The hot hatchback market is well-defined by the likes of the Honda Civic Si, the VW GTI, and the Mazdaspeed3, with camps of followers for each car arguing incessantly online about the superior attributes of each. The new 2010 Mazdaspeed3 enters this milieu, delivering what you would expect from a hot hatchback. But then it reaches further, adding some very tasty icing on the cake.
Intent on making the new Mazdaspeed3 iconic, Mazda offers it in only four colors. Our red Mazdaspeed3 showcased Mazda's Nagare styling, a design language teased in concepts over countless car shows, but finally realized here in the sensuous curves that line fenders and hood to outline the evil grin from the grille. And Mazda advances the idea of a grille far beyond the simple metal grates of yesteryear, coming up with a modern interpretation composed of black, curved fins--a mouth more appropriate to a mythological beast than a car.
But getting down to business, your typical hot hatchback gets its steam from a small displacement turbocharged engine. For Mazda, that meant a turbocharged direct-injection 2.3-liter four cylinder. If that power plant sounds familiar, it is because Mazda used it on the previous Mazdaspeed3. If it sounds pretty modern, that is because most automakers wish they had such an advanced power train. When it came out in the previous generation Mazdaspeed3, it was practically space-age technology.
Turbocharged and fuel-injected, this little engine makes big power.
For those who appreciate numbers, the Mazdaspeed3's engine makes 263 horsepower and, wait for it, 280 pound-feet of torque. Let me repeat, 280 pound-feet of pure twist to the front wheels. Most V-6s would be proud to produce that kind of torque.
There are two ways to get the 2010 Mazdaspeed3 moving. The first is to drive it like any normal car, putting the six-speed manual in first and gently balancing clutch let-up with throttle; this is the method high school driving instructors teach. This leads to a mundane push forward as the tachometer needle maybe hits 2,500rpm. The car gets rolling at a moderate pace and then you shift to second.
The other way, and the method most people interested in the Mazdaspeed3 will use, involves putting the car in first, giving it throttle until the tachometer is well past 3,000, then dropping the clutch. This method results in pure madness, as those 280 pound-feet of torque do their best to pull the front rubber loose from asphalt, a generally successful endeavor. The real insanity comes as the front end dives in torque-steer-induced pull to the right. The driver will naturally pull the wheel to the left, resulting in a titanic struggle to keep the car in line. It is neither pretty nor precise, but it sure is fun.
This shifter is meant to be gripped from the side, not from the top.
That six-speed manual isn't the quick, precise shifter of the Civic Si, nor that of the manual version of the new VW GTI. Strangely, the Mazdaspeed3's transmission and handling feels very European, with a certain amount of controlled play, whereas the new GTI leans toward Japanese precision.
Where the Mazdaspeed3 excels, and the peg on which its fans can hang their online arguments, is its handling. We said of the previous generation Mazdaspeed3 (before we had tested the dear, departed Chevy Cobalt SS) that it was the best handling front-wheel-drive car we had driven. A standard limited-slip differential in front lends to the handling.
We flogged this car through turn after turn on mountain roads. It laughed off the long sweepers, its front wheels doing a yeoman's job of pulling the car through. But on the hairpins and sharp, low-speed turns it showed incredible delight. It rotated as if an axle were driven vertically from roof to floorboards through the middle of the car, the front end eagerly asking for more turn-in.
A limited-slip differential works to keep grip in the corners.
In previous auto-crossing of the new VW GTI, we found that car's front end would occasionally wash out in the turns. Not so with the Mazdaspeed3. Even more enjoyable, in a diminishing corner where things would threaten to get sideways with the increasing inertial pull, the Mazdaspeed3 merely required a little extra throttle to set it right.
Of course, this sort of performance is what we want out of a hot hatchback. If we didn't, we would just get the standard Mazda3, or its economy car equivalent. But on top of this excellent handling, our Mazdaspeed3 came with the Tech package, giving it a unique navigation system and a serious audio setup.
We've never been fans of Mazda's stereo interface, which uses an odd three-knob configuration that seems more aesthetic than practical. This arrangement is kept in the Mazdaspeed3, meaning that until you are familiar with it, you will change radio stations when you are trying to lower the volume.
Entering destinations is easy with this interface.
Luckily, the navigation system, a small 3.5-inch window in the upper dashboard, doesn't rely on any of the myriad buttons on the center stack. Instead, Mazda does a very clever job with the minimal buttons on the right spoke of the steering wheel. We were impressed that we could enter street and city names, and even browse the map, using these directional buttons. It's a little tedious for long street names, but it works.
The navigation itself is pretty basic, lacking advanced features such as traffic or text-to-speech, but we like the implementation. It is kind of like if an inexpensive Garmin or Tom Tom were expertly mounted in the dashboard. The system calculates routes quickly, and its integration makes the $1,895 Tech package well worth the price.
That Tech package includes a well-balanced 242-watt 10 speaker Bose audio system. If you're looking for extreme bass, buy a stripped Mazdaspeed3 and invest in aftermarket gear. But most people will be very pleased with the included audio, as this Bose system faithfully reproduces music. Unlike previous Bose systems we've heard, this one didn't sound quite so heavy, allowing more delicate instrumental sounds to come through.
Disappointing in a car like the Mazdaspeed3, aimed at a young audience, was the lack of iPod integration, a feature becoming common on many other cars, notably the Mazdaspeed3's hot hatchback competitors. Instead, it offers poorly implemented satellite radio, an MP3-compatible six-CD changer (part of the Tech package), and stereo Bluetooth streaming.
Using Bluetooth streaming, there is no interface to select music.
This last feature may be an attempt to make up for iPod integration, and it was welcome as we tested the car with an iPhone, but Bluetooth streaming lacks any real interface for choosing music, and is basically a wireless auxiliary input. We would advise against the satellite radio option if you live in an area with buildings or objects more than 3 feet tall. It cuts out at the slightest provocation, be it an overpass, a building, or a particularly tall hitchhiker by the side of the road. Driving through a forest, it merely sputtered.
As there is Bluetooth streaming, there is also a hands-free Bluetooth phone system with voice command. This system is basic, making it possible to place calls by saying the digits in voice command. There is a phonebook function, but populating it requires manually pushing contacts from a paired phone.
The 2010 Mazdaspeed3 keeps its promise of being an excellent street racer for a relatively low price. And we were pleased that our fuel economy, 21.2 mpg, came in near the middle of the EPA numbers, 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. We achieved this fuel economy while treating the Mazdaspeed3 exactly the way it wanted. As for the cabin tech, we liked the navigation implementation, but it was a little low on features. Same goes for the audio sources; the lack of true iPod integration is a big miss in this car. Overall, there are some good gadgets here, but it doesn't quite measure up to the level of current cabin tech options. You can get better device connectivity in a Ford Focus. On the interface side, while we don't care for the stereo controls, the navigation buttons are cleverly designed. And with that Nagare styling, the Mazdaspeed3 forges a unique look that might win converts from the GTI and Civic Si camps.
|Model||2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed3|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged direct injection 2.3-liter inline four|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash drive-based system|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible six CD changer|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||10 speaker 242 watt Bose|
|Price as tested||$25,840|