2011 Mazda MAZDASPEED3
In the sport hatchback segment, the Mazdaspeed 3 has been the one to beat the past few years. Its combination of nimble handling, pin-you-to-the-seat turbo power, practicality and value have made the "Speed 3" a favorite among those looking for thrills on the cheap. It has also been a favorite among our staff, having won most of the comparison tests we've thrown it into.
At the heart of the 2011 Mazdaspeed 3's appeal is its turbocharged 2.3-liter engine. Packing 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, this turbo-4 is a hard charger and will get you to 60 mph in a quick 6.3 seconds. The downside, though, is that it's almost too much power for the front-drive Mazda 3 chassis; nailing the throttle can result in a notable amount of torque steer. That said, it's easily managed and reminds you that this potent hot hatch demands respect from your right foot. The precise steering, buttoned-down suspension and sticky tires make the MS3 fun in the corners, too.
Beyond the spirited driving experience, other key attributes of the Speed 3 include a well-trimmed cabin boasting solid fit and finish as well as some features (either standard or optional) that you might not expect in this segment. You also get a fair amount of utility, too. Thanks to its decent-sized rear seats and 42.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity, the Speed 3 can handle just about anything life throws at you.
If we were to level a complaint about the Mazdaspeed 3, it'd be that it's almost too sport-oriented. You can only get it with a manual transmission, for instance, and its firm ride quality and road noise might seem a bit harsh for people living in areas with poorly maintained pavement. The more mature Volkswagen GTI, in comparison, is easier to live with on a daily basis.
There are also other options for an affordable hot hatch, like the stylish Mini Cooper S and the all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Subaru WRX. You might even consider coupes like the Chevrolet Camaro V6, Ford Mustang V6 and Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Though we definitely recommend Mazda's spicy Speed 3, there's quite a spread in this hot hatch buffet so we suggest sampling all via test-drives if you're not sure what flavor might appeal to you most.
The 2011 MAZDASPEED3 is loaded with all the goodies a driving enthusiast wants, but without anything that would add undue weight. Standard features and equipment include variable intermittent windshield wipers, roof-mounted aerodynamic antenna, illuminated vanity mirrors, electroluminescent gauges, aluminum pedals, MAZDASPEED �branded black/red cloth seats, door trim, interior trim, floor mats, scuff plates and black/red decoration panel; and dual-zone climate control. An available MAZDASPEED3 Technology Package offers advanced keyless entry, push-button start, a compact full-color navigation system, Sirius satellite radio with six months of free service, a perimeter alarm, six CD changer, and BOSE� Centerpoint� surround sound � a five-channel surround system engineered cooperatively with BOSE� that enhances the listening experience thanks to a digital amplifier, noise cancellation technology and 10, strategically placed, premium speakers. For 2011, the MAZDASPEED3 Technology Package is expanded with rain-sensing front wipers, auto on/off headlights, Bi-Xenon headlights with auto leveling, Adaptive Front-lighting system (AFS), and LED rear combination taillights. Because the weight and structural penalties would compromise the pure driving experience, the MAZDASPEED3 is not available with a moonroof option.
The design of the MAZDASPEED3 evolves the model�s visual identity to create a sportier, more aggressive appearance. The result is a more emotional design that takes the sporty, agile nature of the MAZDA3 5-Door to a new level.
The MAZDASPEED3 is easily distinguished from its siblings. Start at the front, where a lower air dam and round fog lights frame an organic, metallic-black grille. The hood houses an intercooler scoop to improve charge air cooling, and the front fenders are flared to contain the car�s wide tires.
From the side view, the 18 x 7.5-inch aluminum wheel design is unique, but modeled closely on the deeply sculpted, expressive, and very lightweight 19-inch forged wheels on the RX-8 R3. Sculpted side skirts and a low stance also give away the MAZDASPEED3�s sinister motives. From the rear, large dual exhaust tips, , and a large, roof-mounted rear wing give it away.
Nagare-inspired design defines the exterior and continues into the cabin, which features color coordination and materials chosen to excite the driver and passengers every time they take a seat. Black is the keynote color employed throughout the interior, while the seats and trim fabric have an organic red graphic design. This MAZDASPEED3-exclusive design is distributed throughout, with red stitching enhancing the sporty interior character on the steering wheel, seats, door trim, shift lever boot, and center armrest.
The dashboard of the MAZDASPEED3 is designed to give a roomy feel while displaying critical information up high and deep into the dashboard, closer to the driver�s field of vision and focal point. The instrument cluster for the MAZDASPEED3 also includes an LED turbo boost gauge positioned between the meters.
The driver�s seat is especially critical in any performance car. Without solid lateral support, a driver loses the focus, control and precision needed to really enjoy driving. The MAZDASPEED3 seats are designed to provide that support without compromising everyday comfort.
Allow us to explain. The current-generation �Speed 3, a turbocharged affair with 263 horsepower, has won two consecutive comparos and made our coveted 10Best list for 2007 and 2008. We�ve routinely praised its sub-six-second 0-to-60-mph sprint, lively handling, and all-around enthusiast appeal, so we�re very excited about the prospect of a new version.
Powertrain details are thin on the ground, but we doubt the current 2.3-liter turbo will reappear. Instead, we're guessing the new car will use either a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, or the same 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder employed in Europe's new Ford Focus RS. Regardless, expect at least 300 horsepower so as to keep ahead of the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart.
One of our only gripes with the Mazdaspeed 3 is its propensity for torque steer, a trait we'd love to see mitigated by all-wheel drive in the new car. But the Euro-spec Focus RS�with which the Mazdaspeed 3 will likely share many components�will be front-drive only, seemingly precluding AWD for the Mazda.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Though the 2011 Mazdaspeed 3 itself hasn't been crash tested, the similar Mazda 3 five-door hatchback upon which it's based has been tested. In government testing, the Mazda 3 scored five out of five stars for driver and front passenger protection in a frontal crash, five stars for front side protection and four stars for rear side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Mazda 3 its highest possible rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Routing 280 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels is usually a recipe for annoying amounts of steering-wheel-tugging torque steer. This phenomenon is certainly present in the 2011 Mazdaspeed 3, though the engine's torque-limiting software helps keep it manageable for the most part.
In any case, there's no doubt that the Speed 3 is one of the best-handling and most entertaining hot hatches on a winding road. Impressively precise, the steering provides plenty of communication and faithfully transmits road information like few front-wheel-drive cars can. Considering the car's performance potential, the suspension manages to also provide a fairly compliant ride, though the Mazdaspeed 3 ultimately isn't as comfortable as other models like the GTI.