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2010 MAZDASPEED3 Sport 5-Door Review

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2010 Mazdaspeed3

SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyers Guide

Mazda's little cruise missile has only gotten better


2010 Mazdaspeed3 Review

Mazda is different. Unlike most mass-market automakers worldwide, Mazda seems to design and build cars not from the usual market research perspective, but from enthusiasm. Mazdas are for driving, not mere operation. Mazdas are not merely transportation appliances. Any "focus groups" involved in the Mazda development process are likely to be racers.

To emphasize this, Mazda supports motorsports, but not with a high-profile program in a series completely unrelated to what people actually drive. Don't look for Mazdas in Formula 1 or NASCAR. Do look for them at your local road circuit, and look for prepared really stock cars in amateur and professional series. Many of the competition parts are available from Mazda's Mazdaspeed division. Which is also the company's in-house tuner - just like the expensive German brands. The currently-available Mazdaspeed offering is the Mazdaspeed 3, based, unsurprisingly, on the Mazda 3.

The newest iteration of the Mazda 3 had an early model-year 2010 debut in 2009. It was significantly upgraded and restyled, but there was no immediate Mazdaspeed version. These things take time - and so the Mazdaspeed 3 is now available.

As before, it builds from the standard hatchback model, taking its exterior styling in an even sportier direction, upgrading the interior, and re-tuning the suspension to take advantage of the improved unibody structure. The engine is the familiar 2.3-liter turbocharged, intercooled, and direct fuel-injected four-cylinder of the last version, with a number of detail improvements for drivability and fuel economy. Power output is unchanged -- at 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, changes were not exactly needed. Transmission is anything you want, as long as it's a six-speed manual. This is a car for the involved driver, and it is a car that rewards involvement. With quick steering, a sensitive clutch, and massive low-end torque, it demands that attention is paid to driving, and rewards in kind.

As with the previous model, I first met the 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 at my local automotive journalists' association's track day. At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I'm normally dubious about corporate sponsorship of that sort, as it too often involves getting as much as possible by the sponsor while giving back as little as possible. Not so in this case, as Mazda involvement has allowed major improvements at Laguna. And likely major improvements at Mazda, as it's the de facto American test and development track. It's short, tight, technical, and has plenty of quick elevation change. Raw power and top speed are worse than useless; excellence in power delivery and, especially, handling are rewarded. Which is what you want in a road car, and what you get from the second-generation Mazdaspeed 3, with a dose of character as well. "Bland" is nowhere to be seen or felt. At a far from racing but still go-directly-to-jail-do-not-pass-go pace on the track, it's right at home. And it's just as happy in the everyday world, with no need for adrenaline and endorphins to mask discomfort. The five-door hatchback body style makes it as useful as any small wagon or crossover, and even with a bare minimum of highway travel and as much backroad fun as possible it goes far on a gallon of unleaded premium, especially considering the power available.

APPEARANCE: Take the grinning happy face and complex lines of the current Mazda3 "5-door" hatchback and change some details. Readily apparent is the hood scoop for the intercooler, which is now mounted atop the engine instead of in front, and a moderately-sized wing spoiler at the rear of the roof. Look closer and notice that the lower front fascia, foglamps, and rocker panels are a bit different. The front fenders are ever so slightly flared to accommodate larger wheels and tires. A sculpted rear bumper and twin exhausts (zoom-zoom!) characterize the rear.

COMFORT: As it's a premium sport-compact, expect an appropriate interior in the Mazdaspeed 3. Based on the standard Mazda 3, it's as visually complex as the exterior, but functional and comfortable. And meant for serious driving, with supportive manually-adjustable (including driver's height) front bolstered sports seats, a good arrangement of the aluminum-and-rubber pedals (including left footrest), and tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel. The red-backlit instruments are easy to see, and between the speedometer and tach is a (how 80s!) boost gauge. Hint - don't look at it… things are gonna happen far too quickly. Rear passenger accommodations are good for two, with the ease of access provided by four doors. The rear seatback folds 60/40 for those times when large items need to be carried. Unlike the multiple trim levels offered in the previous generation, the 2010 has a simple lineup. There is one option package only, the Tech Package, with advanced keyless entry and pushbutton start/stop, a compact navigation system, a high-grade Bose« audio system with a six-disc CD changer, auxiliary input, and Sirius« satellite radio, and a perimeter alarm system. My test car was so-equipped. The small nav screen is mounted in an auxiliary display at the center of the top of the instrument panel, for easy visibility. It's controlled from the steering wheel, so the front passenger can't be put to work as the navigator. The audio system sounds great, but there is no USB input if that matters. It shouldn't - this car is about driving, not music.

SAFETY: Mazda's "Triple-H" unibody construction protects passengers with a strong central section and front and rear crush zones. Six airbags, including side curtains, and active head restraints add further passive protection. Strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, and Dynamic Stability Control with traction control add active protection.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Redesign of the second-generation Mazda 3's unibody structure makes it stronger and more rigid, and so capable of using a firmer suspension tuning with no loss of ride comfort. The Mazdaspeed MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension has stiffer springs and shock damping than previously used, and an improved front stabilizer bar mounting. There is more rubber on the road, with 225/40 sticky Dunlops replacing the old 215/45s. Electro-hydraulic assist for the steering improves efficiency and has a good moderate touch - but hit the throttle and there will be absolutely no doubt that this is a front-wheel drive car! Cornering ability is very, very good. You'll have a smile as big as the car's.

PERFORMANCE: With maximum 263 horsepower (at 5500 rpm) and a whopping 280 lb-ft of torque at only 3000 rpm out of a 2.3-liter twincam four, throttle and clutch demand technique and smoothness from the driver. Mind that torque steer! It's just the natural reaction of lots of torque going through the steering wheels. Keep revs above 3000, and there is instant power with no lag whatsoever. Direct fuel injection allows higher compression that injection into the manifold upstream of the intake valves, which translated to greater efficiency: more power on less fuel. Add an intercooled turbocharger for power on demand, and hang on. The six-speed gearbox shifts easily, and there is a pleasant level of involvement when driving the Mazdaspeed 3. Its quick-revving nature and can all to easily goad you into incipient hooliganism and a quick PhD in traffic school…áremember: track days are much less expensive than speeding tickets, and more fun! Revised gear ratios and engine management improve drivability. Despite its high specific output, the Mazdaspeed 3's engine is quite tractable. City driving is no problem. EPA mileage is 18 city, 25 highway; in a week with as little highway and as much uncrowded backroad as possible I still managed a 22 mpg average, testimony to the engine's flexibility. It doesn't need to be wrung out hard to perform.

CONCLUSIONS: With the 2010 Mazdaspeed 3, Mazda's little cruise missile has only gotten better.

SPECIFICATIONS 2010 Mazdaspeed3

Base Price			$ 23,195
Price As Tested		$ 25,880
Engine Type			dohc 16-valve turbocharged and
				 intercooled inline 4-cylinder
				 with direct fuel injection
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 138 cu. in.
Horsepower			263 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			280 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 177.6 in.
Curb Weight			3245 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.3
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P225/40 R18 88Y Dunlop SP Sport 2050
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA,
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut/
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				  front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 25 / 22
0 to 60 mph				7.8  sec

Mazdaspeed Tech Package - includes:
  242-watt Bose Centerpoint 10-speaker audio,
  in-dash 6-disc MP3-compatible CD player,
  Sirius« satellite radio, navigation system
  with color display, perimeter alarm,
  advanced keyless system with push-button
  start						$ 1,895
cargo net					$    40
destination charge				$   750