The 2013 Mazdaspeed3 compact hatchback is for those who like fast, responsive small cars, but don’t want to give up a good dose of practicality.
The well-equipped front-drive Mazdaspeed3 is a far cry from the standard front-drive Mazda3, which is a pleasant, practical hatchback reasonably enjoyable to drive.
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The $24,200 Mazdaspeed3 looks like it’s spoiling for a fight. New for 2013 are items including 40-series tires on 18-inch “gunmetal” alloy wheels, black outside mirrors, a two-tone rear roof spoiler and rear lower valance.
New for the interior is a $2,485 Technology Package that includes a blind-spot monitoring system, full-color touchscreen navigation system, HD radio, Pandora audio application, SMS test message audio delivery and voice reply. It also contains a pushbutton engine start.
The Mazdaspeed3 has a 2.3-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder with 263 horsepower and a close-ratio manual transmission. The highest-horsepower regular Mazda3 has a 2.5-liter four with 148-167 horsepower and can be had with a regular 5-speed manual gearbox and automatic transmission.
The Mazdaspeed3 has a firm all-independent sport suspension that provides superb handling and makes it a blast to drive—at least on open roads. Its supple ride won’t beat you up but will be too firm for average drivers. There are front/rear stabilizer bars, torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential and strong, anti-lock brakes with brake assist. The car also has dynamic stability control and traction control systems.
A close-ratio six-speed manual transmission is designed to wring the most performance from the sophisticated direct-injected, all-aluminum engine. That transmission generally shifts well, but is a bit stiff. Also, shifting from second to third gear often put me back in first gear. That’s because the shifter distance between first and third gears is razor-thin.
Moreover, the Mazdaspeed 3 has a high-effort clutch with a long throw. The car thus becomes taxing in heavy traffic.
The slightly heavy electro-hydraulic power steering is quick and accurate.
Performance is good, with 0-60 mph taking 6.5 seconds, but the car would be faster if it could be shifted more quickly. The car reaches the end of a quarter-mile run at about 100 mph. Quick 65-75 mph passing can be done best in third gear, but is also respectable in even fourth and fifth gears. Third gear is best for quick in-town moves.
Despite 280 pound-feet of torque at only 3,000 r.p.m., l found myself shifting a lot in moderately heavy traffic for the best performance. Happily, there’s little torque steer.
Estimated fuel economy is 18 miles per gallon in town and 25 on highways.
Large outside door handles make it easy to quickly slide into the Mazdaspeed3’s high-quality interior, which has very supportive black leather seats with nifty red stitching. The easily gripped thick adjustable wheel has audio and cruise controls, gauges that can be read at a glance and easily used controls.
But drivers with large feet will find part of their shoes nudging the gas pedal when braking. And the cover for the console’s dual cupholders partly gets in the way of the driver when flipped up.
My test car’s interior was generally quiet, except for some mild gear drone on highways that could be heard with the sound system switched off.
The Mazdaspeed3 has plenty of standard equipment. It includes dual-zone automatic climate control, the usual power accessories, remote keyless entry system with panic mode, power outlets and a 10-speaker surround audio system.
While there’s decent room up front, legroom behind the driver is tight, and the center of the rear seat is uncomfortable even for short trips without a pillow. It’s best left to the fold-down armrest that contains dual cupholders. Narrow rear doorways slightly hinder fast entry and exit. Front door pockets have decent storage areas, but rear doors only contain beverage holders.
The large cargo area has a wide opening, but a rather high liftover. Rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to significantly enlarge the cargo area.
The hood is extremely heavy and held up with a prop rod, instead of hydraulic struts. Most fluid filler areas are within easy reach and likely will be checked more often by the car buffs who buy a Mazdaspeed3.
In all, the Mazdaspeed3 is a fun-to-drive, competitively priced “pocket rocket.”
Pros: Fast. Sharp handling. Strong brakes. Fun to drive. Hatchback versatility.
Cons: Tricky Shifter. Stiff clutch action. No automatic transmission. Tight behind driver.
Bottom Line: A blast to drive, but not on crowded urban roads.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.