Is a Mazda 3 a Good First Car? (8 Solid Reasons to Get One)

The Mazda 3 is a solid choice for a first car as it is an incredibly safe compact vehicle and is nimble around town.

Knowing the qualities it possesses will make you want it even more.

mazda 3 good first car

8 Qualities That Make the Mazda 3 a Superb First Car

#1 Sprightly Yet Efficient Engine

The fuel economy in the Mazda 3 is not class-leading, but it has consistently placed near the top.

Mazda 3 can achieve mid-20s mpg to mid-30s mpg in combined city/highway driving depending on the model year and trim.

Subcompacts and compacts are ideal for new drivers on a modest budget because of the savings at the pump.

 Fuel Economy
Hyundai Elantra37 mpg combined
Kia Forte35 mpg combined
Toyota Yaris35 mpg combined
Honda Civic33 mpg combined
Toyota Corolla33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Jetta33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Golf32 mpg combined
Mazda Mazda 331 mpg combined
MINI Cooper31 mpg combined
Volkswagen Beetle29 mpg combined
Range Rover18 mpg combined
Mazda 3 vs. other cars in fuel consumption.

Note that the fuel economy varies between model years and trims – the 2014 to 2016 Mazda 3 base trim (2.0L) can achieve 34 mpg combined.

(See the Mazda 3 model years comparison later in the post.)

If fuel efficiency is your top priority, include the Honda Civic, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Elantra, VW Jetta, and VW Golf on your shortlist.

#2 Strong Crash Safety (Award Winners)

Excellence safety ratings are crucial in determining a good first car, and the Mazda 3 passed with flying colors.

The Mazda 3 has been a serial winner of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick award since its introduction in 2006 – a clear indication that the Mazda 3 is an excellent choice for new drivers.

Its sedan and hatchback body styles are equally safe vehicles.

 IIHS Award (4dr Sedan)IIHS Award (4dr Hatchback)
2022 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2021 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2020 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2019 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2018 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2017 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2016 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2015 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2014 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2013 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2012 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2011 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2009 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick
Mazda 3 IIHS awards.

It’s a solid achievement few compacts can rival – the Honda Civic is one.

Other safe first cars worth considering include:

  1. Subaru Impreza
  2. Toyota Corolla
  3. Kia Forte
  4. Hyundai Elantra

#3 Robust Reliability

Mazda is among the most reliable automakers.

Consumer Reports ranked Mazda #2 out of 28 automotive brands in their 2021 reliability survey – behind Lexus, but ahead of these Japanese rivals:

  1. Toyota
  2. Honda
  3. Subaru
  4. Acura
  5. Nissan

RepairPal ranked the Mazda 3 #9 out of 36 compact cars in reliability, effectively placing it in the top 25%.

(Refer to the compact cars comparison below to see how the Mazda 3 measure against its competitors.)

#4 Affordable Upkeep

Mazda 3’s relatively low running cost generally agrees with the reliability of Mazda vehicles.

According to RepairPal, a Mazda 3 costs approximately $433 a year to maintain, lower than the $526 annual average for compact cars.

The year-on-year increase in annual maintenance costs info (below) is useful in guiding your expectation.

The Honda Civic and Audi A3 are excellent yardsticks because the former is one of the more-affordable first cars, and the latter is an expensive luxury compact sedan.

YearAnnual Costs (Mazda 3)Annual Costs (Honda Civic)Annual Costs (Audi A3)
Mazda 3 vs. Honda Civic vs. Audi A3 annual upkeep costs (CarEdge)

The probability of major repairs is relatively low for the Mazda 3:

  • 1.67% in year 1,
  • 7.88$ in year 5,
  • 16.22% in year 10, and
  • 31.25% in year 12.

These figures are on par with that of the Honda Civic.

However, a used car’s condition depends on its service history, so please check and verify before buying.

#5 Thoroughly Inexpensive Insurance

Insurance costs for a safe subcompact like the Yaris isn’t a big concern because it is one of the cheapest to insure.

An 18-year-old can expect to pay around $4,500 per year for full coverage, although the premium is heavily location-dependent.

Costly insurance for powerful cars like the Ford Mustang and expensive sedans like the BMW 3-Series is understandable, but the Mazda 3 beats these compacts and subcompacts to be one of the cheapest small cars to insure:

  1. Mini Cooper
  2. Toyota Yaris
  3. Honda Civic
  4. Volkswagen Jetta

See the table below on the average full coverage cost for the various age groups (assuming good driver and credit):

Mazda 3$4,514/year$2,038/year
MINI Cooper$4,578/year$2,067/year
Toyota Yaris$4,935/year$2,228/year
Honda Civic$5,070/year$2,289/year
VW Jetta$5,416/year$2,445/year
Toyota Corolla$5,570/year$2,516/year
Ford Mustang$5,598/year$2,527/year
BMW 3 Series$6,019/year$2,717/year
Mazda 3 vs. other cars insurance costs (CarEdge)

Expect a 16-year-old male driver to pay higher than the figures above.

#6 Nimble with Sharp Handling

Sporty handling and excellent driving characteristics are hallmarks of this entry-level small car.

The Mazda 3 offers confidence-inspiring handling around corners through responsive steering that provides ample feedback, making driving safer.

Although its acceleration is quick for a four-cylinder compact, the power delivery is smooth and predictable.

Crucially, it delivers a fun-to-drive experience without sacrificing comfort.

The easy maneuverability and parking in tight urban settings should make life uncomplicated for new drivers.

#7 Optional All-Wheel-Drive

All-wheel-drive (AWD) provides better overall traction and is a drivetrain typically offered in premium vehicles due to the higher expense.

Conversely, front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars are more affordable and return higher gas mileage.

AWD Mazda 3 models are available from 2019 and are the ideal all-weather option for those living in snowy regions or experiencing inclement weather.

If your location enjoys primarily sunny weather year-round, the cheaper FWD Mazda 3 will suffice.

#8 Reasonable and Stable Depreciation

The Mazda 3 retains value pretty well, although a few small cars do better; it depreciates 48% after five years and 75% at the full-decade mark.

The table below assumes a brand-new Mazda 3 sedan that retails for approx. $22,000:

Vehicle AgeDepreciationValue LostResale Value
Mazda 3 10-year depreciation.

New Mazda 3 models come with:

  • 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty.
  • 3-year/36,000-mile roadside warranty.
  • 5-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty.

If you’re getting a used Mazda 3, it’s wise to buy an extended warranty.

The Honda Civic, VW Jetta, and Toyota Yaris hold their value better than the Yaris and are worth considering.

 5-yr Depreciation10-yr Depreciation
Honda Civic39%71%
Toyota Corolla38%59%
VW Jetta43%70%
Toyota Yaris47%67%
Mazda 348%75%
Kia Forte51%75%
BMW 3-Series55%78%
Mazda 3 depreciation compared to other cars (CarEdge)

Best Mazda 3 Year for Your First Car

Unless you’re buying a brand-new Mazda 3, you want to know which used model year is the better deal.

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base trim).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2022 Mazda 34/45/528/36/31NA
2021 Mazda 34/45/528/36/31NA
2020 Mazda 34/45/526/35/3079/100
2019 Mazda 34/4NA26/35/30NA
2018 Mazda 34/45/528/37/3180/100
2017 Mazda 34/45/528/37/3281/100
2016 Mazda 34/45/530/41/3480/100
2015 Mazda 34/45/530/41/3479/100
2014 Mazda 34/45/530/41/3479/100
2013 Mazda 34/44/524/33/2779/100
2012 Mazda 34/44/524/33/2780/100
2011 Mazda 34/44/524/33/2780/100
2010 Mazda 3NA5/524/33/2781/100
Mazda 3 model years comparison.

The 2014 Mazda 3 redesign marked the model’s third generation – evident from the considerable improvement in gas mileage.

The 2014 Mazda 3 or newer would be the more fuel-efficient option.

Avoid the 2010 Mazda 3 as it recorded the highest number of owner complaints (186; according to CarComplaints) – several times more than the average of other model years.

If a car’s crashworthiness is your main concern, opt for the 2009 and newer model years – they are safety-award-winning vehicles.

Mazda 3 Compared with Similar Vehicles

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base trim – auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Mazda Mazda 328/36/3180/100$4334/45/5Average
Hyundai Elantra33/43/3781/100$4524/45/5Good
Kia Forte31/41/3583/100$4514/45/5Good
Honda Civic30/38/3382/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla30/38/3383/100$3624/45/5Good
VW Golf29/36/3276/100$6303.8/45/5Good
Nissan Sentra29/37/3283/100$4914/45/5Good
Subaru Impreza28/36/3176/100$6534/45/5Good
Mazda 3 comparison with similar vehicles.

Compact cars’ average yearly maintenance cost is $526, so all the options above – bar the Volkswagen Golf and Subaru Impreza – are inexpensive to maintain.

The Honda Civic is a compelling choice for any teenager’s first car due to its excellent gas mileage and safety ratings, equaled only by the solidly safe Mazda 3.

Alternatively, the Hyundai Elantra can get you the best fuel economy.

But if you want an even more affordable option, opt for the Kia Forte for your first car.

It is reliable, fuel-efficient, and loaded with features typically available only in pricier options.

Still, the Mazda 3 is a perfect vehicle for young drivers if you love its sporty look and want a supremely safe first car.