Mazda3 vs Impreza
October 23, 2010 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Mazda3 vs Impreza for the long term?

So it's time to replace the 97 Prelude. We've more or less narrowed it down to an Impreza (not WRX) or a Madza3 (not Mazdaspeed).

At the most basic level, we understand the tradeoff. The Impreza has AWD and marginally better crash ratings, the Mazda3 is more fun to drive and has a better interior. Overall we like the 3 a bit better.

What we don't know is what it's like to live with them for the long term, like 10 years. I mean, we know that by reputation the Imprezas are good forever, so we'll sort of take that as read, but we're wondering what people's experiences with the 3 (or, I guess, 323 too) have been as the cars went from shiny and new to a bit long in the tooth.

So... how have they been? Complaints especially welcome!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Long term, the Mazda gives you much better gas mileage and will save you a fortune you can apply to an earlier replacement horizon. I just checked and you're talking 33/23 vs. 26/19. Do the math. You'll pay for the car with the difference over a decade if you drive 10-20K a year. Easily.

(Edmunds says 22/19 and 28/24, a little less dramatic, but still, do the math.)

I've driven both, 2010 Mazda 3 and a 2009 Impreza, both pretty much stock. I thought the Mazda flat out cleaned the clock of the Impreza for performance and handling. (WRX is another deal, that's a serious car but you'll give up even more fuel efficiency.)

Mazdas have a pretty fine standard for longevity, although maybe a bit behind Subraru's reputation overall. On the other hand, they cost less to service (as I recall from years of owning a Mazda, after growing up in a Subaru family) and AWD adds a significant service complexity factor as b1tr0t says.

I think the Mazda 3 is the most fun to drive car in the class right now.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:52 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know whether it really counts, but I have owned a Mazda (6i) and a Subaru (Legacy). Regarding fun-ness, rock-steady near-sports-car handling and maintenance, the Mazda has been my best car to date, not so much the Subaru, which has required a lot of maintenance (break-fix type, not just routine). Handling's a bit dead compared with the 3 and 6.
Unless you're often in weather/on terrain that AWD helps with, the choice is simpler. I almost bought a 3 after a test drive, and luckily didn't as I got surplused two days later. I have over 100K miles on my four-years-old Mazda and it's still a sweet ride (well, for my budget at any rate).
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:55 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Or do you live somewhere where AWD is a significant safety feature?

I actually did the math just now and I exaggerated the value of the gas savings a bit, but still, we're talking 10-20 percent less in overall fuel costs.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:58 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: And you should probably look at the Civic. Solid as a rock.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:00 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone so far.

I think part of me, down in my lizard brain, is a little apprehensive because I used to have a Ford Probe (approx = Mazda MX6) that developed some serious problems and generally was just rattly and nasty by the time I got rid of it in 2000, and I know Ford and Mazda overlap a lot (like, the 3 is built on a Euro-Focus frame).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:03 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I have an Impreza and it's incredibly reliable but other than that it's a cheaply built little car, there are a lot of things that will start to drive you nuts after a while. Things rattle and the sound system isn't great and the road noise is ridiculous. The mileage is pretty terrible too, I get way less than what they claim.

Having said all that if you drive in snow a lot it's a great vehicle and they do run for ever. There are tons of them around here that are very old and abused and run fine. The resale is excellent.
posted by fshgrl at 2:09 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in metro Buffalo. The snow cleanup out in the county is good enough that there's really only snow on the road while it's still falling. Mostly in winter the roads are just slick from being wet and gross and a little bit slushy, not from snow. So AWD would for sure be nice sometimes, and would probably make driving a bit less of a pain in the ass when it's gross out, but front-drive cars do fine here. Even the Prelude was tolerable except for a couple days a year, and that's old enough that it doesn't have traction/stability control or anything like that.

Civic is just too boring unless you go for the SI, and then it's aspensive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:12 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I have an Impreza that has been driven for 15 years (I've been driving it for the majority of that now). I love it, though there have been quite a few repairs in the last few years. (Sound system, air conditioner, blah blah blah.) I'm going to be really sad when I have to replace it.
posted by wintersweet at 2:30 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: You should think about the Honda Fit too: comparably reliable and still pretty fun to drive, a smidge cheaper, and great for cargo. All of these are excellent cars; as has already been said, with the Subaru you're trading a bit of gas mileage for the AWD, but in Buffalo that's a very reasonable trade to make. You might want to compare on electronic stability control, too, as it's a very useful slippery-road safety feature; I know Consumer Reports has found Subaru's ESC fairly slow-responding in the past, while the Honda system is a very good one. I'm not sure if the Mazda even has ESC at all. One not-much-discussed downside to the Mazda3 is the backseat, which I find very short on legroom compared to the Fit and Impreza. But really, you can't go too far wrong here.
posted by RogerB at 3:01 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: We just got rid of an 11 year old civic for an impreza (the outback sport model) and I LOVE it.

Bear in mind that I don't drive it every day as a commuting car, but it handles beautifully and I really love the interior setup. We'd only looked at AWD vehicles and went with the Impreza because Subaru had such a good reputation- we fully intend for this car to last even longer than the civic, but handle better in the winter. The mazda seems cute- and we'd also looked at the Toyota Matrix- but we get a ton of snow in the area & really like skiing, so AWD was a given for the new car. So far we're very happy with the choice.
posted by lyra4 at 3:16 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: The current Impreza and 3 both have stability control and faction control.

The Fit, you can't get stability control until the "top" category, and that only comes in an automatic.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:20 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I have no experience with the Mazda 3, but I drove a 2002 Impreza WRX for 6 years. The only way I put up with the rattles, the overall "plastic-ness", and the general cheap feel was the satisfying response to raunching on the throttle. Without the turbo I'd have been bored to tears and sick of the car within two years.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 3:23 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know if you want info on the previous model, but we have an '04 Mazda3 hatch with around 100K on it. It seems like the thing likes to break down every 3 months lately, but we're hoping it will behave now that it has a whole 'nother transmission/clutch/belt thingys. It has gotten a little rattly, but is otherwise holding up fine in the body and the interior is doing fine (it's not garaged). It's terrible in the snow, at least with the manual transmission. Maybe they fixed that in the newer model, I don't know, but it's the main reason we would not buy another one.
posted by smalls at 3:33 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I have a 2005 Impreza WRX. My wife has a 2007 Mazda 3. So I can make a pretty direct comparison between them.

To be honest, I like the Mazda better. My car is more fun to drive, but it's a WRX and a 5-speed, so in a straight Impreza-3 (or WRX-Mazdaspeed3) comparison I doubt those would be factors.

The overall fit and finish of the 3 seems a bit higher. The interior is a bit more organic (although both have had upgrades since ours were made, so I'm not sure whether that applies today). I've had a consistent rattle in one of my rear seatbelt anchors since soon after I bought it, but the 3 is still tight. Contrary to RogerB's point, our 3 has noticeably better back seats than the WRX -- that also might have changed in subsequent model years. Beyond the legroom, in the WRX it's really hard for people in the back seat to hear people in the front seat, despite both cars having roughly equal (and both fairly disruptive) cabin noise on the highway.

The biggest things I notice between the two are arguably trivial, but I think often it's the seemingly trivial things that wind up looming largest when you're dealing with them every day:

* The 3's radio is totally integrated into the dashboard. It doesn't have any connectivity besides a CD player, so this would (and did, in fact) kill it for me when I was car shopping.
* Both are hatchbacks, and have covers for the cargo area. In the 3, it's a molded piece that attaches to the gate, so you can just leave it on and it rarely gets in the way. On the WRX, it's a roll-out piece that attaches to the cargo area itself, so you need to attach and detach it to access the area, and it's annoying enough that I rarely have it on. When that's the primary anti-theft mechanism for cargo, it's actually kind of a big deal.
posted by bjrubble at 3:47 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Sorry, I just realized your main question was about reliability. Both cars have been absolutely rock solid -- we've never had anything but routine maintenance (and a couple of flat tires) on either. The 3 drives about twice as much as the Subaru, but it does much more highway driving, so the overall wear and tear on each is probably about equal.
posted by bjrubble at 3:50 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I have a 2010 Impreza hatchback, and I love it. I do a significant amount of highway driving vs. city driving, and I tend to get a bit better than the advertised average MPG.

It came down to Mazda3 vs. Impreza for me, too, and I went with the Impreza because Subaru was offering a better deal on the options I wanted.
posted by emelenjr at 4:36 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I compared a Subaru Legacy with a Mazda 6. Bigger cars, but what kept me from buying the Mazda is common to all Mazdas: low roofline. I have to lean forward in the seat to see traffic lights when you're stopped at the intersection. It looks sporty, but it is a giant pain in the ass unless you are very short.
posted by kindall at 4:52 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: As a Zipcar user/frequent car renter I get to sample lots of inexpensive cars in this class. For some reason Zipcar has gone big with the Mazda3 in my locale—gotta be half their fleet. It's really a pleasure to drive and has great road feel, especially compared to others in the class (Matrix, Focus). If/when I buy it's at the top of the list.
posted by stargell at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I was faced with the same choice a few months ago, and I went with the Impreza. My primary reason was that I wanted the AWD. But, the Impreza has a few other nice features that the Mazda 3 lacks. (I got the Premium version with some extras.) For instance, my Impreza has heated seats, which are really useful when it's cold, as well as a 6 MP3-disc changer, and a 10-speaker stereo system. Also, the Impreza just has more personality. Subaru is a much smaller company than Mazda, and it doesn't try to make its cars appeal to everyone under the sun.

Having said that, if you go for the Impreza, I strongly recommend getting it with a manual transmission, because the 4-speed auto that Subaru puts into those cars is pretty bad and really sucks the life out of the car. With the manual, the car is a full second faster 0-60. The Mazda 3 still has slightly better handling, but with the manual, the Impreza is just about as fun to drive. The Impreza comes with a 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower engine. To get a similar engine in the Mazda, you have to get the Sport model, or better, which will set you back quite a bit financially, compared to the Impreza.

Finally, let me mention that I've been averaging 25 mpg (mostly city driving) in my Impreza.
posted by epimorph at 6:14 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Make sure to do some research on rust issues. I know that early decade Mazdas had problems with corrosion resistance.

I love my Protege5 to death, but I will not go ANYWHERE near salted roads with her.
posted by bodaciousllama at 6:41 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I'm on my second Mazda (formerly had a Protege whigh got totalled in an accident at 78K miles and now drive a 2005 Mazda 6 with 98K miles).

Can't speak to the Impreza, but I have never had to put a dime of maintenance (other than routine tires/oil) into either Mazda.

My first held up great in a very scary crash. I walked away without a scratch and you'd have to see the car to believe how lucky that was. My current car drives like it is brand new and it has 98K miles on it. No squeaks, no rattles, same performance.
posted by mazienh at 6:55 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: The Fit is completely gutless. It is not, by any stretch, fun to drive. I have more fun in my early 90s Accord. It's a perfectly fine car, it's just not the car for me, nor would it be for anybody who is looking for fun in a car.

As far as AWD goes, I could take it or leave it. It is nice, even in just rain, as I found out today in my SO's RAV4, but overall, I'll take just about any FWD car into any weather, yet I've never gotten stuck nor ever crashed in any of them, even on unplowed roads with 6-8 inches of snow on them. Of course, I'm the sort who will also happily take a RWD Explorer out onto solid ice, since I know how to control it. Good thing, too, since my SO has to go to work even when the roads are nearly impassable.

I strongly suggest buying a 2-3 year old car rather than a brand new one. It'll still be 'like new,' but will cost thousands less, allowing you to either get a better-optioned car or save money. If you're concerned about mechanical problems, buy a certified used and get an extended warranty. Just don't buy the warranty from the dealer if you can help it, as you will over pay. The dealer wanted us to pay $2000 for a warranty on my SO's RAV4. I was able to get a 7 year/100k Toyota warranty for under a thousand bucks.

That RAV4, with the V6, leather, heated seats, and AWD (and it was certified, thus extending the powertrain warranty to 100k) cost us less than a fully optioned Fit, even though it's only two years old and had less than 36k on it. The gas mileage isn't great, but it's as good as will be found in an SUV, and it is the second fastest small SUV sold. (0-60 in 6.2, baby!) ;)

Anyway, to more directly answer your question, my SO rents cars relatively often, and she thinks the Mazda3 is one of the better ones in its class. Mazdas are also pretty darn reliable, but then Fords are pretty darn reliable these days, too. (Her Explorer has 178,000 on it and has never needed any major repair..the worst thus far has been replacing the rotors)

As far as reliability goes, Consumer Reports predicts slightly better reliability out of the Subaru. The Subaru gets the best possible rating, while the Mazda gets the second best possible rating, so they're pretty much equivalent. Later, when I'm not being haraunged to go do other things, I'll look up the reported reliability for previous model years. MeMail me tomorrow if I forget.

Also, I'd like to express my discontent with the "new" (as in, what they've been using since sometime in the mid-90s) Honda manual transmissions. The clutch feel is shit and they are geared stupidly.
posted by wierdo at 7:17 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I drove a new Ford focus with a sport package on a mountain trip this summer and I was frankly blown away by its handling and comfort level. I would give the American competition a look too.

That said, I still think a 3 drives better.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:20 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: My '97 Civic gave up the ghost a couple years ago after a decade of problems. I replaced it with a 2004 Mazda3 (hence 5 years old at the time). While ostensibly in the same class as the Civic it is simply night and day. The Mazda performs better in every way, has marvelous fit and finish, and has given me zero problems. I still have "this car is awesome" moments when I get into it.

Before the unexpected death of the Civic (and the unexpected arrival of my twin girls), I had been planning on buying a WRX as my "mid-life-crisis-lite" car. But I'm rather determined now that my next car will be a Mazdaspeed3. It's a remarkable car for the money. And I live in Canada, for what it's worth. I'd rather have the extra ponies than the AWD. They all brake with all four wheels, which is what's really important.
posted by CaseyB at 8:47 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I've heard it said repeatedly that you shouldn't buy an Impreza unless it's a WRX or STI.

Personally I own a Mazdaspeed6 and I love it, but unless you're specifically after the AWD and you don't want to pay for the WRX or STI, I'd say go for the 3.

With respect to bjrubble's comment about the 3's radio - just about all Mazdas (at least the half-dozen that are owned by myself and my colleagues - and no, that's not an exaggeration) have the same system. It's not an ISO standard slot which makes swapping it out somewhere between bastardly difficult and downright impossible. That said, they do come with an external input port that can be used to connect an extra input - either an extra CD changer (mine has an in-dash 6 disc loader) or an Aux input module - I've got this one. It's $125 but it gives me 3.5mm jack input or (with appropriately filed MP3s) a USB or SD card loaded MP3 player controllable from my steering wheel.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:53 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Used Mazda3s and Imprezas are also rated similarly by Consumer Reports.

The combined ratings for the last few years are:
            06  07  08  09 
Mazda3      4   5   3   4  
Impreza     4   4   5   5
(1=worst, 5=best)

That said, the '07 Impreza got the lowest possible rating for fuel system problems, while the Mazda3 has no 1 ratings in any of those years for any of the categories CR tracks. Its biggest problems appear to be/have been brakes, which were rated only average for 06, 07, and 08 years, and the audio system in 08. The Impreza has rated poorly in recent years on paint and trim and squeaks and rattles, plus the aforementioned year with the fuel system problems.

As a point of reference, the Focus has had nothing rated as low as average in 08 or 09, but had average ratings for squeaks and rattles and body hardware in 07, and quite a few average and below average reliability ratings in 06.

Regarding DIN holes, it seems like very few cars come with standard DIN holes these days, but for most of the popular ones pretty decent looking adapters exist.
posted by wierdo at 9:32 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I have owned a 2006 Mazda3 and a 2006 Subaru Impreza. Although they were very close in almost all the areas, Mazda had it by a hair. The mileage was better, it was faster (2.3L), and the interior was definitely more modern. Seems like Subaru is about 3-4 years behind on thier interiors. I also felt like the interior of the Impreza was a little cheap and the paint was thinner than an M&M candy shell.

As far as reliabilty, you can't go wrong with either as long as you buy 2006+. The older mazda's has transmission and electrical problems and the older Imprezas used to eat through head gaskets.

Test drive a few. I'm sure after 2 rides in each, your mind will be made up.
posted by WhiteWhale at 10:26 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Ford owns Mazda, and has unified their platforms across the brands. The Mazda3 and Focus might be the same car with different logos.

Same frame, but I think the powertrain (and definitely the body sheet metal) are different. I recently read a comparison of the two but can't find it now. The 2012 Focus is getting a lot of second looks in the press.

All I can say is that I have driven older Focus models (early 2000s) and been unimpressed by the performance, but the one I drove this summer (a 2011, with a spoiler and performance tires, 17" wheels, 2.0l duratec, very tight 5 speed manual) was a jackrabbit out of the gate, handled like a Beemer on curvy mountain roads (super tight, a lot of road feel in the wheel and shifter), was incredibly comfortable to drive in for many hours, had a really nice interior (with leather, no less) and can be had for 18K or less with the full treatment -- and is highway rated to 35mpg.

That is a hell of a deal. I love Mazdas and have had bad experiences with older Ford vehicles. But I would seriously consider the Focus SES myself after that drive.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:31 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: Long term, the Mazda gives you much better gas mileage and will save you a fortune ...

I realize you later said that you did the math, and that the savings weren't so large, but you didn't actually include the math.

The annual miles driven in the US is 15,000. If the cost of a gallon of gas is $3, that means a car getting 20mpg uses $2250 worth of gas per year. A car getting 25mpg uses $1800 worth of gas.

$450 a year is significant money, but it's not going to make much difference toward your next car purchase.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:44 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: $4500 over 10 years is approx 25% of the price of the cars we're discussing, and that assumes fuel prices don't rise faster than car prices.

As I said, I exaggerated, but that ain't chump change.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:15 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: More like 30-35 percent actually. Base Mazda 3 can be had for 16k or less.

And the ecological costs of lower mileage deserve mention. People driving AWD cars where they are not necessary are wasting carbon, which makes a funny juxtaposition with the progressive associations Subaru has embraced on its marketing.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:19 AM on October 24, 2010

Response by poster: We aren't looking at the base 3. We (I?) want a hatchback, and that only comes in Not Base.

Fuel is not really much of an issue in my case. I'd be kind of surprised to see it getting more than 5000 miles/year.

We're not getting a Focus. If we were, we'd wait until next year when the by all account vastly better Euro Focus comes to America. But we don't really want to put more money into the Prelude to get it to next fall or be a one-car fambly until next fall.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: Frugal me, I would not even consider buying a new car to go fewer than 5000 miles a year. You could get 10 years of service at that rate out of a car with 50K miles on it. Then we're into real savings. Tradeoffs, of course, in that newer cars have more bells, whistles, and safety features, and usually better mileage. Someone said it above, but I'd def. go with a 2-4 year old vehicle here.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all. The last of the V8 interceptors 2010 3's is sitting in my driveway now.

Used could be cheaper now, but we drive cars until they're pretty damn decrepit. I'm looking at this one as around a 15 year car. Also it's important to us that the mostly-my car and the mostly-biscotti car have significantly different ages so we're very unlikely to be replacing both at once.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:47 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Awesome , ROU. This was an amazingly helpful thread for me, as I've been going between these two cars myself for my next new-to-me car. I'm new to the northeast (Portland, Maine) with a good sized commute and am worried about not getting AWD, but I may be overly concerned.
posted by monkeymadness at 4:39 AM on October 26, 2010

Response by poster: Around the suburbs where it'll spend most of its time driving, the streets are cleared fast enough that it won't really matter (and if it does I can take the AWD CR-V and biscotti can walk the ~1/2 mile to work). If that's not cutting it, I figure we can throw some Blizzaks or Hakkapeliittas on it and it should be good.

I'll see about putting a picture of it somewhere; it's cute but for now all I have is a picture of Little Blue Car that's going to the happy hunting ground.

Next item of business: it needs a name. It's white, so the names so far are "Kill Whitey" and just "Whitey." Suggestions appreciated!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on October 27, 2010

La Flama Blanca.
posted by kindall at 5:08 PM on October 27, 2010

lol kindall, I was thinking Diablo Blanco.
posted by wierdo at 6:14 PM on October 27, 2010

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