First Drive: 2010 MazdaSpeed3

August 20, 2009
2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2010 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

The 2007 to 2009 MazdaSpeed3 stands as one of TheCarConnection.com’s favorite hot hatches, providing pulse-quickening thrills for the backroads—or weekend track forays—without sacrificing too much practicality for everyday commuting.

And at well below $25k, all said, the Speed3 provides more performance than the Honda Civic Si, the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, or even the Volkswagen GTI (soon to be replaced by an all-new model), while costing significantly less than the Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart.

But the outgoing 2009 MazdaSpeed3 isn’t without its flaws. Although it’s more refined than the Dodge Caliber SRT4, which has a crude tuner feel, its powertrain is still a little too buzzy and harsh at times while the interior is a bit noisy. And while the cabin is fashionable and stylistically unified, at first glance, it can disappoint in the details.

We had the chance to scrutinize the new MazdaSpeed3 up close today, and drive it on some challenging canyon roads in California’s Monterey Peninsula; we’re scheduled for track time tomorrow and will report on how the Speed3 delivers for enthusiasts, but in the meantime we’re looking at its overall appeal.

While the proportions of the new MazdaSpeed3 are just as good as ever, the new front-end styling of the 2010 Mazda3—already polarizing—works a bit better with the new MazdaSpeed3’s hunkered-down stance and more aggressive bodywork and wheels than it does with lesser 3s—especially the base sedan; we still see the snout as locked in a grimace, albeit a menacing one. You might see a grin.

Outside of the snout, we see the proportions of the new MazdaSpeed3 as being even better than before. There’s a body-color rear spoiler along with a bright-tip sport-tuned exhaust and 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 Mazda3 gets a fresh design theme, with materials that are primarily black but accented with a red graphic design—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 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, along with revised gear ratios. The last-generation Mazdaspeed3 could accelerate to 60 mph in around six seconds, according to instrumented testing from several sources.

The MazdaSpeed3’s standard safety-feature list has been given a boost for ’10, with active front head restraints now added. As before, anti-lock brakes and Dynamic Stability Control are all standard, along with side-curtain airbags and seat-mounted side bags.

Our test car was equipped with the MazdaSpeed Tech Package, which includes a 242-watt, ten speaker Bose Centerpoint sound system (with Sirius Satellite Radio), full-color compact nav system (located nicely in the line of sight), pushbutton start, a perimeter alarm, and advanced keyless entry, costs just $1,895.

The MazdaSpeed3’s powertrain is brash but reasonably well behaved. 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 2000 rpm, and from 3500 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 of a gear, but most drivers will adapt quickly as the clutch is light and shift linkage is about as good as it gets. Overall, the MazdaSpeed3 accelerates just as rapidly, though because of noise and vibration improvements, doesn’t sound or feel quite as dramatic in doing so. And as we’ve 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.

Dynamically, the Speed3 is out to prove that all-wheel drive isn’t a necessity for this much power in a front-wheel-drive car. A torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential means that you won’t spin the inside wheel coming out of corners. Torque-management electronics keep too much of a shock from being sent to the front wheels, but there’s still a bit of a tradeoff in sending that much twist through the front wheels of a small hatchback: When surfaces get rough, rippled or uneven, you’ll still have to hold on tight to the steering wheel, though.

Otherwise, the MazdaSpeed3 is well-tuned dynamically for real-world roads, with a completely retuned sport suspension and larger front and rear stabilizer bars compared to the other 2010 Mazda3 models. 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.

What matters most in summing up the new MazdaSpeed3 is that when you’re not tapping into all that power and torque, just crawling in traffic or cruising on the highway, it’s nearly as comfortable as the standard Mazda3, while leaving the potential open for more excitement when the road opens up. Or track time.

We’re curious to get the MazdaSpeed3 out for some track time at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, to see how its slightly more civil manners on real-world roads will translate on near-perfect tarmac. Stay tuned for TheCarConnection.com’s enthusiast word on this hot hatch, along with our full Bottom Line assessment.

High Gear Media 
attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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