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2013 Mazdaspeed3 Review By Carey Russ

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2013 Mazdaspeed3


…Mazdaspeed3. Mazda's little hooligan hatch is the perfect antidote to the bland and boring transportation appliance.

2013 Mazda Mazdaspeed3

If you think that contemporary cars have no character, you need to drive a Mazdaspeed3. Mazda's little hooligan hatch is the perfect antidote to the bland and boring transportation appliance. It has a well-balanced combination of performance and handling that can make a routine errand run a most pleasant experience, and has all the everyday usefulness expected of a four-door hatchback. If you're not smiling after even a short trip in a Mazdaspeed3, check your pulse. You may not have one.

Based as always on the hatchback variant of Mazda's most popular car in the US, the Mazda 3, with modifications carried out by in-house performance division Mazdaspeed, the Speed3 has had few changes since the second generation debuted for 2010. Few, if any, were needed as Mazda got it right the first time, even to the point of the original engine carrying over to the second generation. With 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque available from the turbocharged, intercooled, and direct-injected 2.3-liter twincam four-cylinder engine, changes were not necessary. As ever, it's any transmission you want, as long as it's a six-speed stick. The suspension may seem deceptively soft compared to other factory and (especially) aftermarket competitors, but that's just taking advantage of a good solid chassis. Overly-stiff is not good when roads are bumpy as tires that are not on the ground provide no traction.

What's new for 2013? Dark gray painted alloy wheels, black mica outside mirrors and trim, USB audio input in the console box, and the optional Technology Package, with a blind-spot monitoring system, touchscreen navigation system, HD, Sirius satellite, and Pandora streaming radio, push-button start/stop, automatic emergency notification, rain-sensing wipers, LED taillights, and bi-xenon HID headlights with adaptive lighting that turns a bit with the steering wheel. A suite of options expected in a pricey luxury car, but not in a reasonably-priced ($24,200 base MSRP, $2,485 for the Tech Package) pocket rocket. If a Mazdaspeed3 could thumb its nose in the direction of Germany, it would.

My test car for the past week was a new Mazdaspeed3 in the signature metallic red color and with the Tech Package. It was conveniently small outside for maneuverability on the road and in parking, entertainingly quick in a manner that makes it most fun and useful in real-world conditions, more comfortable than would be expected of something so sport-oriented, and had all the usefulness and versatility of a four-door hatchback. Yes, there's torque steer, especially under hard acceleration, but that's part of the little beast's character, much as with a high-performance shaft-drive motorcycle. It's also a reminder that there is serious torque on tap. Downside? Maybe fuel economy, maybe -- but remember, horsepower = fuel + air, and there is no shortage of horses to be fed. EPA estimates of 18mpg city, 25 highway were close to what I saw, with a 23-mpg average and mostly driving with as much verve as possible. And more smiles than miles per gallon.

APPEARANCE: Take the grinning happy face and complex lines of the current Mazda3 "5-door" hatchback and change some details. Most apparent is the functional hood scoop that feeds the intercooler, 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, fog lamps, and rocker panels are a bit different from the regular Mazda3 as well. 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: There have been detail changes inside the Speed3 since the last example I drove back in 2010. While the basic shapes and design are familiar, the main gauges are now brightly-backlit in white on a black and red background and easier to read than with the old red illumination. The boost gauge is still positioned between the speedometer and tach -- but don't look as things happen fast when the boost comes on! The interior design is as complexly-curved as the exterior, but form still follows function. Information and climate system displays are under a hood near the base of the windshield; audio and navigation (if fitted) are controlled through a touchscreen in the center stack. Climate control is by means of simple knobs below the stack screen. Interior materials and equipment are as expected in an Asian sport-compact, soft-touch synthetic interior panels, synthetic upholstery with manual seat controls including driver's cushion height, a leather-rimmed steering wheel manually adjustable for tilt and reach, and metal-and-rubber pedals with a left foot rest. There are audio, cruise, and information controls on the steering wheel.

Front seat comfort and support are good, with appropriate bolstering. The rear seat offers good space for the two outboard positions and easy access. The rear seatback folds 60/40 for those times when cargo trumps passengers, and there's a space-saver spare tire, not a can of fix-a-flat, under the load floor.

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, as does the optional blind-spot monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: With the 2010 redesign of the Mazda3's unibody structure making it stronger and more rigid, Mazdaspeed engineers re-tuned the Speed3's fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension for improved handling with no loss of comfort. Spring rates and shock damping are actually stiffer, but matched well so that the ride is compliant, even on less-than-perfect roads, but the car corners flat, minimizing lateral weight transfer. 225/40R18 sticky Dunlops replaced the previous 215/45s, no change there and none needed. Electro-hydraulic steering assist allows an appropriately moderate effort, and cornering ability is best explored on the track. Yes there is torque steer, but the engine management system mitigates that somewhat. There is still no doubt that you're driving a front-wheel drive car with plenty of power and torque -- which would be a top reason for buying the Speed3.

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. Yes, there is that torque steer. It's just the natural reaction of lots of torque going through the steering wheels, and the engine management system has been instructed to limit torque at times where it could otherwise have an excessive effect -- which is mostly noticeable by being un-noticeable. Just keep revs above 3000, and there is instant power with no lag whatsoever. Direct fuel injection allows higher compression than injection into the manifold upstream of the intake valves, which translates 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; remember track days are much less expensive than speeding tickets, and more fun!

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; I saw a 23 mpg average, with a bit more highway and commute driving that usual. The Speed3 doesn't need to be wrung out hard to perform, but has no complaint if driven like you stole it.

CONCLUSIONS: Mazda's Mazdaspeed3 combines character with practicality. "Fun" is part of "function", after all.

2013 Mazda Mazdaspeed3

Base Price			$ 24,200
Price As Tested		$ 27,955
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve turbocharged and
				 intercooled aluminum alloy inline
				 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection
				 and variable cam phasing
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			3281 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.5
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P225/40R18 88V Dunlop SP Sport 2050
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc
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 / 23
0 to 60 mph				5.8  sec

Interior lighting kit				$   200
Mirror with Homelink and rain sensor		$   275
Mazdaspeed Tech Package - includes:
  blind-spot monitoring system, full-color touchscreen
  navigation system, Sirius satellite radio with 4-month
  subscription, HD radio and Pandora® audio,
  SMS text message delivery and reply, E911
  automatic emergency notification, Mazda advanced
  keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, alarm
  system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto on/off
  bi-xenon headlights, adaptive front lighting system,
  LED rear combination lights			$ 2,485
Destination charge				$   795