2010 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
October 7, 2009

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.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 to help you decide which reviews to trust and where opinions differ. We provide you with the best information, impressions, and details. TheCarConnection.com also studied other road tests of the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 to put together this conclusive review.

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.

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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.

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2010 Mazda MAZDASPEED3

Styling

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 makes a slightly awkward first impression, but its interior strikes the right look and the proportions are still correct.

The Mazda3 went under the knife this year and emerged with very polarizing and controversial styling, but TheCarConnection.com’s editors think the new look—especially the sometimes maligned snout—better fits the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3.

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 takes the standard Mazda3 styling to a whole new level with more aggressive visual cues. Jalopnik reports that the MazdaSpeed3 adapts the Mazda3’s “happy new design, but makes that grin louder with a deeper front splitter, a huge hood scoop,” and a “big wing.” Popular Mechanics reviewers feel that “if you can live with that relentlessly cheerful grinning face,” then you’ll find that the styling from the A-pillars on back is much more appealing. Edmunds notes the Mazda MazdaSpeed3’s controversial character, warning that “the new car adds some design flourishes that won’t appeal to anyone,” and the front “comes off looking like a football player’s mouth guard.” Autoblog similarly asserts that “if you haven’t warmed-up to the Mazda3’s new sheetmetal, the ‘Speed version won’t help matters.” While the hood scoop isn’t the most attractive on the market, at least it is fully functional and helps deliver on the MazdaSpeed3’s performance promise.

Reviewers are much more pleased with the Mazda MazdaSpeed3’s interior, which Autoblog says is “essentially Mazda3 fare, with the addition of…red stitching on the seats and steering wheel.” Edmunds is particularly impressed, finding that “refinement is improved in the revised cabin, which sports a contemporary design that melds function and style like few others at this price.” Function is first and foremost on Motor Trend’s mind, and they are pleased to find that “the interior is easy to get acquainted with.”

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2010 Mazda MAZDASPEED3

Performance

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 is much more fun to drive than most other subcompacts, and it returns very impressive fuel economy.

As a performance-oriented version of the 2010 Mazda3, the MazdaSpeed3’s entire reason for being rests in its mechanicals. While some might be initially disappointed to learn that those mechanicals are largely unchanged from the previous MazdaSpeed3, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 is still highly capable and one of the best-performing hatchbacks on the road.

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 soldiers on with the same engine as in the previous version, which Jalopnik says “remains largely unchanged for 2010 with 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque.” The 2.3-liter turbocharged mill helps the five-door hit 60 mph “in 6.4 seconds (6.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip),” according to Edmunds reviewers. Those numbers lag slightly behind last year’s MazdaSpeed3, but as Edmunds points out, “4th-gear acceleration is clearly stouter in the new car” thanks to the “larger air intake and new hood scoop” that become more effective at higher speeds. The MazdaSpeed3 offers a large power band, but Autoblog reports that “the engine outruns the turbo at around 6,000 rpm,” where “forward momentum falls off, but it’s not as precipitous as the last MS3.”

Enthusiasts will appreciate that all 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3s come exclusively with a manual transmission, but that might limit its mass appeal. Popular Mechanics states that the gearing has been revised, with “a broader range of ratios to capitalize on the 2.3-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged Four’s copious torque spread.” Autoblog loves the new gearing, finding that they “land directly inside the torque curve when short-shifting at the self-imposed six-grand redline.” The only real criticism comes from Edmunds, where reviewers observe that “the new car exhibits a time-sapping wiggle after each gearchange,” the result of throttle-limiting designed to preserve the drivetrain elements.

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 offers respectable fuel economy given its performance potential, but it’s sure not going to be on the Sierra Club’s Top 10 list. The EPA rates the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 at 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

A little suspension tuning goes a long way, at least on the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3. Although the MazdaSpeed3 boasts a suspension similar to the last-generation MazdaSpeed3, Popular Mechanics says that drivers “have found this new one to ride better.” Jalopnik notes that the few suspension changes “improve the ride by better controlling impacts and minimizing their invasiveness on the chassis.” Edmunds adds that “only the worst bumps reveal that this platform could still use a bit more suspension travel,” but otherwise the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 is cool and collected. Steering feel is commendable as well, with Motor Trend reporting that the electric steering is “well weighted at high speeds, but not heavy when putting around parking lots.” Mazda even remembers to upgrade the brakes, providing what Edmunds calls a “commendably short” stopping distance of “113 feet from 60 mph.”

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2010 Mazda MAZDASPEED3

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 has a versatile and cavernous interior that’s good for people and cargo alike and adorned with top-notch materials.

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 is very similar to its siblings in the Mazda3 lineup when it comes to interior utility and quality levels, which is to say that it has been upgraded significantly from the previous generation.

Drivers in the new MazdaSpeed3 will be treated to a comfortable and sporty cabin, which features equally comfortable and sporty seats. Popular Mechanics notes that the “seats have extra bolstering” to help keep you in place during hard driving maneuvers. While performance driving is a definite weekend possibility in the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3, the vast majority of time spent in the car will likely be during commutes. With that in mind, Mazda has installed a pair of supportive front seats, which Motor Trend says “proved plenty comfortable on our 350-mile drive” in the MazdaSpeed3. The rear seats don’t fare quite so well, however, with ConsumerGuide contending that “the bench is…a bit too firm for ideal comfort” and “legroom and knee clearance are adequate for a 5-foot-8 adult sitting behind another of the same height,” but anything beyond that will leave you cramped.

As a five-door hatchback, versatility and utility are the name of the game for the 2010 Mazda Mazda3. The MazdaSpeed3 gets all that same utility, including “storage space” that Motor Trend says “grows slightly over its predecessor, to 17.0 cu ft.” Those at Popular Mechanics “appreciate the amazingly versatile five-door hatch,” while ConsumerGuide finds that “interior storage is decent, with a decent-sized center console box, and average-sized glovebox and door pockets.”

With a base price hovering just below $24,000, the MazdaSpeed3 might be forgiven for sporting a few subpar materials in the cabin. However, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that Mazda doesn't settle for merely passable on the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3. Rather, they imbue the MazdaSpeed3 with what Motor Trend calls a “more refined” interior “without feeling as if it appeals to an older crowd.” ConsumerGuide credits the numerous “textured and padded surfaces” that “abound” inside the MazdaSpeed3, and adds that “the cloth and leather upholstery look and feel high end.”

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 is by no means luxury-sedan-quiet, but it is more hushed than before. Motor Trend claims that “it seems as if the interior has been treated to sound deadening and benefits from less unwanted noise inside.” ConsumerGuide agrees, finding that “wind noise is well suppressed” overall, though the open cargo area in the back can generate some noise.

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2010 Mazda MAZDASPEED3

Safety

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 is one of the safest choices in the hot-hatch or tuner crowd.

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 benefits from an incredibly stout frame that holds up well in crash tests and protects occupants; plus, its safety feature list is strong.

The Speed3 has been tested by both NHTSA and the IIHS, and the results from both organizations are impressive. In NHTSA tests, the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 earns the highest possible rating, five stars, in both of the frontal impact categories, as well as five stars in both side impact tests. The IIHS reports similarly high scores, giving the MazdaSpeed3 a best-possible "good" rating in both the frontal offset impact and side impact tests. The IIHS also bestows the prestigious Top Safety Pick award on the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3, citing the hatchback’s “good performance in front, side, and rear tests and optional electronic stability control.”

In addition to its top-notch crash-test ratings, the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 offers a wealth of high-tech safety features. Popular Mechanics notes that “standard ABS and stability control” are included on the Mazda MazdaSpeed3, as well as the requisite list of airbags throughout the cabin. Cars.com says that “critical safety features like front, side-impact and curtain airbags are standard,” although there is no available rearview camera. Fortunately, visibility is good in all directions from within the 2010 MazdaSpeed3.

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2010 Mazda MAZDASPEED3

Features

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 comes well equipped, and you’ll be happy, provided you aren’t looking for leading-edge tech features.

The 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 is a true bargain, with a base MSRP under $24,000 and performance worth significantly more. The MazdaSpeed3 offers more than performance, however, as it comes packed with convenience features that make it significantly more enjoyable than its predecessor.

While the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 exceeds the outgoing MazdaSpeed3 in nearly every category, the price is still largely the same. Popular Mechanics points out that, “priced at $23,945,” the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 “carries a sticker just $455 higher than its predecessor.” Features are still offered in abundance, however, with TheCarConnection.com’s editors finding niceties like dual-zone automatic climate control and a Bluetooth hands-free interface as standard fare. The MazdaSpeed3 also boasts standard cruise control and leather upholstery and trim.

There’s not much room for customization with the 2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3—in fact, there’s just one option package available, and no stand-alones. Autoblog says as much by stating that “Mazda is only offering one upgrade—the Tech Package—which includes the undersized Multi Information Display (MID), [and] a Bose Centerpoint surround sound system.” Popular Mechanics adds that “Sirius satellite radio and a navigation system that uses a compact display” are included in the Tech Package, though the screen is “curiously difficult to read.” Edmunds also comments on the screen, finding it “remarkably crisp,” given that it’s “the size of a postage stamp.” At least all those extras are relatively cheap, with Autoblog reporting that “the Tech pack tacks on an additional $1,895 to the” MazdaSpeed3’s base price.

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Styling 9.0
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