Zoom Zoom or Confidence in Motion?
November 3, 2015 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I am in the process of buying a new car and I think I have it narrowed down to a 2016 Mazda3 or a 2016 Subaru Crosstrek. Manual either way.

My concerns about Subaru are spendy repairs...anecdotally. My concerns about the Mazda are rusty wheel wells (every Mazda over a few years old I see has a particular rust spot). Are these concerns valid? Also, the Crosstrek seems to have large blindspots, but currently I am driving an old Passat wagon so I might be spoiled in that regard.

Do you have either a Mazda3 or a Subaru Crosstrek? Regrets? Anything you wish you'd known when you bought it? Do you wish you'd bought something different? If so, what?

I am 80% sure I want a manual. I've never had a CVT car. Reviews seem to be tepid. Do they suck as much as Car and Driver seems to think? I've test ridden and didn't notice anything horrid but hard to tell in a 15 minute ride.

posted by ian1977 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have a Mazda3 (5 door hatchback, automatic transmission, so not quite what you're looking at) that is just about to hit 3 years old with 20k miles on it. While I used to be a huge fan of this car, I will not be getting another one due to the following:

-sport bucket seats are kinda uncomfortable for more than an hour at a time
-SO NOISY and bumpy, though this is sort of seen as a plus as it feels more "sporty"
-after about 2 years it really started to look and feel kind of cheap. Things are randomly falling off, the trunk doesn't always latch properly anymore, etc.
-it handles really poorly in the rain; even just barely tapping the gas pedal gently causes the wheels to go swervy nuts.

I mean, it's fine overall. I haven't had any mechanical issues and I feel safe driving it. I haven't noticed any issues with the wheel wells rusting. I got a souped up version with leather heated seats, navigation, fancy speakers, and other stuff that is important to me and I feel like it was a good value.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:59 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I own a 2015 Subaru Impreza hatchback, which is nearly the same car as the current XV Crosstrek. (They share the same platform and mostly the same body, though the Crosstrek has larger wheels and a higher suspension.) I also test drove a Mazda3 hatchback before buying the Subaru. I think they're both great cars. The Mazda3 is more fun to drive, and I hear their manual transmission is the best. The Subaru has slightly nicer back seats, if that’s important to you. The Impreza also has a very smooth and quiet ride for a compact car.

I have zero complaints about the Subaru. In most of the statistics I've seen, Subarus made in the past decade or so have been about as reliable as Mazdas. For example, all model years of the Crosstrek get top reliability ratings in Consumer Reports. I have the CVT, which is actually quite nice in my opinion, though the engine is not as peppy as the Mazda. One weird quirk about the Subaru's automatic transmission is that it takes a couple of seconds to shift from reverse to forward, and vice-versa. That took a few days to get used to, but isn’t a big deal in practice.

Both cars have annoyingly small rear windows; the Mazda3 hatchback’s were even worse for me than the Impreza hatchback. The Subaru at least has very good large side-view mirrors. (I don’t remember whether the Mazda does too.) See this previous thread for more.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:03 PM on November 3, 2015

I crashed my 2008 Mazda3 (I was at fault for not watching the road and the car protected me from the crash- I was not injured) recently and it had to be totalled. I loved it and still get super sad when I see other Mazda3s that were of the same design. The only reason I didn't buy a new one is because aesthetically I hate the look of the new ones. I didn't have any issues with rust. I didn't have any issues with things feeling cheap or falling off. It was once safely driven down a snowy mountain without snow chains when it really needed snow chains. It was a great car. I'm sorry I crashed you, Mazda3!
posted by raw sugar at 5:21 PM on November 3, 2015

I have a 2014 Crosstrek with 40,000 miles on it. We still love it. The back seat is a bit tight for tall people, but otherwise no problems at all. I haven't noticed any blindspots, although I do keep convex blindspot mirrors on the side mirrors of all of my cars.

The CVT likes to 'shift' conservatively. You can put it in manual-shift mode and use the paddle shifters, though, and if you do, you can get it off to a much faster start.

I especially like the fact that it's built for off-road. I'll go on a trail every now and then, but mostly it's just nice to go over rocks in the road, bumpy driveways, cracked asphalt, and occasionally a curb without worrying about anything. And it drives through snow and ice extremely well.
posted by mmoncur at 6:06 PM on November 3, 2015

I got a lot of responses to my question about Mazdas (and Hondas); some might be useful to you. (I ended up getting a 6 and so far I really like it).
posted by aka burlap at 7:22 PM on November 3, 2015

There have been several questions about the Mazda3: here's my answer in the last one. Mine's a 2012, base model, manual transmission. I love it, but I still have less than 25K miles on it.

I think I mentioned this somewhere else but since I'm long in the torso, I'm a bit too tall for the Mazda3. It looks like the new ones have an even more restricted view so I'm not sure I'd buy another one.

That said, Subarus are great in the snow. Also, I always loved the "hill holder" that would keep you from rolling backwards when you clutched on a hill. I don't know if they still have those.
posted by bendy at 8:04 PM on November 3, 2015

I haven't been bothered by being tall for the 3, and I'm Tall, but fairly evenly proportioned top and bottom. Mine is the i Touring, and while I might not have specifically chosen to pay for blind spot monitoring and keyless ignition, those are both soundly worthwhile features. The stick and clutch are very serviceable, and even the smaller engine has a good bit of spirit, especially for being very good on freeway gas. I like mine a fair bit, but I haven't put many miles on it because I also really like my backup car. I'm sure the Sube does hill hold - I know the three does, and both of my recentish VWs did. I do agree that the seats in the 3 aren't amazing, but they haven't hurt for any of the shortish road trips I've taken it on.

Suffice that it's pretty much a matter of taste between the cars you're looking at. If I was you I might at least try the Fiesta and Focus (if you haven't). They're a bit garish, but not bad cars either.
posted by wotsac at 9:06 PM on November 3, 2015

My better half has a 2015 Mazda 3 5 door. We both love it. No complaints, fun to drive. I've never noticed it getting squirrelly in rain. I typically drive a manual transmission and I really haven't found the auto in the 3 to be too irritating, and it has the fake shifting thing if you want to force it to be in a gear - useful for going down mountain passes here in CO. The 3 has a 6-spd auto, I don't know if I would want to drive a CVT either.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:47 PM on November 3, 2015

The biggest difference between the two, really, is ground clearance. The Impreza sport is more comparable to the 3. If you need the clearance and AWD get the Crosstrek, obviously, otherwise get the 3.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:49 PM on November 3, 2015

I used to have a 2012 Mazda 3 GT, manual. Now I have a 2014 XV Crosstrek with the CVT. I'd say that what you've heard is true: the Subaru is a very lackluster, sluggish drive. I bought it for climbing trips, and it does hold all my friends and most of my gear, but its tiny engine struggles horribly to make it up the hill. Blind spots aren't an issue for me.

And oh yeah, the repairs: the Mazda had to get a new clutch at 25,000 miles (the mechanic claims it's pretty common with that car for city drivers) and my Crosstrek is in the shop right now (16,000 miles) with yet to be determined engine issues. But damn the Mazda was fun to drive, even though it was a much, much noisier and bumpier ride than the Subaru. In the Subaru, you can actually have a conversation while driving on the freeway! Who knew!
posted by halogen at 10:26 PM on November 3, 2015

I'm on my second M3. First one I totaled after 5 years. I hydroplaned in a freak spot in a wet LA freeway, hit the median at 65mph, and walked away unscathed. (Some whiplash.). Second one has been great, too. It has about 50k miles on it. There are nicer cars, for sure. But it was the most car I could get for $17k. My next car will be either a M3 or a Ford Focus. Seats in the M3 are fine. Probably better than the average seat I've been in.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:08 AM on November 4, 2015

I've had no issues whatsoever with my 2012 Mazda 3. Just be sure there's enough legroom in the back if you need it. My one complaint about the 2012 3 is that there's very little leg room behind the front seats when they're pushed all the way back. Luckily, we have only 1 kid and my wife doesn't need her seat all the way back, so he should continue to fit in the car.
posted by mollweide at 5:03 AM on November 4, 2015

I bought a 2012 Mazda 3 new and have put 86,000 miles on it. Mileage is great with the Skyactiv engine, it handles well, acceleration is decent, and I've made no major repairs. The backseat is tall enough for me, though a tight fit leg-wise. I love the hatch because I can put a couple bikes in there without bothering with a rack.

I test drove a Subaru and didn't think it was as fun to drive. Otherwise it seemed fine.
posted by Turkey Glue at 5:30 AM on November 4, 2015

I had a '98 Mazda 626 (the precursor to the 6) and had test driven a '99 Mazda Protege (precursor to the 3) before deciding on the 626. The Protege was definitely not as cushy or quiet of a ride as the 626. The only rust issues I had with the 626 was on the sway bars (I had bought it used, this is Minnesota with a lot of road salt in the winter, plus I used it to tow my boat).

I traded the 626 in for a new 2008 Mazda5 (which has the chassis and interior quality of the 3). It does have more pronounced road noise, like the 3 and Protege. But I've had it in Minnesota salty winters for 7 years now and still no sign of rust (and I give it a car wash about once or twice a year). No issues with it that weren't covered by warranty (recall on the power steering) or that I didn't inflict upon myself.
posted by jillithd at 9:04 AM on November 4, 2015

I just ticked over 1,000 miles on a 2016 Mazda3 (which I mentioned here). What I wrote there still applies.

The Mazda3 has plastic wheelwells, so I'm not concerned about rust (well, that and I live in Texas).

The Mazda has a smooth manual transmission (though not as nice as a Honda, I'd say). My old Subaru had a clunky one. Based on all the test drives I took (and I took a lot), I would say that automatics are a lot better than they used to be, and perfectly acceptable, but I still prefer a manual.

The Mazda also has massive blindspots (compared to my old car, the view out the rear-view mirror is like looking through a peephole), but it does come with a blindspot-warning system and backup camera with cross-traffic warning, which makes up for it and in some ways is better. Also big sideview mirrors.

My measured fuel economy is right at 31 mpg, mostly for a mix of city and short-burst highway driving.

The Mazda3 was a bit of a compromise, and I knew that when I bought it. The car that I really want isn't sold in the USA.
posted by adamrice at 9:52 AM on November 4, 2015

I do have rust on my Mazda3 on the driver side rear panel right at the top of the wheel well curve. But it just showed up in the last year or so and it's 11 damn years old (2004 5-door model) and I live in Chicago with all the snow and salt on the roads that that entails. Repair-wise, it's been pretty good but I also don't put a lot of miles on it.

Personally and without having driven the Subaru, I'd be at least somewhat tempted by the AWD. But for my budget and driving needs I really have liked my Mazda3 for the 11 years I've owned it, and when I have to replace it, a new Mazda3 will be on the list again. It's not a luxurious ride, but it's been a solid little (yet roomy on the inside!) car for me.
posted by misskaz at 10:08 AM on November 4, 2015

If AWD and ground clearance are important to you, you might consider the Mazda CX3 instead. It offers AWD as an option, has higher ground clearance than the 3 and is a little smaller than the Subaru (which might be good or bad). The automatic transmission in Mazdas is very good. The CX3 has the same styling as the 3.

I have a 2010 Mazda 3 sedan and am 6' 1". Height is not a problem for me. I imagine it wouldn't be an issue if you're under 6' 4".
posted by cnc at 10:19 AM on November 4, 2015

They are both fine vehicles. The Mazda is considerably more economical from a mileage point of view, a lot sportier, and not quite as comfortable a ride. (A bit cheaper too if I recall correctly) I have looked at them both and I would certainly get the Mazda UNLESS you will be doing substantial snow driving in which case you might be more comfortable in the Subaru. You are not going to go wrong either way, they are both nice.
posted by jcworth at 8:22 PM on November 4, 2015

There's not a lot in common between a Mazda3 and a Crosstrek, except that they're both compact cars that can be had with a manual transmission. The 3 is considerably sportier and quicker than the Crosstrek, and is a compact car with upscale pretentions. The Crosstrek is a slightly ruggedized AWD vehicle with raised ground clearance that is very much in a class on its own: roomier and more efficient than the subcompact crossovers (HR-V, CX-3, Juke) but smaller than a compact crossover (CR-V/CX-5/Escape/Forester/Rogue).

I drive a 2014 Crosstrek with a manual transmission and can answer your questions. Visibility is not at all bad, especially compared to other cars and crossovers on the market, though it's not Forester-awesome. The low belt line and door-mounted windows mean your forward and side visibility are exceptional.

It's considerably less sporty than a 3, and not at all quick: you'll have to rev the nuts off it to get any kind of power. Under 2,500 rpm or so the engine feels quite gutless, and you'll have to shift carefully to avoid shifting yourself out of the power band. It also has a reputation for burning oil, but in the 32,000 km or so we've been driving ours, the check-oil light has come on precisely twice, at which point we add a quart of synthetic, so NBD.

Otherwise we've had no serious issues and have been quite happy with the car. On the highway it can get insanely good fuel economy for a non-hybrid AWD vehicle (especially on two-lane highways with 50/55 mph speed limits; on freeways with higher speed limits it's not as efficient because it only has five gears -- that's when it could really use the Forester's sixth gear), and in winter, especially with snow tires on, it's fucking invincible.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2015

I'd say that what you've heard is true: the Subaru is a very lackluster, sluggish drive. I bought it for climbing trips, and it does hold all my friends and most of my gear, but its tiny engine struggles horribly to make it up the hill. Blind spots aren't an issue for me.

Counterpoint: I've towed a 1300-pound trailer with my Crosstrek on several 500+ mile trips through the southwest, with three people and luggage, including going up and down mountains (most of the canyons in Utah).

Towing the trailer, you do hit some spots where you can't go faster than 55-65mph climbing a steep hill, but it handles it fine. Without the trailer no problem going 80.

I've also towed a 1200-pound boat a few hundred miles and backed down steep boat docks to launch and pick up with no trouble.

It's *not* a gutsy car, but it has some power. I think it's geared low -- it feels about the same with the trailer as without -- so it has power, but you won't get that instant tire-peeling start if you're into that. I occasionally manually shift the CVT to merge quickly onto a freeway, but otherwise I don't wish for more power.

28-30 MPG *with* the trailer. About the same without.

Of course some of my friends think I drive like their grandmother, so your mileage may vary.
posted by mmoncur at 3:53 PM on November 5, 2015

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