2012 Mazda Mazdaspeed3: Quick Drive

January 12, 2012

The 2012 Mazdaspeed3 hatchback continues to uphold Mazda's reputation as the builder of cars that drivers want and need to own.  

A plain-wrapper five-door front-wheel-drive hatch, the Speed3 only gives away the promise of incredible fun behind the wheel when one sees the extended rear spoiler and the usable hood scoop, together with large double (sweet-sounding) pipes at the rear.  Otherwise, you'd never be able to pick out this car from a standard Mazda3 hatch - and that's a good thing.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a blazing red Speed3 over the Thanksgiving weekend, exercising it on a trip to a barren area northeast of Temecula, Calif., complete with fabulous winding roads just made for wringing out a car like this without having to deal with traffic of any type.  Even the mountain lions kept off the road - they don't always.

This situation resulted in an excellent opportunity to enjoy the buoyant drivetrain of the 2012 Speed3, bounding through mountainous blacktop and letting the Speed3 do its thing, resulting in big smiles as rampant horsepower injected through regular right-foot prods gave back voluminous amounts of torque steer and forward motion.

While the 2012 Mazdaspeed3 does have its luxurious appointments, like a multi-function leather tilt/telescope steering wheel, leather seats, navigation system and trip computer, together with all the safety devices anyone could ever use, what it has in spades is driving fun and balance between the raucous engine/transmission and its exceptional suspension, brakes and steering.

Ah, this engine is so sweet: a four-cylinder 2.3-liter direct-injection DOHC intercooled turbocharged mill with 263 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 280 pound-feet at 3000 - at 70 mph this hatch turns a relatively sane 2750 rpm.  Its redline is 6500 rpm; its speedometer goes to 180 mph and Mazda smartly pairs the Speed3 with a six-speed manual that heartily snicks from gear to gear.  Add to that MacPherson strut and multi-link all independent suspension with stabilizer bars all around and you've got an enthusiast's ready-made meal for driving pleasure.

Anne Proffit photo

Anne Proffit photo

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Mazda uses electro-hydraulic rack and pinion power steering for the 2012 Mazdaspeed3 that is absolutely on-point; there's no slop and the steering is exceptionally crisp; while the turning circle is a bit large at 36.1 feet, lock-to-lock it only takes 2.7 turns to make a complete circle.  ABS brakes ride all around with ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear.  Even avoiding an idiot turning left directly in front of me on the Black Friday return ride didn't result in any pulls or problems with the braking or steering systems.

Mazda fits 225/40R Dunlop gumballs to the Mazdaspeed3 with twinned, 18-inch alloys holding them down.  Although the weight distribution is 60/40, the balance of this car doesn't fall away in the turns like one would expect, thanks to superb chassis tuning.  Not exactly a lightweight at 3281 pounds - and not exactly an aero goddess with its hatchback style, the Speed3 still retains a coefficient of drag at 0.32.

Mileage isn't half bad for a speedster of this type at 18/25 mpg from the 15.9-gallon tank.  Mazda requires unleaded premium fuel and I'd estimate an easy 400 miles between fill-ups.  I averaged close to 30-mpg over my 400-plus miles with this lively red car and find the blend of economy and massive power a grand one to have.  The theme of this car is balance - that's exactly what it has in all respects.

The 2012 Mazdaspeed3 has a starting price of $24,495 including freight fees.  The options on this car brought the final sales price to $27,545.  Mazda charges $200 for ambient (blue) lighting, $275 for a rearview mirror with compass and rain-sensing wipers and $2575 for the Mazdaspeed tech package.  Included for that fee are: blind spot monitoring system (very sensitive), the navigation system, pushbutton start with perimeter access (I call it the 'magic button' on the doors), Sirius radio with four months' access, auto bi-xenon headlights that have pivoting, adaptive features, LED rear lights and a 10-speaker, 265-watt Bose audio system that creams the cabin with excellent sound.

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