2004 Mazda3 Sport GT
2004 Mazda3 Sport GT. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge
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Mazda 3 Reviews

By Chris Chase

“Style on a budget.”

It could be a headline straight from the cover of some fashion magazine, but for small car shoppers, the same phrase defined the 2004 Mazda3 quite nicely. Finally, here was a terrific-looking car that was also practical, affordable and fun-to-drive.

The Mazda3 replaced the Protege as Mazda’s entry-level model in late 2003. The Protege was a fun little car, and the 3 carried on that tradition while adding healthy doses of slick styling and smooth refinement. Young, image-conscious drivers flocked to the 3: it was a car that just about everyone looked good in.

Not long after the car was introduced, it was so popular that you were in the minority if you didn’t know someone who owned one! (I know about a dozen people who own, or have owned one). In 2006, according to one source, the Mazda3 was the second-best selling car in Canada.

In this country, the first-generation Mazda3 sedan was sold in three trims: GX, GS, and GT. The first two used a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 148 horsepower, while the GT got a 2.3-litre engine good for 160 horsepower. The Mazda3 Sport (aka, hatchback) was sold in GS and GT trim only, but both used the larger engine. A five-speed manual was the standard transmission in all cars, and a four-speed automatic transmission was optional with either engine. In 2006, a five-speed auto became the option in 2.3-litre models.

2004 Mazda3 Sport GT
2004 Mazda3 Sport GT. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

In 2006, the 2.0-litre got variable valve timing (previously only used on the larger engine), which boosted horsepower to 150. 2007 models got a few cosmetic updates inside and out, but the most important change was the addition of standard front-seat side airbags, and side curtain airbags, neither of which were available, even as an option, in previous years.

Halfway through the 2008 model year, Mazda added a basic GX model to the Sport hatchback line-up; these were sold as 2008.5 models with pricing and options that more or less mirrored those of the GX sedan including the smaller 2.0-litre engine.

2004 Mazda3 Sport GT
2004 Mazda3 Sport GT. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

A turbocharged version of the Mazda3 Sport – the MazdaSpeed3 – was introduced in 2007, but that car will be covered in a separate review.

In 2004, fuel consumption was average for the class: 8.7 L/100 km (city) and 6.5 L/100 km (highway) for a 2.0-litre model with manual transmission. The thirstiest powertrain was the 2.3-litre/automatic combo, which was rated at 9.8/7.5 L/100 km (city/highway).

The addition of variable valve timing in 2006 helped bring the 2.0-litre’s (with manual transmission) ratings down to 8.4/6.1 (city/highway), while the also-new 2.3-litre/five-speed auto combo’s consumption dropped to 9.5/6.9 (city/highway).

The 3’s reliability has been good, but the car has not proven as trouble-free as some of its Japanese competitors.

On the minor problem side of the ledger, the radio display is a common trouble spot; when it goes, it will either show jibberish, or nothing at all.

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