Tire pressure sensor valve stems can break off due to corrosion; the repair is not very expensive. Tires can become cupped and noisy if not rotated regularly. The welding at the driver's seat frame can fail causing the seat to start 'rocking'; the repair involves replacing the seat frame. The HID headlights could fog up from inside. In models with a manual transmission, premature clutch failure is often reported. Replacing the clutch could cost from $900 to $1600. The issue with the lights flickering at night in the Skyactiv Mazda 3, can be solved by reprogramming of the engine computer with an updated software.

Mazda 3 EPA Fuel Economy: MPG
L/100 km
2011-2013 2.5L, manual 20/28 11.8/8.4
2010 2.5L, manual 21/29 11.2/8.1
2010-2013 2.5L, auto 22/29 10.7/8.1
2010-2013 2.0L, auto 24/33 9.8/7.1
2010-2013 2.0L, manual 25/33 9.4/7.1
2013 2.0L Skyactiv 5-door, manual 27/38 8.7/6.2
2012-2013 2.0L Skyactiv 4-door, manual 27/39 8.7/6.0
2013 2.0L Skyactiv 5-door, auto 28/39 8.4/6.0
2012-2013 2.0L Skyactiv 4-door, auto 28/40 8.4/5.9

Overall: Mazda 3 is a very nimble, stylish reliable small car. The cabin is fairly tight, but the interior quality is among the best in its class. Low maintenance costs is another plus. The firm ride could be a deal breaker; make sure to test drive the Mazda 3 for as long as possible to get the good feel. The 2.5L model is fast and has plenty of power, but it's not very good on gas. The 2.0L Skyactiv is the most fuel-efficient choice. Mechanically, Mazda 3 is a well-built car. It has a good engine, excellent brakes and strong suspension. Unlike the 2004-2005 models, this generation Mazda 3 doesn't have any issues with rust. Among competitors, Toyota Corolla is softer and has a more quiet ride. Honda Civic is a very similar car, but Mazda 3 has a stronger suspension. Mitsubishi Lancer is sporty, but not very fuel-efficient. Ford Focus shares some of the powertrain components with Mazda 3 and is a very similar car.

You may also be interested:

What to look for when buying a used Mazda 3: Check the service records to make sure the vehicle was serviced in regular intervals. Running the history report can help avoid cars restored after an accident. Test all the power options, CD changer, air conditioner and the sunroof. Watch out for uneven tire wear (typically on the inside). During the test drive, watch out for tire noise; cupped tires can make a rambling or humming noise. Avoid the car if you notice a blue smoke from the exhaust. It it's a manual car, make sure to test the clutch very carefully. Read our illustrated used car checklist for more info.
Read more:

How to buy a used car How to buy a used car
step-by-step guide »
Checking transmission How to spot signs of
transmission problems »

Maintenance: Change your engine oil at least every 5,000 miles or 8,000 km. For the 2010 Mazda 3, the 5W-20 is the recommended oil type. All 2011 and newer Mazda 3 models except Mazdaspeed 3 require synthetic 0W-20 oil. If you want your tires to last longer, rotate them at every oil change; if not rotated regularly, rear tires can become cupped and noisy. The cabin filter needs to be replaced at least every 25,000 miles (40,000 km) or two years. The transmission fluid needs to be changed when it becomes dirty. In all, but Skyactiv models, you can check the transmission fluid condition using the transmission dipstick. Read more how to check the transmission fluid condition.

You might also be interested:

2012 Mazda 3 specifications

Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height

180.9 in (4595 mm)
177.4 in (4505 mm)
69.1 in (1755 mm)
57.9 in (1470 mm)
103.9 in (2640 mm)

Seating Capacity:


Base 2.0L:


Skyactiv 2.0L:

2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC I4 with VVT, model MZR
148 hp @ 6500 rpm, 135 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm

2.5-liter, 16-valve DOHC I4 with VVT, model MZR
167 hp @ 6000 rpm, 168 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

2.0-liter, direct-injected, high-compression ratio
16-valve DOHC I4 with VVT, model SKYACTIV-G
155 hp @ 6000 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm

Recommended Fuel:

Regular unleaded

Fuel tank capacity:
MZR 2.5L:

14.5 US gal. (55L)
15.9 US gal. (60L)

Engine oil capacity:
With oil filter change:
MZR 2.0L:
MZR 2.5L:

4.5 US qt. (4.3L)
4.4 US qt. (4.2L)
5.3 US qt. (5.0L)