Like the tuxedo t-shirt you bought in middle school, a hot hatch—a special, sportier edition of a hatchback—is meant to be the best of both worlds. You're supposed to be able to comfortably drive them around town like a normal, well-meaning auto without waking the neighbors or looking like kid racer. But then you're supposed to be able to switch the tires out and throw it on a track without thinking you've made some horrible, horrible mistake. It's all about that balance. The MazdaSpeed3 doesn't do that balance too well. And, unlike your tuxedo shirt, that's why we love it. Read on to find out why...
PRICE: (base) $23,945; (loaded) $25,840
POWER: 263hp, 2.3L Turbocharged four cylinder engine w/ Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI)
MPG: 18 city/25 mpg
RIDE: Before we get into how it rides, let's put some of these numbers in perspective. Blown lump fitted between the front wheels is capable of putting out 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. That's 63 more horses than the VW GTI. Hell, that's more power than almost every car in its class. 63 horses may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that the MazdaSpeed3 (MS3) weighs only 3245, that's 700 lbs less than a BMW 5 series. In such a package, any increase in power is automatically felt. And the same goes here. As soon you get on the gas you know you're in a mini hot-rod. Which can be good and bad. Good because you have one of the quickest cars for the money. Bad because it sometimes behaves like an overeager puppy. Oh, and the torque steer.
Simply put, torque steer is what happens when the front wheels of a car are overwhelmed with the amount of twisting power (torque) being sent to them and send the car going in whichever direction it wants. Not good. To help you out, Mazda threw in a limited slip differential to keep the wheels straight and lessen the wheel. Once you get the car moving, however, it's a blast. Literally. Dig your foot into the go pedal and you'll hit 60 mph in 6.4 sec. That's properly quick. The car handles better than the regular Mazda 3's as well thanks to finely tuned suspension and four grippy Dunlop P225s. With the added sportiness, you, of course, sacrifice a little on road comfort. Potholes become your worse enemy. You can feel more in the road that you did before. If you're a lead foot, that's all fine and good, but if you're just trying to take your girl to the movies it can get a little tiresome.
EXTERIOR: Most hot hatch makers have been turning down the crazy aesthetics that are traditionally associated with hot hatches. They've taken off the scoops and wings and bulging wheel arcs to make them look, more or less, like their plebeian stablemates. Not Mazda. They decided to make the MS3 standout even more than before. Where the first generation had only a more aggressive suspension, grill and wheel package, the 2010 model takes all that an throws a hood scoop on it as well. Just incase people that drove next to you didn't peep the badge at the back. Some say it's too much. We think it's just right. It's the most exciting design out of all the hot hatches sold in the States.
INTERIOR: The interior is more or less the same as the regular Mazda 3. Once again you get Recaro buckets upfront along with the red stitching. This being a five door, there's space enough for four adults and their stuff to ride around in. We wouldn't recommend squeezing in that five person unless it was completely necessary. The dash is well laid out, with large buttons (maybe a bit too large) guiding to everything you need.
TECH: If you opt for the navigation system, you may find yourself a bit frustrated. For 2010 Mazda has outfitted their cars with a mini screen nestled above the dash, to the right of the instrument cluster. It's right in the eye line of the driver which is cool. What's not cool is how you control it. As a system it's great. The menu's are clear and intuitive, the nav system got us where we wanted to go in a quick and straight forward manner. But in order to get through those menu's and input your information you have to use a toggle on the steering wheel. Meaning your passenger can't use it. Most cars these days have touch screens or crazy advanced infotainment systems. It seems like Mazda could have refined their system a bit. That said, the optional Bose 10-speaker system is amazing. In such a small package your music will knock, no matter what it is you listen to.
SUMMARY: If you're looking for excitement each and every time you sit behind the wheel this is your car. It's practical enough to drive on the daily, and well equipped enough to be a moderately good weekend racer. It's comfortable to a point—we wouldn't recommend taking long trips—and it's very well priced.