Why I think 1st gen MZ3 was special.
First off, I want to announce that I am NOT saying one generation is better than the other. The follow is about how the 1st gen MZ3, according to its owner (me), have changed the way car manufacturers approach small/economy cars, and why it's special to its owner.
Two days ago, I brought my MS3 to my dealership to have some work done, so they gave me a 2010 Mazda 3i. After driving it for 2days, I realized why the MZ3 was so special when it first came out. I'll elaborate on that at the end.
Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, US spec economy cars were more or less built just to get people around. There wasn't much styling, performance, and unique features thrown into these small cars. They were simply a faster mode of transportation and let's face it, cars back then were built like tanks. One can buy an economy car with negligible knowledge on car maintenance, and it'll drive through a wall for you.
Then came late 2003, and Mazda released the Mazda 3 as a 2004 model. Packed with 140hp or 160hp, standard (GREAT) disc brakes on all wheels, great (for an economy car) handling. I may be wrong, but the 160hp motor must be one of the first in economy cars, and it wasn't a limited special edition model found only in places outside of US (Honda type R cars?). The S model was a car with power, and you can get one without bending over at your local dealership.
Mazda has always been known for the way their cars handle. All the RX's, all the Miata/MX's, and now the 3! Ok it wasn't anywhere near the RWD RX's/MX's, but for a FWD economy car, it blew away the competition as a standard model (again, SI/Type R will give it a run for its money). Economy cars have always been the dullest thing ever, driving them used to be like driving on cloud. You can drive over a 4inch deep pothole and feel nothing, taking a turn too fast will scare the nuggets out of you. In 2003, the Mazda3 changed all of that. It provided sharp handling while keeping the driver engaged.
Where do I even begin? A single dinn with a CD player, and you're sitting in a "fully loaded" economy car. Want a well designed entertainment console? Not happening. Want a GORGEOUS looking gauge? Buy an Audi. Want navigation system? Go buy a luxury branded car. When the Mazda3 came out in 2003, it had a interior that could rival cars double its price. Admit it, for those of us with the S model, your eyes opened up the first time you turned on the lights at night, when you see those cool looking blue rings around the speedo pods. Audio/climate control is lined by a lovely shade of red/orange glow, versus the dull looking green and light orange found in other cars. Then, your eyes opened up again the first time you opened up that glove box! I s*** you not, you can fit a laptop in there! Then there are the little things, what about the 6cup holders? For once, automatic shifter actually looks cool in this car. There are dancing lights as you adjust volume up and down. 60/40 for practicality. Finally, the car says HELLO! when you start it!
When it first come out, did it even look like an average economy car? Or did it look more like something out of the concept floors? This is the ONLY car that looks better as a 5door/hatch than it does as a sporty sedan. First economy car to feature projector lowbeams, first economy car to even feature HID's for that matter. Again, for those of us with the S model, the tailight was seriously something from a concept floor. Every other economy cars had either an alignment of bars/brick for lights, but the Mazda3 S featured red/amber/white "jewels" over a blacked out background, GORGEOUS! I admit it, all the styling DOES cut into the view. I personally think the Mazda3 has a lot of blindspots. But wow, asides from its small size, and if I knew nothing about cars, I would have thought the Mazda3 as a luxury branded car.
Now why did it take a 2nd gen to make me realize this? Because when I first had the 1st gen 3, all the features in this little economy car made me very proud of owning the car, I say to myself "What a stylish car!". Now I sat in the 2nd gen, still a great interior, perfectly functional and in some ways, an improvement over the 1st gen. But there's no "it/special" factor, because once the 1st gen came out, everyone else played catchup and the 2nd gen has lost that shine. I still think the 2nd gen has a better interior and exterior than its competitors. Power, handling, and practicality is debatable.
The 1st gen MZ3 was HEAD AND SHOULDERS above everyone else. It pushed the envelop as far as what an economy car can have. It made other manufacturers to rethink their products. And THAT, is why I think 1st gen MZ3 was so special.
Please correct me if I've got my information wrong.