THE 2012 MAZDA MAZDASPEED3 REVIEW
Full Review by Andy: Let’s Get Gobsmacked
Mazda is a gobsmackin’ magician. Its latest and greatest masterpiece of jaw-dropping, heart-pounding legerdemain is the 2012 Mazdaspeed3 wagon. It is a raw, crass, crude, wonderful hunk of mechanical wizardry that shouts one message: “I can drive. And I can drive much better than you.”
Since 2007, the Mazdaspeed3 has been peeving Lexus-buying senior citizens everywhere with its raucous performance and wild appearance. It is a hot hatch, a testosterone-injected 21st-century iteration of the niche market segment birthed by the Volkswagen GTI. Unlike the GTI and more refined rivals like the Mini Cooper and Volvo C30, the Mazdaspeed3 eschews finesse for flat-out fun.
Life on the Wild Side
While the rest of the world putters around in cleanly-styled sedans, owners of the Mazdaspeed3 zip about in a wild five-door hatchback with a big grin on the front fascia. Mazda says the aggressive facade screams, “Here comes trouble” – except trouble is smiling and looks sort of cute. Set below a large functional hood scoop that directs air flow to the intercooler is a five-point black grille with a Cheshire grin stretching ear to ear – er, headlamp to headlamp. A dual exhaust, 18-inch wheels, and a rear wing complete the automobile, which slips through the air with a 0.32 drag coefficient.
Small yet Mighty
Set beneath the short, scalloped hood is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. That is 114.2 horsepower/liter and 12.5 pounds/horsepower, very impressive numbers. With several Ward’s Best Engine accolades under its belt, the turbocharged powerplant guzzles premium 91-octane fuel at a rate of 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. The only available transmission is a traditional six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox. The interior is swathed in sumptuous leather. (See 80+ images of the Mazdaspeed3).
Let’s get Gobsmacked
The 2012 Mazdaspeed3 is 100 percent visceral. One can take a bath in the Mazda’s experience; it is that feral and sensual. There are three reasons why the Mazdaspeed3 is so dynamic and addictive.
Firstly, it is a front-wheel drive hatchback with 280 lb-ft of torque. That means torque steer. Ever walked a dog and he wouldn’t heel? That’s what the Mazdaspeed3 is like. With full throttle, the tires dig furrows through cement. A torque-sensing limited slip differential makes the wheels behave, if not outright obey. Torque steer is partially mitigated in gears one and two by a reduction in maximum turbo boost.
Secondly, the Mazdaspeed3 is simply fast. Mazda does not release corporate performance figures, but industry tests have clocked the Mazdaspeed3 running from 0 to 60 mph in anywhere from 5.3 to 6.6 seconds, respectable times all. However, the more powerful Subaru WRX wagon remains king of the straightaway.
Thirdly, courtesy of raceway tuning on the Nurburgring and Mazda Laguna Seca, the Mazdaspeed3 handles like a dream – not like a warm and fuzzy dream, rather, but like a beautiful nightmare. Its “rambunctious ride” perfectly communicates its manic nature, thanks to an electro-hydraulic steering system, performance summer tires, and stiff-legged independent suspension.
Red on Black
Yet more than horsepower and a cement-hard ride delineate the Mazdaspeed3 hatchback from its speed-less sedan sibling. The interior is furnished in high-quality materials, with red and black upholstery, red contrast stitching, and red backlighting. The end effect is far more frenetic than a red-accented Volkswagen GTI but less cartoonish than the previous Mazdaspeed3.
Verve & Versatility
Part of the appeal of a hot hatch is its practicality, something that money can’t buy. Top-dollar supercars from Porsche and Aston Martin have less much storage space than a purse. However, the Mazdaspeed3 has 17 cubic feet of space with all seats ups – slightly larger than a regular sedan trunk – and up to 42.8 cubes with the split-folding rear bench seat folded. Yet cargo space is slightly less than what is available in the Subaru WRX wagon and Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart. Passengers in the rear enjoy up to 36.2 inches of legroom, which is as large as many midsize sedans, but only if front occupants keep to themselves.
Small Buck, Big Bang
New for 2012, the previously optional ten-speaker Bose sound system is now free of charge on the Mazdaspeed3. Bluetooth is also standard, but a subscription to satellite radio remains optional. The Mazdaspeed3 is generally well-equipped, especially considering its measly 24k-flat price tag, but high-end amenities like keyless ignition and a navigation system are available only as options. A Tech Package bundles together the aforementioned features along with bi-xenon automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, a blind-spot monitoring system. and other advanced active safety aids.
I’ll take mine in bright red, please…
Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder: 263 horsepower @5,500 rpm/280 lb-ft of torque @3,000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 18/25 mpg
0-60 mph: est. 5.3 seconds
Base MSRP: $24,000
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