Auto Review: Zoom-Zoom, and then some

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Nov. 17, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Compromise. It’s such a pain, and yet it’s an integral part of our lives. But if you can satisfy several needs successfully without too many trade-offs, you’ve truly accomplished something. It’s never as easy as you might think, though, and this is especially true when it comes to complicated machines like automobiles. Drivers these days are a demanding lot, too, for we want interior room, yet compact external dimensions, the latest in technological advancements, yet an affordable price, and toughest of all, high-performance along with excellent fuel economy.

Mazda’s Speed3 (or the MazdaSpeed3, as they like to call it) tackles all of these challenges and ends up looking very impressive overall, for it returns a lot of great performance and solid value for a very reasonable investment. It’s also entertaining and versatile to boot, making it a very attractive car for a wide variety of drivers.

The MazdaSpeed3 comes in one body style, a five-door hatchback with a number of design enhancements to give it its own unique appearance. These include a lower front air dam, a fully-functional hood scoop that channels air to the turbocharger’s intercooler, flared fenders to house the Speed’s larger tires, and (according to Mazda), “sculpted side skirts and a low stance that give away the MazdaSpeed3’s sinister motives.” Yikes. I should have printed this review on Halloween.

I don’t know about any real nefarious motives, but the Speed3’s engine certainly gets your attention. The MZR 2.3-liter Turbocharged engine has 263 horsepower, and doles out the thrust to the front wheels, courtesy of a six-speed manual transmission. This turbo is tuned to exhilarate, meaning there’s a real punch of power in the higher RPMs as the turbocharger spools up. The transmission is a perfect match for sporty driving, as the ratios are close, the action quick and the clutch light and easy to modulate. Steering is very communicative, and the only real handling foible is a lot of torque-steer through the wheel under hard acceleration. Otherwise, the suspension gobbles up bumpy corners with admirable control and, while firm, never overly punishes your passengers over harsh pavement. The brakes are excellent, with short stopping distances and good feedback.

The Speed treatment extends into the cabin, with sculpted sport seats (with both leather and fabric on our tester) that cradle occupants with firm support, especially during hard cornering. Intelligent, clear instrumentation is complimented by a fairly intuitive control layout, although Mazda does things a little differently, so it takes time to acclimate to their approach. Workmanship is quite good and the rear seats are also very supportive, with decent room for adults. The hatchback cargo area is well-finished, and with the 60/40 rear seatbacks folded, you get 42.8 cubic feet of hauling space.

It delivers high-performance driving pleasure, but it also has a measure of small-wagon utility. We saw 23 MPG in our week with the car. The 2012 MazdaSpeed3 is EPA-rated 18 MPG city/25 highway and has a base price of $24,000. With options, our MSRP came to $27,545.

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