Mazda 3 2010-2013: problems, fuel economy, driving experience, photos

Updated: April 02, 2020

The sporty 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.

Mazda 3 2012 interior
Mazda 3 2012 interior. Click for a larger photo

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 technology package became available from 2012; the Mazda 3 with a 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine is one of the most fuel-efficient in its class. Of course, Mazda 3 has its downsides. Does this mean that you should pass on this car? What are the reported problems?

Mazda 3 problems: Tire pressure sensor valve stems can break off due to corrosion; the repair is not very expensive.
Rear tires can wear unevenly on the inside and become "cupped" and noisy if not rotated in time. The rumbling noise from the tires may appear after the tire rotation, as cupped tires are more noisy when placed in the front.

Mazda 3 2012 Skyactiv
2012 Mazda 3.

To avoid this problem, tires should be rotated at every oil change. Doing the wheel alignment may also help. The wheel alignment costs from $79 to $129.
A weld spot on the driver's seat frame can fail, causing the seat to become loose and 'rock' back and forth; the repair involves repairing or replacing the seat frame. There was a recall on the issue, check on the NHTSA website.
HID headlights could fog up from the inside. When buying a used Mazda 3, it's best to avoid models with HID headlights as they are expensive to repair.

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In early models with manual transmission, premature clutch failures have been reported by a number of owners. Replacing the clutch could cost from $900 to $1600. One of the signs of a worn out clutch is when it engages closer to the top of the pedal travel.
The issue with the headlights flickering while braking in the Skyactiv Mazda 3 can be resolved by reprogramming the engine computer with an updated software.
Leaking rear shock absorbers and front struts are not uncommon at higher mileage. Replacing rear shock absorbers costs from $130 to $190 per side. Replacing front struts is a it more expensive: $250-$400 per side. If the top mount of a rear shock absorber breaks off, it can be replaced separately. Aftermarket shock mounts are available and they are not very expensive. Front lower control arms may also need to be replaced at higher mileage. Replacing both front control arms costs $480-$620. The wheel alignment might need to be performed after the front struts or control arms are replaced.

Mazda 3 2012 trunk
2012 Mazda 3 trunk

The steel lever that connects the automatic transmission shifter cable to the transmission may rust, causing the vehicle not to start in Park, but start in Neutral. The lever can be replaced or lubricated to solve the problem. The part is not expensive (around $20).
The transmission control module (TCM) may fail, causing the AT light to come on with the code for shift solenoids. A new TCM is expensive, but cheaper aftermarket units are available online. This problem affects a limited number of cars. The TCM is easy to replace, but it's important to verify that the part number is correct.
In Skyactiv models, the airflow sensor can fail causing a no-start. The part is not expensive and the air flow sensor replacement is easy.
The drive belt tensioner in Skyactiv 2.0L engine can fail. Replacing the belt tensioner together with the drive belt will cost $240-$320.
The Skyactiv engine has a direct fuel injection. As in any direct-injected engine, the carbon deposits on the valves and injectors can cause misfiring at higher mileage. Read more about direct fuel injection.
A failed ignition coil can cause the engine to misfire. Replacing an ignition coil is not very expensive.

Engine: The Mazda 3 comes with three engine choices. The base engine is a 2.0L MZR DOHC. It's a simple engine with a conventional fuel injection. It can last over 200,000 miles with regular maintenance.

Mazda 3 2012 Skyactiv 2.0L engine
Mazda 3 2012 Skyactiv 2.0L engine. Click for a larger photo

The 2.5L MZR DOHC is almost the same engine, but with more power.
The 2.0L direct-injected, high-compression Skyactiv-G engine, available from 2012, is much more technologically advanced and fuel-efficient. All three engines are very reliable and require minimum maintenance besides regular oil changes.

Timing belt or Timing chain: The 2.0L and 2.5L MZR, as well as the 2.0L Skyactiv engines have a timing chain; there is no timing belt.

Handling and ride: Mazda 3 is the benchmark for sporty handling and road feel among compact cars. The vehicle holds the road well on twisty roads 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. The ride is on the firm side and some road and tire noises are noticeable. Overall, Mazda 3 is a good choice for driving enthusiasts looking for a small fuel-efficient car.

Pros: Reliability, Zoom-Zoom driving experience, rich 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, tires wear fast if not rotated, fuel economy with the 2.5L engine.

Similar cars:

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
2011-2013 2.5L, auto 22/28 10.7/8.4
2010 2.5L, auto 22/29 10.7/8.1
2011-2013 2.0L, auto 24/32 9.8/7.4
2010 2.0L, auto 24/33 9.8/7.1
2010-2013 2.0L, manual 25/33 9.4/7.1
2012-2013 2.0L Skyactiv manual 26/37 9.0//6.4
2012-2013 2.0L Skyactiv 5-door, auto 28/37 8.4/6.4
2012-2013 2.0L Skyactiv 4-door, auto 28/39 8.4/6.0

Overall: Mazda 3 is a nimble, stylish compact car. The cabin is tight, but the interior quality is among the best in its class. Low maintenance costs is another plus. Its firm ride could be the deal breaker. Among competitors, the Toyota Corolla is softer and has a quieter ride.
The Mazda 3 with a 2.5L engine 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 is not affected by excessive rust issues. As of April 2020, Consumer Reports rates the 2010-2013 Mazda 3 as 'Recommended'.


The Honda Civic is a similar car. Mitsubishi Lancer is sporty, but not very fuel-efficient. Ford Focus shares some of the powertrain components with Mazda 3 and is a similar car.

What to look for when buying a used Mazda 3: Check the service records to make sure the vehicle was serviced in regular intervals. 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 cause a rambling or humming noise. Avoid the car if you notice blue smoke from the exhaust. If it's a manual car, make sure to test the clutch. Read more: How to inspect a used car - illustrated guide.

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. 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.

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 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.

Skyactiv technology: Skyactiv is a collective name for the well-tuned package of technological advances that became available for 2012. Most impressive is the engine design, where better fuel economy is achieved without a hybrid drive or turbocharger.
With higher compression ratio and direct injection, the Skyactiv engine can run on 87 gasoline. Read also: Pros and cons of buying a car with Direct Injection. The Skyactiv transmission is another interesting story. It delivers higher fuel efficiency without sacrificing the driving experience.
The Skyactiv gearbox is based on a traditional automatic transmission, something that is disappearing in many other cars. Another part of the Skyactiv package is a lighter and more rigid body and light-weight chassis.

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2012 Mazda 3 short specifications

Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height

180.9 in (4,595 mm)
177.4 in (4,505 mm)
69.1 in (1,755 mm)
57.9 in (1,470 mm)
103.9 in (2,640 mm)

Seating Capacity:


Base 2.0L:


Skyactiv 2.0L:

2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC I4 with VVT, model MZR
148 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 135 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm

2.5-liter, 16-valve DOHC I4 with VVT, model MZR
167 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 168 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

2.0-liter, direct-injected, high-compression ratio
16-valve DOHC I4 with VVT, model SKYACTIV-G
155 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 4,100 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)

By Staff