2012 Mazda Mazdaspeed3

2013 Mazda Mazdaspeed3 Review

We sample Mazda's hot hatch.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: November 9th, 2012

Some cars tug at your heart, but the Mazdaspeed3 tugs at the wheel, at least when pressed hard. Torque steer has been the car's defining characteristic over the years, and it likely isn’t going away any time soon.

There's more to the 'Speed3, of course, but torque steer--the tendency for the car to pull one way or the other when accelerating hard from a stop--is still the first thing that came to mind when one pulled up in our parking lot.

Was it still on the top of our minds when our week with the car was over? Read on to find out.

For an entertaining and a completely different take on a car review video, we recommend Behind the Wheel With Sarah!.

  • On the Road

    The Mazdaspeed3 exists as the high-performance version of the Mazda 3 hatchback (the sedan isn't available in Mazdaspeed guise), so one would expect it to be a blast to drive, and aside from that blasted torque steer, it doesn't disappoint.

    It’s quick off the line (although we'd like just a pinch more oomph), but the dreaded torque steer raises its ugly head when the accelerator is floored from a stop or a low speed in the lower gears. Be prepared to be tugged into the weeds if you aren't paying attention, or if you don't have both hands on the wheel.

    When cornering, the Mazdaspeed hunkers down nicely and goes right where it's pointed, with no fuss or drama. The steering is accurate and nicely weighted, with good feel.

    There's a ride/handling tradeoff--namely that the ride is stiff, especially on rough pavement. It's true that ride quality is sometimes sacrificed in the name of sportiness, and that's the case here.

    The 'Speed3 ain't quiet, either--road noise filters in, and the turbo engine never really shuts up. It's not overwhelming, but you never forget the car's mission.

    We liked the shifter and clutch action--take-up from the clutch pedal is nice, and the shifter has tight throws that are the perfect length. The shift gates are accurate, too.

  • Exterior

    Other than some go-fast doodads, like a large hood scoop and a rear spoiler, the 'Speed doesn't stand out from the regular Mazda 3 hatchback too much. New for 2013 are blacked-out wheels and black sideview mirror housings, along with a black lower valance. The rear spoiler is now black, too.

    It all makes for a sporty look that is still just innocent enough to avoid the eyes of Johnny Law, although our tester did come in "speeding ticket red," so it probably stood out a little bit more.

  • Interior

    The dash now includes a new Tom-Tom-based navigation system and Pandora internet radio as a part of the available Technology Package. We had a hard time getting Pandora to stream correctly; it worked initially then acted buggy, sometimes showing the wrong songs and station, while at other times running through the Bluetooth player screen, not the Pandora screen.

    Mazda finally added a USB port this year, and while we appreciate that, we found that Pandora wouldn't stream while our iPhone was tethered.

    Otherwise, the interior will be familiar to anyone who's spent time in the 3, with plenty of black plastic and an extra display screen in the upper dash. Materials look and feel a little bit down market.

    The cockpit feels a bit tight, although not uncomfortable. We're not sure how we felt about the ambient lights that shined at our feet at night, but at least they could be turned off.

  • Fuel Economy and Safety

    The Mazdaspeed3 has the usual complement of airbags along with the usual electronic safety aids such as ABS and traction control.

    Fuel economy is rated at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, which is respectable given this car's sporty intent.

  • Final Thoughts

    When it comes to affordable performance, the Mazdaspeed3 mostly shines, with the torque steer being the biggest letdown. This is a sports car that one can live with--it's docile around town and a demon on a twisty road. It's got all the amenities, and 25 mpg highway ain't shabby.

    Sure, some of the car's over-exuberance grates, especially the constant din from outside. At times, the materials didn't feel up to snuff for a $28K car, either.

    No matter. Those are small sacrifices in a car that remains one of the best performance bargains on the road.

  • Features, Specs, Prices

    Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

    Transmission: Six-speed manual

    Drive Wheels: Front

    As-Tested Price: $27,955

    Available Features: Navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB port, Pandora internet streaming, rear spoiler, voice recognition

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