Buying a used Mazda: models, ratings, common problems

What to consider when buying a used Mazda

Mazda is the fifth largest Japanese car manufacturer, although most of its sales come from the North American market. Designed with the “Zoom-Zoom” philosophy in mind, all recent Mazda vehicles are driver-oriented and offer precise sporty handling.2012 Mazda 3 sedan Mazda is known for its engineering ingenuity. It’s the only company that mass-produced a car with a rotary engine. The breakthrough for Mazda came in the shape of the Skyactiv technology package that s one of the best in the industry.
Skyactiv: Skyactiv is a marketing name for a number of technological improvements to the engine, transmission, chassis and body engineering. All these improvements offer significant gains in fuel economy without sacrificing in reliability, safety or driving experience.  
Partnership with Ford: Until 2010, Mazda partnered with Ford and many of its vehicles were produced by joint efforts. For example, Mazda Tribute was a mechanical twin of Ford Escape. The CX-9 shared its platform and V6 engine with Ford Edge.
Cars that were introduced after 2010 (CX-5, CX-3, 2014-plus Mazda 3 and 2014-plus Mazda 6) are designed and built by Mazda and are very different from vehicles of the Ford-Mazda partnership era.
Driving experience: Mazda prides itself on providing sporty driving experience and responsive handling in all of its vehicles, including even the Mazda 5 minivan and the CX-9 large seven-seater. On the flip side, that means that almost all Mazda vehicles have a firm ride and a fair amount of road noise.
Service and Repairs: Most of Mazda products can be serviced at any repair shop. The exception is the Mazda RX8, powered by a rotary engine that is very different in terms of diagnostic and repair.
Ownership costs: For most of  recent Mazda products, ownership costs are lower than average. This is due to an improvement in quality and use of synthetic oils. The fuel-efficient Skyactiv package has reduced fuel and maintenance costs even further.
Fuel Economy: scroll down for fuel economy ratings of different Mazda models
Reliability: With few exceptions, the majority of today’s Mazda products offer above-average quality and reliability. Ratings and trouble spots of various models are mentioned below. Let’s start with the Mazda 2:

2011-2014 Mazda 2

Mazda 2 2014

2014 Mazda 2

Mazda 2 is a sporty fuel-efficient sub-compact. This cute little car has arrived to North America for 2011. Mazda 2 comes as a four-door hatchback. It has a small 1.5L 100-hp engine and is available with a manual or automatic transmission. Mazda 2 shares its platform with Ford Fiesta and competes with Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Aveo. True to Mazda sporty image, the 2 is very nimble and handles surprisingly well for a car of this size. The ride is firm and a bit noisy. Inside, Mazda 2 offers decent headroom and legroom in the front and even the rear seat space is reasonable.  Antilock brakes and stability control are standard. Crash test results are mixed. See IIHS Mazda 2 ratings.
Consumer Reports rates the 2011 Mazda 2 as ‘Average” for predicted used car reliability.

Mazda 2 2014

2014 Mazda 2

Common complaints include minor suspension and steering issues as well as various squeaks and rattles. Overall, maintenance and repair costs are lower than average. Mazda 2 does not have a timing belt. The 1.5L engine comes with a maintenance-free timing chain. Fuel economy is another plus: the EPA rates the 2011-2014 Mazda 2 automatic at 27-28 MPG city and 33-34 MPG highway. All-in-all it’s a fun little city car that will not be a burden on your wallet. The 2011-2014 Mazda 2 hasn’t benefited from the Skyactiv technology and it has been discontinued in the US and Canada for 2015. However, our research revealed that the 2016 Toyota Yaris sedan sold in Canada is a rebadged Mazda 2 with a Skyactiv 1.5L engine.

2010-2013 Mazda 3 (second generation)

2012 Mazda 3 sedan

2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv

This car is a hidden gem on the used car market. You can choose between a sedan or hatchback and manual or automatic transmission. The second generation Mazda 3 offers a rich interior and excellent driving experience. The base 148-hp  2.0L engine is carried over from the previous generation. The 2.5L engine offers more power (167 horsepower)  and better acceleration. Of course, the 155-hp 2.0L Skyactiv engine available from 2012 is by far the best choice.  You can recognize the Skyactiv models by blue bezels around the main projectors inside the headlights.  The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv automatic gets class-leading 28 MPG city, 40 MPG highway.

Mazda 3 2013

2013 Mazda 3

In the government crash tests, the 2011-2013 Mazda 3 scored well in the frontal impact (5 stars out of 5), however the 2011 Mazda 3 got only 2 stars in the side-impact tests. The 2012 and 2013 models fared better with 3 stars for the side-impact protection. Antilock brakes are standard. Dynamic Stability Control is standard in all but the base 2010 Mazda 3i 4-door model. The second-generation Mazda 3 is very reliable and offers better corrosion protection than the previous generation. Common problems include HID headlights (in 2.5L and Mazdaspeed 3 models) and minor driveability issues. Many owners complain about noisy tires, but this issue can be prevented by rotating tires more frequently. Check Mazda tech tips at the end of the article.

2014-plus Mazda 3 (third generation)

Mazda 3

2014 Mazda 3

The third-generation Mazda 3 comes as a sedan or hatchback, with the 155-hp Skyactiv 2.0L or 184-hp Skyactiv 2.5L engine. Transmission choices include a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual gearbox. Thanks to the Skyactiv technology, Mazda 3 is one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market. The 2014 Mazda 3 4-door 2.0-liter automatic is rated at 30/41 MPG. In line with Zoom-Zoom philosophy, Mazda 3 offers secure, sporty handling and responsive steering. The interior quality is among the best in the class. Supportive seats and small thick-rimmed steering wheel highlight the sporty nature of the car.  The perfect 5-star overall safety rating in the government crash tests is another plus. Mechanically, Mazda 3 is well put together, with independent rear suspension and standard rear disc brakes. The Skyactiv engine requires minimum maintenance and is proven to be reliable. It has a timing chain instead of a timing belt and long-lasting spark plugs.

Mazda 3 2015

2015 Mazda 3

The Skyactiv automatic transmission allows for the conventional shift feel that many drivers have gotten used to. This is by far the better shift feel compared to the “rubber-band” acceleration of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) or harsh slow-speed shifting of the dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Mazda 3 predicted reliability is well above average. Common complaints include minor Bluetooth and infotainment system concerns. Many of the issues can be addressed by updating the Mazda Connect operating system, which can be done at your Mazda dealer. See the Resources section below for more information.

2009-2013 Mazda 6 (second generation)

2011 Mazda 6

2011 Mazda 6

The second-generation Mazda 6 is a large family sedan that comes with the 170-hp 2.5L 4-cylinder or 272-hp 3.7L V6 engine. Interestingly, the North American Mazda 6 is 5 inches longer and almost 2 inches wider than the European version. The interior is roomy, but the material quality could be better. Some owners mentioned that front seats are not very comfortable on long trips. The 4-cylinder 2011 Mazda 6 is rated at 22/31 MPG. The V6 Mazda 6 is fast, but thirsty (18/27 MPG).  The handling is very good, especially with the heavier V6, but the ride is firm.  Safety ratings are mixed. The 2009-2010 Mazda 6 scored well in the crash tests, however, as the NHTSA introduced more stringent test for 2011, the frontal crash protection got only 3 stars.

2013 Mazda 6

2013 Mazda 6

Consumer Reports rates the Mazda 6 reliability above average. What are the common problems? The front brakes are known to wear fast. Some minor electrical issues with smart keys, door locks and other equipment are not uncommon. Exhaust leaks are often reported, but the repair is simple and inexpensive. Both, the 4-cylinder and V6 engines use a maintenance-free timing chain and are known to last long with regular oil changes.

2014-plus Mazda 6 (third generation)

Mazda 6 2016

2016 Mazda 6

The third-generation Mazda 6 is the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered family sedan. The 2015 Mazda 6 with i-ELOOP package (regenerative braking) is rated at 28/40 MPG city/highway. Only hybrids and diesel-powered cars offer better fuel economy. Without the i-ELOOP package, Mazda 6 gets 26 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. As you would expect, Mazda 6 is a sporty car and handles extremely well, however as a trade-off, the ride is firm and some road/wind noise is present. Since Mazda ended its partnership with Ford, it no longer has a V6 engine. An optional V6 would have been a perfect addition for this car. For now, the only available engine is the 184-hp Skyactiv direct-injected 2.5L inline-4. Transmission choices include a conventional 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. The interior quality is close to that of luxury cars. The level of safety and technology features is also impressive, although most of high-tech gadgets are available only in the top-of-the-line GT trim level.  The adaptive cruise control (MRCC) can automatically maintain the safe distance from the car in front.

Mazda 6 2016 interior

2016 Mazda 6

The front obstruction warning (FOW) detects vehicles or obstacles in front and sounds an alarm and displays a visual alert if the system calculates that there is a risk of collision. The Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) can prime or actually apply brakes at slow speeds if the car in front stops or slows down. Goverment crash test scores vary between 4 and 5 stars. The 2014-plus Mazda 6 is reliable and is not very expensive to service. Common complaints include minor issues with infotainment system, navigation and Bluetooth, as well as short life of the OEM tires. The 2014 and 2015 Mazda 6 are equipped with Tom Tom navigation. Some navigation system glitches can be resolved by updating the Tom Tom software, see the Resources section below.

Mazda CX-7 2007-2012

2012 Mazda CX-7

2012 Mazda CX-7  2.5L

The sharp-looking CX-7 is a sporty 5-seater SUV. Until 2010, it was only available with the 2.3L turbocharged engine borrowed from Mazdaspeed 3. This engine provided brisk acceleration and plenty of passing power, however, its reliability was worse than average. Fuel economy wasn’t good either, the 2007 AWD Mazda CX-7 turbo is rated at 16/22 MPG. For these reasons, we recommend to avoid the turbo-charged AWD CX-7 altogether. Fortunately, for 2010 Mazda added the non-turbo 161-hp 2.5L 4-cylinder engine to the front-wheel drive CX-7 models. This engine is known for its reliability and longevity. The 2.5L front-wheel drive Mazda CX-7 (i SV and i Sport trim levels) offers better fuel economy (20/28 MPG city/highway) and durability, making the 2.5L CX-7 a worthy contender on the used car market.

2011 Mazda CX-7

2011 Mazda CX-7

The CX-7 interior is inline with its sporty styling, however, the dash and the door trims are made out of hard plastic. The rear seats fold down almost flat for extra cargo space. In the IIHS crash tests, the CX-7 received “Good” overall score. The 2010-2012 2.5L i SV and i Sport models come with standard antilock brakes and stability control. Common complaints for the 2.5L non-turbo models include front end issues and limited visibility in rear corners.

Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5 2016

Mazda CX-5 2016

The CX-5 came for 2013 model year as a replacement for the CX-7. From the start, the CX-5 aided by the Skyactiv technology proved to be a great success. It was the best selling Mazda vehicle in the US in 2015. The formula is very simple: the class-leading fuel economy, sporty handling, perfect size, sleek design and refined interior.  The CX-5 is available as a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. For the 2013, only the 155-hp 2.0L Skyactiv engine was available. The 184-hp 2.5L Skyactiv inline-4 was added for 2014. Mazda CX-5 competes with Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue and other small SUVs. In this class, Mazda CX-5 offers the best combination of driving experience and fuel economy. The 2015 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv 2.0L with an automatic transmission is rated at 26/32 MPG city/highway or 31 MPG combined.

2016 Mazda CX-5

2016 Mazda CX-5

Unlike Nissan Rogue or  Honda CR-V that employ a continuously variable transmission (CVT), Mazda CX-5 uses a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission that offers better shift feel and acceleration. A 6-speed manual gearbox is also available in FWD models. The CX-5 interior looks almost BMW-like, with stylish simple climate controls and the optional infotainment system controller knob placed behind the gear shifter. The CX-5 top of the line GT trim level offers variety of optional features, including the rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and adaptive front lighting. Crash test scores varied between 4 and 5 stars. Common complaints include minor squeaks and rattles, as well as glitches of the infotainment system. Consumer Reports has awarded the used Mazda CX-5 with ‘Good Bet’ rating.

2007-2015 Mazda CX-9

Mazda CX-9 2014

2014 Mazda CX-9

The CX-9 is a large sporty seven-seater SUV. It comes with a strong 3.5L or 3.7L V6 and an automatic transmission. An all-wheel drive is optional. True to the Zoom-Zoom spirit, the CX-9 offers excellent driving experience. It holds the road well and  feels secure in emergency maneuvers. The ride is firm, but quiet and comfortable. Overall, it’s one of the few large SUVs that are enjoyable to drive. The interior is spacious and nicely-finished. The second-row seats fold, recline and slide back and forth. The third-row seats are small and can be folded down for more cargo room. When the third-row seats are up, the cargo space behind them is fairly small, but there is a large cargo bin under the cargo floor. The power tailgate is available as an option. The 273-hp 3.7L V6 engine available in 2008-plus models is one of the most powerful in its class. As a trade-off, the fuel economy suffers.

Mazda CX-9 2014 interior

Mazda CX-9 2014

The 2015 CX-9 gets 16 MPG city,  22 MPG highway, 21 MPG combined. Crash test scores are mixed. The 2007-2010 CX-9 scored well, however, as the NHTSA introduced more stringent testing for 2011, the 2013-2015 CX-9 got 3 stars for the frontal and 5 stars for the side protection. The overall reliability is not bad, but there are a few trouble spots. Many owners mentioned front-end and AWD system problems. In response, in July of 2015, the NHTSA issued a recall to replace both front lower control arms (parts of the front suspension). Mazda has also extended the warranty for the power transfer unit (component of the AWD system)  for certain models. Researching the US market, we noticed that the CX-9 depreciates a lot in the first 5 years of ownership, after that it holds its value steady.

Mazda 5

Mazda 5 2008

2006-2010 Mazda 5

Mazda 5 is the most fuel-efficient six-seater minivan. It’s a small minivan, much smaller than Honda Odyssey or Dodge Caravan. One of the Mazda 5 limitations is that the driver’s seat doesn’t slide back far enough to provide sufficient legroom for tall drivers. In addition, it’s only available with a 4-cylinder engine, so it’s mostly suitable as a city people-mover. The first generation 2006-2010 Mazda 5 wasn’t very reliable. The weak front and rear suspension and premature wear of the rear tires are among the most common complaints. The 157-hp 2.3L 4-cylinder engine is mostly trouble-free and provides enough power for daily driving. The 2010 Mazda 5 automatic is rated at 21/27 MPG city/highway.

Mazda 5 2013

2012-2015 Mazda 5

The second-generation 2012-2015 Mazda 5 is a much better vehicle. It comes with the 2.5L 4-cylinder engine and offers slightly better fuel economy. The 2012 Mazda 5 automatic gets 21 MPG city, 28 MPG highway, which is by far the best gas mileage you can get in a minivan. The 2012-2015 Mazda 5 is also much more reliable. Ownership costs are lower than average too. The second-generation Mazda 5 feels very nimble and secure in turns, with well-balanced precise steering. The sliding rear doors provide easy access to the second row. The third-row seats are small and can be folded down for extra space. The cargo space behind the third-row seats is only good for a couple of bags. For this reason, many Mazda 5 owners opt for a rooftop cargo box that can be secured to the roof rails.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda Miata 2011 (NC)

Mazda Miata 2011

This little country road explorer holds the record of the best-selling two-seat sports car in the world. Inspired by the British sports cars of the 50s, the MX-5 Miata is a small lightweight rear-wheel drive roadster with a front-placed 4-cylinder engine. The first generation Miata with retractable headlights was introduced for 1989. You still can find one of those toy cars on the used market, but they are not cheap; the average price is around $5K. The second generation 1998-2005 Miata featured the rare 2004-2005 Mazdaspeed MX-5 with a 178-hp turbocharged engine. The widely-available third generation continued the tradition. The 2006-2015 MX-5 comes as a soft-top or hard-top two-seat convertible. The small 170-hp 2.0L engine is placed just behind the front axle, making the MX-5 a near-perfectly balanced car. The front/rear weight distribution is at 52/48.  Transmission choices include 5- or 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.

2011 Mazda MX-5

2011 Mazda MX-5

The interior is simple and mostly-free of high-tech gadgets, keeping the MX-5 a pure driver’s car. The trunk is very small (5.3 cu. ft.), limiting the MX-5 to a second-car role. The MX-5 excels with its driving experience. Take this little toy for a spin around the block and it will bring a smile to your face. It’s not super fast, but you can push it to the limits and still be in control.  The short-throw manual shifter is another MX-5 trademark. The MX-5 is the most reliable and affordable sports car on the market. It’s also good on gas. The 2015 automatic MX-5 gets 26 MPG combined (21/28 MPG city/highway). The 2016 redesign brought the more efficient Skyactiv 2.0L engine and controversial styling. What’s interesting, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a restyled Mazda MX-5 powered by the Fiat turbocharged 1.4L engine.

2004-2011 Mazda RX-8

Mazda RX 8

2004 Mazda RX-8

This beauty is one of the best-handling cars ever built. Thanks to the small rotary engine placed behind the front wheels and the rear wheel drive, the RX-8 offers a perfect 50/50 front to rear weight distribution. This is the formula for the most exciting driving experience, especially with a manual transmission. The rotary engine doesn’t have much torque, but you can rev it up to 9000 rpm, and it sounds terrific. With a manual transmission, we were able to reach close to 60 mph in the second gear. The interior is very stylish and the rear suicide doors add some practicality. However, here is what any potential RX-8 buyer should consider: The 232-hp 1.3L rotary engine is the trickiest part of this car (see the photo below).

Mazda RX-8 interior

2004 Mazda RX-8

The rotary engine doesn’t have cylinders and pistons, so the compression is the key factor for this engine to work. To achieve the necessary compression, the rotor seals must be in the perfect shape and well oiled.
That is why, for example,  if the engine shut-down too soon after started cold, it may flood and the gasoline may wash off the oil from the seals. A flooded rotary engine might be difficult to restart. The same thing can happen if the battery is not fully charged or if the spark plugs or coils are not in top shape. Sounds complicated? That’s the kind of knowledge any RX-8 owner should have in order to get the most of this car. It takes many tricks to keep the rotary engine running. If you speak to some RX-8 owners, many had their engines replaced and some have done it more than once.

Mazda RX-8 rotary engine

Mazda RX-8 rotary engine

In either case, this car will need a lot of technical knowledge, care and money to keep it on the road. The fuel economy is another drawback: the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette with the 6.2L V8 gets better gas mileage (16/26 MPG) than the 1.3L 2008 RX-8 (16/22 MPG).
Overall, if you are looking for a sporty daily driver, the RX-8 is not the best choice. What are the RX-8 common problems? Faulty ignition coils and worn spark plugs are known to cause the engine flooding and other issues. The low engine compression is the primary reason for the engine replacement. One of the tell-tale signs of low compression is the  hard start and long cranking after a few minutes since the fully warmed-up engine has been shut down. The catalytic converter and the climate control module are also known to go bad; either part is quite expensive.

Tech tips:

In Mazda 5 and the 2010-2013 Mazda 3, more frequent tire rotation will help your tires last longer. Our research shows that the OEM tires in some Mazda cars (Mazda 5, 2014 Mazda 6) are known to wear prematurely.  As a solution, some Mazda owners opt for better tires. Recently, we spoke to Mazda 3 and Mazda CX-5 owners and both reported much quieter ride and longer tire life after switching to Michelin premium all-season tires.
For Mazda RX8: before buying, do your homework and learn about the best ways to run the rotary engine. It’s a very different motor from anything else on the market.
If you recently bought a used Mazda, check for recalls, there were several safety recalls for different Mazda models. See the Resources section below.
Timing belt or chain? Last Mazda models in North America equipped with the timing belt were the Protege and early Mazda Tribute with the 2.0L engine. All newer Mazda vehicles in the US have a timing chain.

Fuel Economy

Mazda 2: 
2012 1.5L auto: 28/34 MPG (8.4/6.9 L/100km)
Mazda 3 (first generation):
2009 2.0L auto: 22/30 MPG (10.7/7.8 L/100km)
2009 2.3L auto: 22/28 (10.7/8.4 L/100km)
Mazda 3 (second generation):
2012 2.0L auto: 24/33 MPG (9.8/7.1 L/100km)
2012 2.5L auto: 22/29 MPG (10.7/8.1 L/100km)
2012 2.0L Skyactiv auto: 28/40 MPG (8.4/5.9 L/100km)
Mazda 3 (third generation):
2014 2.0L Skyactiv auto: 30/41 MPG (7.8/5.7 L/100km)
2014 2.5L Skyactiv auto: 28/39 MPG (8.4/6.0 L/100km)
Mazda 6 (second generation): 
2012 2.5L auto: 22/31 MPG (10.7/7.6 L/100km)
2012 3.7L V6 auto: 18/27 MPG (13.1/8.7 L/100km)
Mazda 6 (third generation):
2014 2.5L Skyactiv auto with i-ELOOP package: 28/40 MPG (8.4/5.9 L/100km)
2014 2.5L Skyactiv auto: 26/38 MPG (9.0/6.2 L/100km)
CX-7:
2012 2.3L turbo 4WD auto: 17/21 MPG (13.8/11.2 L/100km)
2012 2.5L 2WD auto: 20/27 MPG (11.8/8.7 L/100km)
CX-5:
2014 2.0L 2WD auto: 26/32 MPG (9.0/7.4 L/100km)
2014 2.0L 4WD auto: 25/31 MPG (9.4/7.6 L/100km)
2014 2.5L 4WD auto: 24/30 MPG (9.8/7.8 L/100km)
CX-9:
2012 3.7L V6 2WD auto: 17/24 MPG (13.8/9.8 L/100km)
2012 3.7L V6 4WD auto: 16/22 MPG (14.7/10.7 L/100km)
Mazda 5 (first generation):
2010 2.3L auto: 21/27 MPG (11.2/8.7 L/100km)
Mazda 5 (second generation):
2013 2.5L auto: 21/28 MPG (11.2/8.4 L/100km)
MX-5:
2010  2.0L auto: 21/28 MPG (11.2/8.4 L/100km)
RX-8:
2010 1.3L rotary auto: 16/23 MPG (14.7/10.2 L/100km)

Mazda photos

Mazda 5 2006

2006-2010 Mazda 5

Mazda 6 2004

2004 Mazda 6

2014 Mazda CX-5

2014 Mazda CX-5

2011 Mazdaspeed 3

2011 Mazdaspeed 3

Mazdaspeed 3

2011 Mazdaspeed 3

2011 Mazda MX-5

2011 Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 NC

Mazda MX-5 3-gen (NC)

2014 Mazda 3

2014 Mazda 3

Mazda RX-8

Mazda RX-8

2011 Mazda Tribute

2011 Mazda Tribute

2016 Mazda MX-5

2016 Mazda MX-5

2017 Fiat 124 Spider

2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Resources

My Mazda Owners portal. Mazda USA. Check for recalls, download and owner’s manual, video guides, demos, Mazda mobile app, accessories and more.
Mazda handsfree and Mazda Connect Support – Bluetooth phone compatibility and pairing, Mazda Connect issues.
Navigation by Tom Tom – download software updates and maps. Instructions, videos, voice recognition help.
Mazda Navigation Map Updates – for models with DVD-based navigation systems.
Mazda Connect Navigation map updates and extras – Map updates for 2014+ Mazda models with Mazda Connect infotainment system.
Search for Recalls at NHTSA

By TestingAutos editors. Photo Credit: Mazda, TestingAutos

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