Christopher Little

3 Turned Up to 11: 2013 Mazdaspeed 3

More power: a simple formula to turn an ordinary car into a performance machine. Mazda, with its performance roots, bestows a select few of its models with that special treatment. The results are badged Mazdaspeed. Adding “speed” to the name of a model is a bold move. What does the Mazdaspeed 3 have to back up its name? Wedged under the hood is a turbocharged and intercooled four cylinder engine making 70% more power than the base Mazda 3. Output peaks at 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft torque. On paper then, the Mazdaspeed 3 is a serious hot hatchback.

Mazdaspeed 3 3
The Mazdaspeed 3’s outward appearance keys in to the added power. The hood bulges up and gains a wide scoop to feed the top-mounted intercooler. The front grille gets the Gillette treatment and the rear fin sits high over the rear glass. Our Velocity Red Bicolor tester also featured black wheels and mirror caps. It delivers a far more sinister presence than the standard Mazda 3, much like a similar color combo did to the Mazda MX-5 Club we drove earlier this year.

Debuted in 2009, the second generation has remained largely unchanged, meaning the Mazdaspeed 3 appears somewhat dated inside. This is especially true for the touchscreen display and infotainment system. It regularly failed to connect to my iPod and was slow to connect to satellite radio. The navigation system even crashed once while providing directions, restarting the entire system. Despite these shortcomings, the Mazda is comfortable inside. The seats are supportive, if a bit narrow in the shoulder, and proved comfortable over a 5 hour ride. The Mazda also has the best visibility of any hot hatch we’ve driven thanks to its larger greenhouse. This also helped when loading it with three suitcases, two day-bags, and a bicycle; you can seriously pack away a lot of things inside this car. But enough about features and ergonomics, what you’re really here for is the driving experience.

Mazdaspeed 3 6
Resisting the urge to quote Uncle Ben, all the extra FWD power in the Mazdaspeed 3 does require some responsibility. Launching with reckless abandon will break the front Dunlops loose when the boost gauge pegs out at 15psi in first and second gear. Not only that, without a firm grip on the wheel the resulting torquesteer will forcibly wrench it from your hands. It’s difficult to get the hang of, but highly intoxicating. Keeping the turbo spooled involves frequent rowing of the 6-speed manual gearbox. The goal is to keep the RPMs above 4500 but below 6000. Too low and there’s noticeable lag; too high and the engine runs out of steam. Unfortunately, the gearbox isn’t as crisp and direct as the Mazda Miata. Second gear proved to be most difficult when downshifting. This lead to more than one missed shift which was frustrating when trying to get the best out of the car.

Working the engine produces quite a bit of noise, but not usually the good kind. There’s very little turbo or engine noise to be heard over the drone of the exhaust. Mixed in with the drone is a good portion of road noise. On side roads, it sounds as if the Mazdaspeed 3 is firing every pebble it can find into the wheel wells. Granted, the occasional pop or burble on throttle lift is immensely satisfying, but it won’t cure the headache brought on by a long drive. With that said, sprinting through the countryside will bring a smile much like the Mazda’s to your face. The car is well planted and the front wheels do well working double duty on power and steering. Understeer is surprisingly manageable, which is a testament to the chassis and suspension tuning. The stiffer suspension benefits such driving at the expense of the passenger comfort.

Mazdaspeed 3 2

The Mazdaspeed 3, in reality, takes itself a bit too seriously. It wants to be a great car and it comes very, very close. With a bit more refinement, the Mazda could be the best hot hatch on the market. It could be slightly softer, slightly quieter, or slightly smoother. Just one of those small improvements would escalate this car to the top five favorites that I’ve driven. This, of course, is difficult to admit without conveying the wrong message. Mazda should be lauded for building such an insane hatchback. You should want one or be jealous of someone who does. This is the kind of car that enthusiasts should beg for because it is very, very good. Competition in this segment continues to grow but, even after nearly 5 years in production, the Mazdaspeed 3 is still a viable contender. That truly says something about how good this car was when it was first released, and how good it still is today.

-Christopher Little

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 $24,200
Mazdaspeed Tech Package $2,485
Interior Lighting Kit $200
Rearview mirror w/ compass, rain sensor, and Homelink $275
Destination Charges $795
As Tested MSRP $27,955

Related:

Ace of Spades: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Revisiting the Rotary: 2009 Mazda RX-8 R3

Death of the Rotary Engine

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