It takes a meaning to catch a meaning. Case in point. When I mention the brand Mazda to an auto enthusiast, their eyes tend to light up and their mouth starts to proclaim the virtues of theMiata, the 3 or the Mazdaspeed models.
It takes a meaning to catch a meaning. Case in point. When I mention the brand Mazda to an auto enthusiast, their eyes tend to light up and their mouth starts to proclaim the virtues of the Miata, the 3 or the Mazdaspeed models.
Then there's everyone else...
Take a look at this graph and you'll see at least four rolling catastrophes.
No brand is as downright schizophrenic as Mazda when it comes to long-term quality, and it all comes down to two issues.
1) Mazda has a horrific record when it comes to handling chronic reliability issues. Even with their late model vehicles, it's often times a lost cause for the owner.
2) Mazda has a tendency to discontinue models with substandard reliability.
When enthusiasts ask me why Mazdas aren't more popular, I point them out to their overall ranking on the Long-Term Quality Index.
If you click on this graph or this link, you will find that Mazda holds the unique honor of representing the only active Japanese brand in the United States with a below average overall ranking. Over 14,000 Mazdas have been traded-in thus far, and the tale this brand tells is either one of outstanding success or a Dante's Inferno of ownership despair.
There is some good news, and before I delve deep into the dark side of Mazda, let's revel in what is truly great about the brand.
That above average score for the Miata is no historical fluke. Engine issues for the most beloved of Mazdas are a less than a 1 in 30 occurrence. Transmissions? Even better at 1 in 38. All told, nearly 95% of Miatas that are traded-in thus far have no major powertrain issues whatsoever.
Is this due in part to the owners? Absolutely. Like the BMW Z3 and Z4, the Miata tends to attract a clientele that wants to invest in the vehicle. The Miata is arguably the most iconic of modern day roadsters, and Mazda's diligence in keeping the car as a quintessential representation of Mazda's virtues has paid off handsomely for the brand.
The Mazda 3 has been a continuation of the success of the Protege which has also performed well compared with its peers. However there is a little fly in that ointment of good results, and that is rust.
The Mazda Protege, the predecessor to the 3, had severe rust issues to the point where most professional car buyers will typically look at this vehicle from the bottom up. At the dealer auctions, a northern Protege can be a rolling money pit in a way that few other compacts can match. The older Aveos, Rios and Accents of the Y2K era are almost bulletproof compared to a compact Mazda with a swiss cheese sub-frame.
Everything is a disaster in those models if it comes from a rusty locale. But those in temperate climates are truly top notch. If you're spending money on a used compact and find a well-kept Protege that isn't a Mazdaspeed (which we have separated out to help out the fellow enthusiasts) get that vehicle to an independent mechanic. If he gives it the thumbs up, buy it. They typically cost thousands less than a Corolla or a Civic and are every bit their equal. Especially if you want to row your own gears.
Another hidden gem is the Mazda 5 which is arguably the most underrated minivan of today's market. While the Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler minivans have transmission issues that are well-known to even the hardcore enthusiasts, the Mazda 5 has been able to outperform that low bar. The Mazda 5 should optimally have a drain and fill every 30k for the transmission, but thankfully Mazda made this model easy to service.
If you want a minivan in the used car market that is several thousands less than the Sienna and Odyssey, definitely consider the Mazda 5.
As to what not to consider, let me offer you the Cliff Notes version.
Severe engine issues with the Mazda CX-7 — namely turbos and engine timing chains — has led to a shockingly high defect rate in our study. As with many of the other vehicles already mentioned, the problems have been widespread enough for several CX-7 owners to attempt a class-action lawsuit.
Over 40% of Mazda Millenias have either a fatal engine or transmission issue; both of which are chronically defective. The Millienia was a one-generation wonder which went completely against the orthodoxy of Mazda's strengths, and it showed both in sales and their overall longevity.
You may expecting us to profile the Mazda 626 since the automatic transmission for that model is rumored to have the structural strength of recycled tin foil. Nope! Since Jalopnik is an enthusiast site first and foremost, we're saving the Mazda RX-8 for last.
There is a lot of controversy with the now defunct flagship of Mazda due to the oil consumption that comes with owning any RX model. As the owner of an 05' RX, I have to say that the problems go far deeper than an occasional oil spritzer. These models are like gardens. There is always something that needs tending to with an RX-8, and if it's not one thing, it will be another.
But there is good news among those looking for an RX-8. If you find one that has excellent compression, you can enjoy cheap junkyard parts for many years to come. Mazda extended the warranty on certain parts of the RX-8 rotary engine for 8 years and 100,000 miles. That means a number of their high-mileage units that made it just past the warranty with a blown engine are already finding themselves with plenty of company at the local auto-recycling centers.
If you hit the proverbial used car lottery and find an older Mazda RX-8 that has just been given the complimentary Mazda overhaul, you may have a winner. For those who want to hit em' where they ain't, the RX-8 may be the real-world pearl amongst Mazda's swine of quality issues.