Used Car Review

2012 Mazda3: Used Car Review

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Used 2011 MAZDA MAZDA3 i Touring
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author photo by Ron Sessions July 2016

Available as a 4-door sedan or a 5-door hatchback, the 2012 Mazda3 presents a compelling argument that small cars needn't be boring or short on features. The front-wheel-drive compact is the best-selling car in Mazda's lineup. It offers excellent driving dynamics, precise steering and good handling -- unexpected attributes in the segment. The 3 is available with a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter, a new-for-2012 155-hp SKYACTIV 2.0-liter or a 168-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. A limited-production Mazdaspeed3 performance model delivers thrilling performance from a 263-hp 2.3-liter 4-cylinder turbo.

The 2012 Mazda3's controversial smiley-face grille is updated with a stronger-looking chin. Inside are new silver trim accents and instrumentation with white daytime backlighting. The 155-hp SKYACTIV 2.0-liter engine returns just north of 40 miles per gallon, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, when equipped with a new 6-speed automatic transmission. New options include active headlamps and a blind spot monitoring system.

Although the Mazda3's front-end look is a bit unusual, drivers will be pleased at the level of sophistication for the price once they settle into the surprisingly well-kitted, attractive interior and start to enjoy the 3's solid structure, sharp steering and capable body control.

What We Like

Performance of 2.0-liter SKYACTIV and 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; precise handling; SKYACTIV engine fuel economy; manual shifter; interior materials and layout; hatchback versatility; entertainment value of Mazdaspeed3 version

What We Don't

Firm ride over bumps; small navigation screen; i SV base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder lacks zip for merging and passing; mediocre fuel economy of 2.5-liter engine; severe torque steer of Mazda3 under hard acceleration

Fuel Economy & Engine Specs

There are four engine choices for the Mazda3's 2012 model year.

The i SV model keeps the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder used in the 2011 model. It produces 148 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque and is rated by the EPA at 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway with the standard 5-speed manual transmission and 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the optional 5-speed automatic. Regular unleaded fuel is recommended.

The i Sport and i Touring get the new direct-injected SKYACTIV 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Its output jumps to 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. EPA mileage gets a boost, too: Models equipped with the new 6-speed automatic are rated at 28 mpg city/40 mpg hwy, and versions with the new 6-speed manual return 27 mpg city/39 mpg hwy. This engine also uses regular unleaded.

Buyers looking for still more zip should consider the s Sport or s Grand Touring models, which come standard with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. This engine produces 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque and achieves an EPA estimate of 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with the 6-speed manual transmission and 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with the 5-speed automatic. It also uses regular unleaded fuel.

The Mazdaspeed3 takes performance to the pocket-rocket level. Its turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder pumps 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, working solely through a 6-speed manual transmission. The Mazdaspeed3 is EPA-rated at 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. It runs on premium unleaded fuel and offers neither all-wheel drive nor an automatic transmission.

Standard Features & Options

The 2012 Mazda3 is available in i SV, i Sport, i Touring, s Sport, s Grand Touring and Mazdaspeed3 trims.

The i SV is basic transportation. Standard fare includes a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, the smaller 2.0-liter engine, a 5-speed manual gearbox, intermittent wipers, power windows and mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels, a split folding rear seat and an anti-lock braking system. Also included are dual-front, front-seat side and overhead airbags, as well as dynamic stability control with traction control.

The i Sport upgrades to the new SKYACTIV 155-hp 2.0-liter engine, a 6-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, an ambient temperature display, a choice of sedan or hatchback body styles and the option of a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The i Touring brings cruise control, keyless entry, a 6-speaker stereo, a security alarm and 16-in alloy wheels. Options include a 10-speaker upgraded stereo, a 6-speed automatic and a power moonroof.

Moving up to the s Sport trim gives you the 2.5-liter engine with dual exhausts, a 6-speed manual gearbox, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, a trip computer, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and 17-in alloy wheels. Navigation, a security system, auto headlamps, a 5-speed automatic transmission and rain-sensing wipers are optional.

The well-equipped s Grand Touring trim adds a power moonroof, automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a power driver's seat with memory, a 10-speaker premium audio system, heated door mirrors and a choice of sedan or hatchback body styles.

The hatchback-only Mazdaspeed3 comes with the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder turbo, a 6-speed manual transmission, a sport suspension, 225/40 series performance tires on 18-in wheels, auto headlamps, LED tail lamps, self-leveling bi-xenon headlamps and most of the upgrades featured on the Grand Touring trim.


The Mazda3 is the brand's top-selling car, yet recognition among buyers is a fraction of that enjoyed by entries from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Ford and Chevrolet. For this reason, a Mazda can present a relative used-car bargain if you shop around.

For a good idea of the 2012 Mazda3's price range, check out You can also search the Autotrader Classifieds to see which models are for sale in your area.


As of this writing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued no safety recalls for Mazda3 models from 2012.

Recall repairs are required by law, even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed, and if not, they'll fix the car at no charge to you.

Safety Ratings & Warranties

NHTSA gave Mazda3 models from 2012 a 4-star rating overall, with five stars for front impacts and four stars for rollover resistance but only three stars for side-impact protection.

The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback Good ratings for moderate-overlap front impacts, side impacts, roof strength, head restraint and seat performance.

Mazda sold Mazda3 models from 2012 with a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion-perforation warranty and 3 years/36,000 miles of roadside-assistance coverage.

Mazda certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles can't be more than 6 years old or have more than 80,000 miles on the odometer. Every CPO Mazda3 receives a 150-point inspection. Each also receives an additional 1-year/12,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty on top of the remainder of the existing 3-year/36,000-mile coverage and an extension of the vehicle's original 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty to 7 years and 100,000 miles. Also included is an AutoCheck vehicle-history report and 24-hour roadside assistance.

Other Cars to Consider

2012 Toyota Corolla -- About the only thing the Corolla has in common with the Mazda3 is its compact size. While the Mazda is sporty and fun to drive, the Corolla sedan is conservatively styled and emphasizes ride over handling. For 2012, the only engine choice is a 132-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder. For a bit more sport and cargo versatility, you should check out the Corolla Matrix wagon powered by the 158-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. It's hard to go wrong with a Corolla from a reliability or resale standpoint, though.

2012 Honda Civic -- Slower, noisier and cheaper-looking inside than the 2011 model, the all-new 2012 Civic continues to be available as a 4-door sedan or a 2-door coupe, but not as a hatchback. But the Civic still comes closest to matching the fun-to-drive appeal of the Mazda3. The base model's 140-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder delivers good fuel economy, while the 201-hp 2.0-liter-powered Si coupe and sedan cater to enthusiasts. The Civic is also available as a gas-electric hybrid.

Autotrader's Advice

The Mazda3 is one of the best-kept secrets on used-car lots. It's fun to drive, nicely outfitted inside and channels a lot of the goodness that makes the Miata such a joy behind the wheel, but not many people know about it. We recommend either the i Sport or i Touring with the peppy, fuel-efficient SKYACTIV 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or the even more responsive s Sport or s Grand Touring trim to get the 2.5-liter engine.

If you've ever wanted to try a stick-shift everyday car, you should try the Mazda3, as its manual gearboxes (5- or 6-speed) are among the best-shifting in the business. Look for a low-mileage example that's been loved and maintained, and check out Mazda CPO vehicles. Although none were announced at the time of this writing, you should always ask the dealer about any possible safety recalls on the vehicle that you're buying.

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Used 2011 MAZDA MAZDA3 i Touring
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Mazda3: Used Car Review - Autotrader