Mazda3 up to speed in hot hatch market
With all that power just a throttle tap away, this front-wheel drive compact feels just short of out of control during heavy acceleration.
Despite all the “zoom-zoom” talk you hear from Mazda, the automaker really only has one truly dedicated performance vehicle for the 2012 model year - the Mazdaspeed3.
The RX-8 has gone to automotive heaven, and while a case could most certainly be made for the MX-5, it had its own Mazdaspeed version a few years back, but that hasn’t been available for years.
And so we have the only Mazdaspeed model in the line-up with the “3”, which, like any good hot hatch (do kids still even use that term anymore?), provides a lot of fun as well as a generous helping of everyday usability.
There are a few equipment changes to the Mazdaspeed3 for the 2012 model year, including the upgraded Bose sound system now standard, and the 6-CD changer being dropped for a single CD setup (and I wonder how many more years before that, like cassette players, is dropped altogether).
There’s also a new Technology Package which adds, among other things, push button ignition, satellite radio, blind spot monitoring system, and an adaptive front lighting system. It’s a nice touch that Mazda added some active safety systems to the upgrades.
Safety will likely be the last thing on the minds of most Mazdaspeed3 drivers, though. With its 2.3-litre turbocharged engine producing a hefty 280 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm, this vehicle is nasty-quick. It easily trumps any other similarly-priced performance car.
Call me crazy, but it almost seems like overkill. With all that power just a throttle tap away, this front-wheel drive compact exhibits noticeable torque steer. The vehicle feels just short of out of control during heavy acceleration in first gear, and it would be great to see it equipped with all-wheel drive, because with a vehicle like this, doing something like neutering its power output would be heresy to most performance enthusiasts.
The Mazdaspeed3 only comes with a six-speed manual transmission, and it’s a fantastic complement to the engine. The clutch is nicely weighted, the shifter feels great and I’m never left guessing what gear I’m moving into. Acceleration seems to suffer in sixth no matter what speed I’m moving at, but I’m not complaining when fuel economy takes precedence over all-out performance.
And that’s this vehicle’s real ace - the fact it’s so much like the regular Mazda3 in terms of fuel economy, comfort, and general everyday usability. I finish my week at a respectable 9.2 L/100km, which is just above the 9.0 L/100km I ended up with in a 2011 Mazda3 Sport and close to my 8.8 L/100km recently in the 2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI five-door. The big downside is that I’m filling up the Mazdaspeed3 with premium fuel.
Although the Mazdaspeed3 is slightly larger than the Mazda3 Sport from the outside, interior dimensions are essentially the same between the two, and overall passenger volume is identical - in fact, it’s identical to Subaru’s five-door WRX as well, and just slightly more than the Golf GTI.
I have few complaints with what the Mazdaspeed3 offers inside. It’s easy finding a comfortable seating position from behind the steering wheel, and even the back seats provide plenty of room for two adults. The rear door opening is a little small, but it’s a lot better than the alternative offered by a three-door hatch.
The second row seats still thankfully fold virtually flat for a roomy cargo area, though even with the back seats in position, there’s still space for a couple of bags of luggage. One complaint I have is that the hatch door can be finicky. Shut it too hard and it bounces back open; close it without enough effort and it doesn’t lock into place. It’s a small thing, but it happens repeatedly during my week with the vehicle.
All things considered, the Mazdaspeed3 is a very good choice for the driver who wants a ready-out-of-the-box, affordable performance hatchback. I still think the MX-5 is a superior performance vehicle - power numbers be damned - but the Mazdaspeed3 gets a healthy dose of comfort and convenience to make it plenty appealing.
Price as tested (before taxes): $32,380
Options on test vehicle: Technology Pkg. ($2,440) inc.: blind spot monitoring, intelligent key with push-button ignition, power driver's seat, satellite radio, navigation system, adaptive front lighting
Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.3L 4-cyl./ 6-spd manual
Power/torque: 263 hp/ 280 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Premium (60L)
Fuel economy ratings: 11.5 L/100km city; 8.0 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 9.2 L/100km over 378 km
Warranties: 3 years/80,000 km (basic); 5 years/100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Subaru Impreza WRX; Volkswagen Golf GTI
Strengths: power; everyday usability; seats
Weaknesses: torque steer; finicky hatch door; no sedan version