Even as my Protege5 was disintegrating before my eyes, I found myself falling for another Mazda.
I had convinced myself that surely, for Mazda to remain a going concern, they must have solved their rust problems by the time the Mazda 3 was introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model.
I didn’t set out to buy another Mazda, but after several months of shopping cars in this class, nothing else really appealed to me. In the spring of 2007, I saw an ad in the paper for a hail damage sale at Luther Mazda in Brooklyn Park, MN. They had a list of cars that had been damaged by a recent storm. I had seen these sorts of ads before and assumed it was just another scam to draw in the gullible, but this ad was quite specific. It listed the model, color, transmission, and such; enough detail to sound plausible. They claimed all of the dents had been repaired but they couldn’t sell them as new.
This was about the time that Paintless Dent Repair started to become a thing. You could go and get trained, buy your tools and then set up a mobile PDR shop servicing dealers and owners alike. I headed over to the Mazda dealer during lunch hour to check out their inventory. They had a couple of Mazda 3 hatchbacks that interested me, one a blue-green and then a purple number. My salesman du jour explained the repairs they had done to both cars, I couldn’t see any damage. He pointed out one little dent in the aluminum roof strip on the purple one that they couldn’t remove. Apparently PDR doesn’t work on that sort of dent. The asking price was a fair amount below dealer invoice and I was hooked. Both of the Mazdas were equipped pretty much the same, 5 speed manual, cloth interior, no options. I just needed to decide on a color, both looked great.
I ended up settling on the purple car, it was a fairly rare color in Minnesota, which is sort of surprising when you think about it. When I drove it to work the first day, I got a lot a comments about my Viking devotion. While I’m a casual fan of the Vikes, I thought I could get more mileage out of the story by claiming a different inspiration for my choice of color.
Sheb Wooley’s 1958 novelty hit, Purple People Eater. Which, to be honest, all I knew of it was the title.
The car was a bit roomier than the Protege5 it replaced. The Mazda 3 was one of the first to use Ford’s C1 global platform, which eventually came to underpin a slew of Volvos and Fords. I had actually test driven a Focus around this time, but for some reason, Ford had kept the aging C170 platform for the 2007 refresh of the North American Focus, instead of shifting to the C1 as was done for the European version. I liked the Focus, but the idea that Ford had withheld the latest sort of turned me off. We would cross paths again with the C1 when we bought our 2012 Volvo C30, but that’s another story.
I found the Mazda 3 design to have a distinctly European flavor. I had rented an Opel Astra in Italy just a few months earlier and really liked the look. I could see a lot of the Astra in the Mazda, especially around the hatch and the way the roof sloped back to meet it. Both cars were launched around the same time, so I’m sure it’s just one of those things that happens frequently in car design. I do like those wheels better than the fussy Mazda alloys though.
I also got a strong French vibe from the Mazda. Although the Renault Clio shown here came a bit later, it did predate my 2007 purchase, so maybe it was just a subliminal thing. In any event, I really liked how Mazda and Renault handled the trailing edge of the rear door, very tasteful. Mazda has always hit above their weight, design-wise anyway. A Car and Driver review noted that chief designer Hideki Suzuki cited the Peugeot 307 as an influence, so maybe that was it.
The car was reliable over the course of almost 5 years of ownership. I think oil changes and a set of tires were about all I spent on maintenance. My memory is that it was a bit more sedate than the Protege5 that preceded it, not quite as lively. With the 2.3 L making about 160 hp, I had no trouble keeping up with urban traffic in the Twin Cities, but it didn’t feel quite as nimble.
The interior was virtually indestructible with all of the hard plastic surfaces, not that I minded since I was still hauling kids and their gear on a daily basis. Mazda had switched from the black on white instruments to orange on black, not an improvement in my view. Overall though, the interior worked pretty well. I remember going to REI to buy two 24″ bikes for my daughters and I managed to both in the rear hatch.
I had no real complaints with the car until the very end when I spotted a bit of rust on the tailgate at the edge of the window. I tried to find a picture of similar rust on the internet but no luck, so maybe it was a fluke. I did, however, find plenty of examples of rusting wheel wells, so obviously Mazda hadn’t solved this issue yet.
The Mazda3 was a good, if not exciting car. Had I wanted excitement, I should have bought the Mazdaspeed3. Alas, none of them were showing any hail damage when I went shopping. This remains my only purple car, it’s still not a color that one often sees on dealer lots. We ended up trading ours for a 2012 Volvo C30, getting a pretty decent price for it and thus avoiding the hassle of listing it privately.