- Robust package good for occasional track jaunts
- Firm but composed ride
- Lack of road noise
- Strong protection and safety features
- Controversial front styling
- Unpredictable steering boost in tight corners
- Pronounced turbo lag
Overall the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 delivers pulse-quickening thrills for the back roads—or weekend track forays—all on a tight budget, without sacrificing too much practicality for everyday commuting.
The 2010 MazdaSpeed3 is a high-performance hatchback based on the economical, sporty Mazda3 but with a much edgier, tuner-car personality and hardware that truly qualifies it for weekend track duty.
The entire Mazda3 family has received a redesign, including a controversial snout, for 2010, but TheCarConnection.com thinks it works a bit better on the Speed3 than on the frugal-minded models of the Mazda3. While the proportions of the new 2010 MazdaSpeed3 are as good as ever, the new front-end styling better matches the hunkered-down stance and more aggressive bodywork and wheels—looking a bit like a menacing grimace. To complete an image that screams performance, there’s also a body-color rear spoiler, a bright-tip sport-tuned exhaust, 18-inch lattice-design alloy wheels (a lot like those on the RX8 R3 sports car), and sticky Y-rated Dunlop SP Sport tires.
Inside, the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 gets a fresh design theme, with primarily black materials accented with a red graphic motif—a field of red dots, as we saw it—plus red stitching throughout, front seats with more lateral support, and an LED turbo boost gauge that sits between the speedometer and tach.
Specs remain unchanged from the previous Speed3 for the 2.3-liter, direct-injection (DISI) turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, though drivability has improved thanks to a new functional hood scoop and intercooler duct, as well as revised gear ratios. According to several sources, the new MazdaSpeed3 is capable of accelerating to 60 mph in less than six seconds.
The MazdaSpeed3 has front-wheel drive, while some of its rivals offer all-wheel drive, yet some clever engineering makes the most of the available traction. The limited-slip front differential ensures that the inside wheel always stays composed out of corners, and the sticky Dunlop SP Sport tires provide tremendous grip while there aren't any disconcerting body motions. However, on power, emerging from a tight corner on rough pavement in the lower gears, the steering feedback from the electro-mechanical system—and the overall feel of the car—can be a little harsh and unpredictable. Torque-management electronics keep too much of a shock from being sent to the front wheels, but on rough, rippled, or uneven surfaces, you’ll still have to hold on tight to the steering wheel.
Likewise, the MazdaSpeed3’s powertrain is brash and sometimes a little harsh but reasonably well behaved overall. The engine has completely different tuning compared to the CX-7, where it’s also used, with a focus on high-end power in the Speed3. It accelerates the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 with authority, provided you mind the boost characteristics; don’t expect much torque below 2,000 rpm, and from 3,500 rpm all the way to redline, the engine works itself to a rip-roaring yet smooth frenzy. There can be a bit of a delay coming out of corners, waiting for boost, if you land in too high a gear, but most drivers will adapt quickly as the clutch is light, and shift linkage is about as good as it gets.
Otherwise, the MazdaSpeed3 is well tuned dynamically for real-world roads; the suspension is firm but has some give for larger heaves, and when pushed to the limit it rebounds in a nice, controlled way so as not to lose composure. And as TheCarConnection.com has noted with the new 2010 Mazda3, there’s far less road noise and impact harshness in general. You’ll still feel the bumps, but the new model won’t induce as much fatigue whether on the daily commute or longer trips. Front seats in the MazdaSpeed3 are firm and supportive for most body types, while there’s just enough space in the backseat for short trips.
All the expected safety features are standard in the 2010 MazdaSpeed3, including electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and both front-seat-mounted side airbags and side-curtain bags. Crash-test results include five-star results from the federal government in frontal and side-impact tests and "good" results from the IIHS.
The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 comes in a single very well-equipped Sport trim. Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, cruise control, leather upholstery and trim, and aluminum pedals. Options are limited to just a few items—most importantly a Tech Package that adds Bose Centerpoint surround sound, Sirius Satellite Radio, keyless start, and a compact navigation system.