KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 3/21/2011
With its introduction of the Mazda3 5-door in 2004, Mazda finally had the homerun in the compact segment it had been working toward. Eschewing the path taken by Civic and Corolla - whose mainstream models are relatively upright, 4-door sedans, Mazda covered both sides of the market spectrum with an admittedly more conventional 4-door, in combination with the less established direction of a 5-door. The 5-door gamble has paid off in spades, and constituted the perfect platform for Mazda's intro of the Mazdaspeed3 a few model years later. With boosted power - some 100 horses healthier than the box stock version - and an appropriately tuned chassis, the Mazdaspeed3 is viable competition for VW's iconic GTI, Mini's Cooper S Clubman and Subaru's WRX. And in several aspects of the "what to buy" argument, it trumps all three.
You'll Like This Car If...
To receive a full dose of "zoom-zoom" one would assume you go to the RX-8 or an aftermarket-infused Miata. In doing so you'd be missing a huge opportunity in the 5-door segment. The Mazdaspeed3 takes all of the goodness of its donor 5-door and adds a healthy dose of excitement, along with bike racks, grocery bags and baby seats. If you believe in raising children in the fast lane (rather than a school zone), this is what you'll buy.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Given its bump to 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, the Mazdaspeed3 is not for the faint of heart. Its proclivity for throttle-induced torque steer can be fatiguing, while its buttoned down suspension borders on punishing. If in doubt, take a good look at the more prosaic - albeit still capable and compelling - Mazda3 5-door with 2.5 liter four and 6-speed manual trans.
What's Significant About This Car?
Having gained new (and controversial) sheetmetal in 2010, the Mazdaspeed3 receives only a few minor mods, notably in its all-encompassing Technology package.
The Mazdaspeed3 driving dynamic is dominated by one thing and one thing only: 263 turbocharged horsepower connected - via Mazda's superb 6-speed manual - to the front wheels. A limited-slip diff, in combination with Mazda's electronic torque management, may work to ameliorate the tug on your arms and twitch in your sphincter, but 263 horsepower divided by two wheels is what it is - a roller coaster ride for which you will have paid 36, 48 or 60 monthly installments. However, you can forget the peaky performance of turbo installations you may have read about (or experienced) in the bad old days; this is performance injected in a wholly linear fashion. The boost remains a beast, and can best be modulated only by what civilized societies term adulthood. In sum, we like everything about it.
Mazda's boost gauge puts the fun in functionality, but for day-in, day-out usefulness, it's tough to beat the Mazdaspeed3's two-box architecture and folding rear seat. From firewood to a futon, the 5-door swallows just about anything your quarterly visit to Ikea can dish out.
6-Speed Manual Trans
Connecting a manual transmission to a front-wheel drive transaxle isn't rocket science, but given the small number of manufacturers capable of doing it well...well, maybe it is rocket science. The Mazda manual is a prototype for any and all carmakers continuing to "stick" with the row-it-yourself option.
Happily, the Mazdaspeed3's extreme performance envelope is mated to an extremely functional package. You simply can't beat a 5-door for practicality, and when that configuration is set atop a well-configured mechanical layout the livability is expanded exponentially – especially when compared to a more conventional 4-door sedan. The already-upscale interior appointments of the standard Mazda3 are enhanced with more sport-oriented front buckets, providing better lateral support while not compromising daily ingress; Mazdaspeed3-specific leather/cloth upholstery; and those functional adds (LED turbo boost gauge, aluminum foot pedals) appropriate to a driver's environment. One note, however, regarding access: the MAZDA3 profile is low, and if you're tall (or elderly) the in-and-out motions may be more awkward than that provided by a taller greenhouse. Try before you buy...
The Mazdaspeed3's basic proportions date to its 2004 introduction. For the 2010 model year, however, the clean, Euro-centric sheetmetal of the original was out, and an origami-inspired renovation (Mazda calls it "Nagare") was in. The reviews have been mixed, especially when one considers the gaping hole that Mazda describes as a "lower air intake." That said, we might simply write off the changes in its skin as generational, and take comfort knowing that the new skin is more palatable in darker metallics. The Mazdaspeed3 is perfectly planted, however, on its 18-inch alloys and 40-series rubber. In back, an aggressive dual exhaust adds aural sizzle, while a larger rear wing provides the shizzle.
Notable Standard Equipment
Beyond its 263 horsepower, the entire Mazdaspeed3 package is essentially standard, with the option sheet limited to roughly four entries and a total of $3,000. The boosted power, handling and braking mods appropriate to that power – a limited slip differential, sport seats and six-speaker AM/FM/CD – are all listed under standard equipment. And active safety (the ability to avoid an accident) is enhanced with ABS, Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control, and Electronic Brake Force Distribution. For a window sticker of under $25K, Mazda's approach to marketing is commendable.
Notable Optional Equipment
The one big-ticket item on the Mazdaspeed3 option sheet is their Technology Package, a $2,515 add that includes a 265-watt Bose Centerpoint 10-speaker audio system, navigation, Sirius Satellite Radio, advanced keyless entry, push button start, perimeter alarm, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto on/off headlights, bi-xenon headlights, etc. The balance of available options is best described as accessories, and includes a cargo net, floor mats, and Sirius Satellite radio with 6-month subscription. Of course, members of SEMA - the Specialty Equipment Market Association - offer a zillion performance or cosmetic mods, and all are just one click away on the Internet.
Under the Hood
From the company that brought rotary power to the masses, the Mazdaspeed3 brings massive power to your neighborhood. What Mazda identifies as its MZR 2.3L DISI Turbo develops both power and torque in numbers fully appropriate to a small-displacement V6, and does it with an in-line four. And it's far more than just attaching a turbo to an existing four; pistons are coated with a special anti-friction compound, connecting rods are sintered for additional strength, and lighter full-floating wrist pins minimize reciprocating weight. The end result is an incredible lightness of being - at virtually any rpm. And with this "lightning in a booster" you can still achieve 25 miles per gallon on the highway.
2.3-liter in-line 4 turbocharged
263 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
280 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
In its time on the market there's been little change in the Mazdaspeed3 pricing structure, remaining firmly in the just-under-$25,000 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) spot. As noted, a short option list means you can't distort that MSRP significantly. In its resale it performs superbly, with a projected return firmly in the same ballpark as Volkswagen's GTI and Mini's Cooper S Clubman. Always check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price for an accurate idea of what consumers are paying in your market area.