20 years of the Mazda 3: This is what we thought in 2003

20 years of the Mazda 3: This is what we thought in 2003

Okay, let’s talk about that issue 323. Do you remember what the last edition looked like without research? One tip: Fastbreak. The chance to vividly remember the first Mazda 3 is much greater than its predecessor. The new name, modeled on the successor to the 626 Mazda 6 that came a year ago, really meant a lot of news around here. The Model 3 looked more modern in every way than the 323. In fact, to this day, this original 3 is a fairly modern looking car, especially in the beautiful colour. You can optionally enhance the appearance by choosing the higher active version. This resulted in a unique front and rear bumper, but also a special grille, larger wheels, a roof spoiler, side sills, xenon headlights, and yes, LED taillights. In 2003!

As an “active” car, the first Mazda 3 seemed thicker than the standard model. Notice the LED taillights!

In the fall of 2003, the Dutch press was invited for the first time to get acquainted with the Mazda 3. The result clearly shows that it took some time to get used to the newcomer. “After all, here is a car with its own face. The body’s curves are almost sensual, the No. 3 has a noticeably bulbous nose, and like its bigger brother, it is the taillights that draw attention. At first glance the No. 3 looks big. Mind you, it will have to compete with Peugeot 307, Opel Astra, Volkswagen Golf, and Ford Focus.


This focus was important, because the Mazda 3 shared its platform with it. You could even say it’s the opposite, because this is about the second generation Focus platform. That car only came in 2004, after the Mazda. Engines are also shared, but are originally from Mazda and are considered very reliable. When launched, the Mazda3 was available with a 105bhp 1.6 and a 150bhp 2.0, and we drove both. Version 1.6 was seen as powerful enough, while version 2.0 was seen as quite fast. “With 150 horsepower, almost giving the three wings, you really are one of the fastest users of the road,” we wrote. It clearly shows how standards have changed in this area, because nowadays we consider a 0-100 time of around 9 seconds to be good at most.

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In addition to the engines, we were also pleased with the Mazda 3’s driving behavior. We described the chassis as solid, but praised the good cornering behavior. Steering was also well received, although there was occasionally some noise coming from the steering system. The noise pollution did not stop there: the structure turned out to be very noisy. Was there anything else to complain about? Well, the interior was described at the time as very dark and very “Italian”, partly due to the ducted gauges and round ventilation grilles. Looking back, we think the dashboard is nice and modern, thanks to the almost all black finish (instead of grey) and the nice big buttons. Taste changes over the years, so to speak.


Mazda 3 2003 first generation

The sedan (left) had a completely different nose than the hatchback. Note the hood, grille and headlights. This is the facelifted Mazda 3, from after 2006.

We can’t talk about the Mazda 3 without mentioning the No. 3 sedan. In 2023, this Mazda is one of the last compact midsize cars you can still get with four doors, and it’s also one of the few sedans in this segment that’s pleasing to the eye. truly. In fact this has remained unchanged since 2003. Even the first generation Mazda 3 was already available as a sedan, also in the Netherlands, with a harmonious and even quite sporty appearance. The hatchback was and still is more popular, of course, but the sedan still generates a fair number of orders for Mazda. Recording unexpectedly: Leave that to Mazda.

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