2010 Mazdaspeed3 SportPosted on December 30th, 2009
Form meets function in Mazda’s five-door hatchback
By Nina Russin
Of the hundred or so cars I test drive each year, a handful are models I can envision myself owning. The Mazdaspeed3 is one of those few.
Simply put, Mazda’s performance-driven hatchback fills all of my squares. It’s affordable, stylish, versatile enough for my modest cargo needs, and a lot of fun to drive. The turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is thrifty at the fuel pump, while providing an abundance of power.
The six-speed manual transmission has a light enough clutch pedal to function in traffic, with plenty of range in each gear. Steering response is positive, yet fluid.
Stabilizer bars on the front and rear axles keep the car flat in the corners. Yet the suspension has enough compliance to provide a comfortable ride on uneven road surfaces.
Base sticker price for the Mazdaspeed3 is $23,195: much less than one might expect for the performance it offers. The test car is the sport grade with one option package that adds an upgraded audio system and navigation with satellite radio, keyless ignition and a perimeter alarm ($1895).
Test drive in Phoenix, Arizona
This week, I had the opportunity to test drive the Mazdaspeed3 in my home town of Phoenix, Arizona. About a third of the hundred-mile test was on surface streets: the remainder on the highway. My average fuel economy of 26.5 miles per gallon was significantly higher than the EPA’s 21 mpg estimate.
The throttle has an extremely harsh tip off. The first time I backed out of the driveway, the chassis seemed to bounce off all four wheels. Once familiar with that, the rest of the driving experience was quite intuitive.
Engineers put multiple synchros on all but the overdrive and reverse gears, making the six-speed gearbox durable enough for the track. The short-throw shift lever moves through the gears crisply, with no noticeable lash.
Kudos to the design team for creating a compelling exterior design, and not sacrificing visibility. I was particularly impressed with over-the-shoulder visibility: good enough to monitor cars two lanes to my left.
Although the car has a thick rear pillar, side mirrors do a good job of minimizing blind spots in the rear corners. Small triangular windows between the rear door frames and back pillars enhance visibility. A generous-sized rear glass makes the pint-sized hatchback easy to parallel park.
Standard 18-inch wheels and Dunlop tires provide an ample footprint, most apparent on winding roads. Large four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
Appealing design, inside and out
There is a human element to the Mazdaspeed3 that elevates the design above its competitors. Up front, the Mazda logo is the focal point, with a grinning, blacked out grille beneath and hood scoop above. Fender flares over the wheels give the car a panther-like stance.
Standard side indicator lamps let make it easier for drivers in adjacent lanes see turn signals. A rear spoiler enhances the car’s aerodymanics, and creates a rear focal point. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clean in rain and snow.
The five-door design makes it easy for both rows of passengers to enter and exit the car. Bolstered front seats hold the driver and front passenger in place without affecting access and egress.
A large center console bin includes USB and auxiliary ports for plugging in portable music players. A 12-volt power point at the base of the center stack recharges cell phones.
Redundant steering wheel controls allow the driver to control the audio system, Bluetooth interface, and navigation functions with minimal distraction. While the steering wheel controls look confusing at first, they are easy to get used to.
A dead pedal makes the car more comfortable to drive on longer trips. Both rows of passengers have access to bottle holders in the doors, and cupholders in the center console, and a fold-down armrest in back.
With the front seats moved forward, there’s enough legroom in the second-row outboard positions for small adults. A tall floor tunnel makes it awkward to sit in the center position. The hatchback configuration gives the rear passengers plenty of headroom.
Dual reading lamps up front and a dome lamp illuminate the interior at night.
Buttons on the outside edges of the seatbacks fold the second-row seats flat to extend the cargo floor. Since it’s not necessary to remove the seat bottoms or headrests, the Mazdaspeed3 meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
Ground clearance is 4.7 inches: enough to clear a couple inches of snow or small stones on an unimproved road. Buyers looking for better off-road capability should consider the Mazda Tribute sport-utility vehicle.
The Mazdaspeed3 comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, dynamic stability and traction control. Mazda’s three-year, 36,000 mile warranty includes free roadside assistance. Mazda builds the Mazdaspeed3 at its assembly plant in Hiroshima, Japan.
Likes: A versatile five-door hatchback with excellent handling, performance and above-average fuel economy. The interior has the versatility to satisfy driving enthusiasts as well as buyers with active lifestyles.
Dislike: Lack of legroom in the rear seat.
Model: Mazdaspeed3 Sport
Base price: $23,195
As tested: $25,840
Horsepower: 263 Hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 280 lbs.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 18/25 mpg city/highway
Comments: MSRP does not include a $750 delivery charge. The manufacturer recommends premium 91 octane fuel for optimum performance.
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