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2010 Mazdaspeed3 - Click above for high-res image gallery

Last summer, our man Damon Lavrinc drove the then-brand-new 2010 Mazdaspeed3 around California's legendary Laguna Seca Raceway and then Caramel Valley's world-class back roads. And he loved it. I mention this because we're sure that under similar, near-ideal conditions, I would have been nearly as smitten. But reality has a funny way of tossing monkey wrenches at even the most lovely picnics. To wit: I had the Speed3 in Los Angeles during the recent torrential downpour/tornado warnings, then drove to Phoenix through a monsoon the same day/night that Russo and Steele got their tents blown across a freeway. Ideal? Hardly. Informative? Keep reading and decide for yourself.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

We'll start with looks, because the new Mazda3 might be the single most polarizing mass-market vehicle design since the Bangled 2002 BMW 7 Series. After spending seven days with the car, my take is that the Speed3 is so deformed it's kinda cute. How can you not love that homely side view? It's mutated, it's bizarre, it's got muscular fenders leading to soft organic lines that finish in hardboiled creases all capped off by a handsome, purposeful wing. Then there are the taillights that actually extend a few inches off the body. The world hasn't seen lines like that since the fins of the 1950s. And of course, there's the mouth – and it's not nearly as smiley as the standard Mazda3. In Mazdaspeed guise, the grin is filled with scalloped gray teeth. Even if you hate what you're seeing up front, you must admit that the forged wheels are trés sexy. Summarizing, the Speed3 is so... unique that I can't help but like how it looks, especially painted Celestial Blue. Also, like the last generation Speed3, Mazda only sells it as a five-door, which is snappier looking than the sedan.

The inside's not nearly as charming. First of all, as our photographer noted, "What's up with those seats?" What's up, indeed. They look like a psychedelic black and red test pattern, and they're done no favors by the gray leather bolsters. Luckily, you spend most of your time sitting on said seats, so outta sight, outta mind. Almost. This questionable pattern is repeated on plastic dash pieces with the front passenger bearing the brunt of it. Still, the seats offer plenty of sporty comfort and reassuring bolster, both of which are quite essential when you begin sawing the wheel.

Speaking of the steering wheel, it contains 18 buttons. While I generally prefer my wheels totally button-free, I'm man enough to admit that a mute or volume button doesn't spoil the broth too much. But 18? In the parlance of our electronic times, FAIL, as you wind up whacking them during (*ahem*) spirited driving. Also, because of all the buttons, the steering wheel is awkward to hold and the thumb rests are too small. While I'm griping about the interior, the blue-on-orange gauges ought to be a hit with University of Illinois fans, but the rest of us find them difficult to read and much too bright. Sadly, if there's a dimmer, I couldn't find it – as far as I could tell, it's either full blast or diminished to nighttime levels.

Okay, okay, okay – the Mazdaspeed3 is a performance car that exists only because Mazda saves money on stuff like the exterior and external design. Let's get down, dirty and start talking about driving. It's a poorly kept secret that vehicle-for-vehicle, Mazda offers better handling rides than any OEM save Porsche. Fine, maybe BMW. But the point is, Mazdas handle shockingly well. Of course, there's the MX-5 Miata, a sports car so good it has its own spec racing series, and if you can think of another sub-$25K car with a spec series, we'd love to hear about it. Then there's the sadly under-appreciated RX-8, specifically in R3 trim. Short of an open-wheeled car, I've never driven anything with such wonderful handling.

That includes the Speed3. The day Mazda dropped the Speed3 off was the beginning of the big rains here in Los Angeles. The freeways were flooded, Tujunga's mud was sliding and there was a tornado in Long Beach. Mazda made a business decision not to over-complicate (read: keep the price down) the Speed3 with goodies like all-wheel drive. But man-o-man would I have appreciated some Subaru WRX-like grip once the heavens opened up, or perhaps just some all-season tires.

Here's why. The Speed3 sends oodles of power to the front wheels alone: 263 horsepower and a very healthy 280 pound-feet or torque to be precise. Knowing full well that all that grunt would totally overwhelm the front tires, Mazda rigged a system that prohibits the motor's full fury in first, second and third gear depending on available traction and steering angle. Still, even with this nanny in place, the engine momentarily stumps up some frankly frightening torque-steer before the electronics cut in. So imagine flooring it, feeling the steering wheel about to wrestled from your hands, and then feeling the power drop. It's not exactly the best sensation on dry pavement, and it's straight-up nerve-racking in the wet and oily.

The Mazdaspeed3's skittishness was compounded times infinity on our drive out to Phoenix. Admittedly, the conditions were so severe that they would have tested any car's mettle. It was like driving through the angrier parts of the Bible. Around Needles, I hit (what seemed like) two-feet of standing water and watched in terror as semi truck after semi truck slid off the road, into the desert and then oblivion. Why oblivion? Because the rain was falling so hard that visibility was around 50 feet. Maybe less. As you might imagine, the summer tire-equipped Speed3 proved to be quite the handful. In the car's defense, all that fright kept me wide awake on the 350-mile journey.

But what about on dry land? Surely the Speed3 is a class-leading corner carver on sticky asphalt. Let me put it like this, if the Mazdaspeed3 existed in a bubble where its only competition was the Mini Cooper S and the Volkswagen GTI, the Speed3 would be the king of the winding road. But back to monkey wrench hurling reality, the Subaru WRX is a more capable, more enjoyable corner carver. The WRX is also nearly as potent (265 hp, 244 lb-ft of torque) and because the Subie's power is never interrupted, it's quicker in a straight line. There's also the not-quite-good-enough Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart that I'll grudgingly admit is a better, less darty back road companion than the Speed3.

The Speed3's trouble really does start and end with its number one selling point: that turbocharged 2.3-liter brute of an engine. The previous iteration of the Speed3 shipped with the same power stats. Once again, 263 hp and 280 torques. However, during a way off the record conversation with a Mazda engineer, it was explained that the old Speed3 made its power under "ideal" circumstances, whereas the new car's engine ratings are totally legit. So take that for what it's worth (i.e. not much). Still, if you find yourself looking at a long, lightly curving on ramp and gun it, when fourth gear allows the full dosage of bada bing! to be dumped in the breach, hold on tight – the Speed3 will try to rip the helm from your hands. As such, this little guy's got one of the most severe cases of torque steer I've ever experienced. For those wondering, the worst was a 2002 Nissan Maxima. *Shudder.*

Granted, all of the above foibles either have to do with the weather or what us auto journalist types jokingly refer to as "9/10ths." If you're not pounding the metaphorical snot out of the Mazdaspeed3 or driving through God's wrath, does it behave any better? Most assuredly yes. At a more comfortable, let's call it 7/10ths pace, the Speed3 is a very capable sporty little hatchback. But for $25,840 (the lone option on our tester was the $1,895 tech package) the enthusiasts among you would be happier and better served with a similarly priced Subaru WRX. Look at the bright side, the WRX is one of the very few cars that might actually be weirder looking than the Mazdaspeed3.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      The problem here is that it gets 25mpg hwy and 18mpg city.
      That's worse than a lot of v6/i6, and even some new v8 sports cars i can think of.

      Not competitive on price or spec. Front wheel drive is also a real deal breaker.
      Very unfortunate.

      I have yet to see a single one on the road.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The 5-door hatchback with the older 2.3l engine was rated at 22/29mpg. I think that a drop of 4/3mpg (18/10%) is quite reasonable for a gain of 107hp & 131ft-lbs torque (69/88%)!

        Despite the EPA rating, I drive the snot out of my Mazdaspeed3 and still average 24-25mpg. I averaged 29mpg in my n/a Mazda3 and also drove it "sportingly."

        Mileage has never been Mazda's strong suit. They focus on the fun-to-drive quotient.
        • 5 Years Ago
        it gets 18/25?
        so does the WRX...
        which is a much more capable car :p
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, considering the WRX is all-wheel drive and has a bigger engine, that makes the 3 look even worse.

        I think the WRX could be more efficient though. BMW's AWD turbo 3.0 returns the same kind of mileage, with more speed.

        Man, the Japanese used to be ahead of the efficiency/power game. What happened!
        • 5 Years Ago
        It is, however, highly competitive in the smiley-grill segment.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, that's unfortunate that they don't have the mileage part down.
        I hope they switch over to Ford's 2.0 ecoboost motor & add some tweaks to it. Gas mileage could be in the 30's with decent power. And they wouldn't have to cut power in the low gears; ridiculous!
        • 5 Years Ago
        awd. faster. better looking inside and out. i'd be hardpressed to by ms3 over a wrx.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hmmm... I quite like it in standard form, ie. without the wing and other deformations.

      The slightly-proud rear lights look good too.

      To drive though, it's just 'OK', no better than the Ford Focus, though the doors have a slightly better 'clunk' sound when they shut.

      The interior's a bit hard and plastic, and light years behind the new Opel/Vauxhall Astra, which really marks a quantum leap for that brand.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds like you get a good amount of performance for the money. However, I doubt I'd ever be able to get past that everlasting smile on the front end. Give me a mean, evil looking sneer, por favor.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I agree with what has been stated previously, the first gen Mazdaspeed3 was the better looking car. I owned an 08 (GT with Navi) for about a year until we went from one kid to two kids, which meant that we needed a family hauler more than a hot hatch. I want to comment on the "ideal conditions" comment. My MS3 was completely stock when I had it dyno'd with 8,000 miles on it. That car put down 250hp and 280 trq at the wheels on the first pull (that is close to 280 hp and over 300 trq at the flywheel). The second pull was slightly lower due to heat soak. The third pull was similar to the first (after we sprayed the intercooler down with water). As for all the torque steer h8... really? I launched that car plenty a time with very little torque steer. The only time I had to fight the wheel was if there was a rut on one side of the road. During hard accel the car would pull into that groove and it was very hard to get out. I burnt many a GTI, any mustang previous to 06 (not Cobras though or Mach 1). I was also able to embarrass a Mini trying to lose me on a freeway on ramp (modded "S" with wide slicks, exhaust). I also had three people in the car with all their airport luggage. The biggest drawbacks that were not mentioned in the review (maybe they were fixed) are the terrible shifter and the understeer. The car has a high limit, but when it is reached, that front end just wants to push you off the road. Very nose heavy car. That is why my next car will be RWD or AWD. No more FWD for me. As for why I didn't get a WRX at the time, the Mazda looked better and had more options for the money. Fully loaded MS3 for $24,000 ( I talked them down from $26,600).
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't like to think of the torque steer in my '03 Maxima as a mechanical flaw so much as an emotional one. It wasn't poor design, I tell myself, this car suffers from crippling shyness. Max is so afraid of the other cars that he feels the need to dart to the right and hide behind the trees. There, there little Maxima, it'll be ok. You just need a little encouragement. Here, let me guide you back to the left. There's a good Maxima.

      In all seriousness, torque steer is really only an issue for me if I'm driving "spiritedly." And in those situations, the driver really ought to have a good grip on the wheel anyway. Now, that being said, my next car probably will not be front wheel drive only, and I guess it's good to know the WRX stacks up well against the Mazda.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah the wrx is great, just don't plan on modding, don't want to break that glass gearbox -_-, just buy a used sti... Or for the money and mod capable brute strength, the speed 3....
        • 5 Years Ago

        The "glass" tranny is now overblown. My VF-34'ed '05 WRX had ~320 whp and its 5MT held just fine.

        That glass gearbox has been strengthened several times since the infamous MY02's explosive tranny. When the WRX went from 2L to 2.5L (for MY06), they had similar issues (due to much higher torque from stage2 mods), but it was strengthened again even more the following year. When MY09 came out with the larger turbo, subaru was keen to beef up the tranny again in anticipation of American drivers who didn't quite know how to launch AWD cars properly.

        Needless to say, there have been few instances of MY09 and MY10 owners experiencing blown transmissions outside of a few experienced kids who abused it. In responsible hands, the current WRX 5-speed can handle nearly 400awhp.

        While not nearly as robust as the STI 6MT (which handles 600+ whp), it can certainly handle itself even with some slight modding.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I hope they fixed it, I had always looked at getting a wrx but that and a few other things mostly cost related kept me from it... Never heard of anyone blowing their tranny on a speed3 :D Even DG motorsports with their awd version is running on a stock clutch and tranny(off a MS6 but same motor) and has had no problems... Just saying, but IF I had the money, insurance, buying 4 sets of tires, mpg etc... I would actually buy a wrx, and personally IMO I would for sure buy the STI over the heavy Evo anyday.... assuming I had the money lol....
        • 5 Years Ago
        definitely get a WRX. You will have no regrets.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Good review, i was reading a car magazine recently and in it they actually reccomended regular Mazda3 HB over MazdaSpeed3 HB.
      • 5 Years Ago
      well, I haven't driven this car so I will refrain from passing judgement. However, I will say that although the speed3 looks TERRIBLE in a lot of situations, the thing looks fairly good in white paint.

      Just sayin'....
      • 5 Years Ago
      This thing looks huge! How much does it weigh in at?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I have a speed3 right now but its the 1st gen. I absolutely love it. Best bang for the buck. I do have to say I hate the styling of the new one. If they would change the front end and change that fabric I definitely would get another one when I go for a new car. Other than that I'm getting Genesis Coupe or a GTI.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Performance is great and all, but holy hell that thing is ugly!!! Who the hell is going to buy that?! The side of it looks like Toucan Sam!
      • 5 Years Ago
      yes, here i am to praise the ms3, just not the 2010.
      i will continue to state that torque steer is not really a problem in my 07. now i built and drove FWD hondas so i might just be more used to torque steer, but int he speed it's just a matter of spending a week with the car to learn how to drive it.
      adding AWD would increase the price, and for 21k i was able to get (for the time) the fastest, best handling FWD car ever.
      my only real complaint is the boost cut with steering angle, this makes it kind of difficult to really come around a sharp bender.
      now for the 10's, i don't like the new face, i don't like the sides that make it look like there was an argument over the panel contours, i don't like the weight gain, the fact that you get the leather trimmed seats with no choice, don't like the wheels (or the 07-09s for that matter), don't like the spotted interior, it goes on and on. basically they didn't fix the few minor things i didn't like for the 07, and added more things for me not to like.

      too many people think AWD solves their lack of driving ability, that just tells me they have too much car.

      The problem with mileage is gearing, if you give a tall enough overdrive, you can get 32 mpg from your 4 cyl SUV, just be ready for the downshift before you try to speed up.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sorry not all of us can afford an awd performance vehicle. You just confirm what I have found to be true a lot of the time, performance awd owners are wealthier pompous a holes(at least in my area of UT). I will not argue "facts" and "logics" with you, all I know is I consistently win race after race against Evo's and Sti's with my somewhat modded speed3 which still cost me much much less and that speaks more. The bigger ego and confidence awd drivers have the more fun I have bringing them back to earth. :D
        • 5 Years Ago
        Instead of "modding" your FWD, you could have put the money toward something better so that's a lame excuse. You're just irrationally defending what you've already bought, not rationally buying what's better.

        Are you beating those cars in drag races and your car is just more powerful? Are you racing idiots who can't drive? I don't really believe that a Mazda 3 can be beating the pants off proper rally cars.

        If you want to race me around some corners in my "slow" 2.5L 204bhp, 3450lb car, I'll be happy to prove RWD's merits to you.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "too many people think AWD solves their lack of driving ability, that just tells me they have too much car. "

        I hope the irony of your statement doesn't go over your head. FWD cars inherently CAN'T put all their power down. Having "too much" car is perfect for FWD, considering its limitations. And speaking of too much car:

        "So imagine flooring it, feeling the steering wheel about to wrestled from your hands, and then feeling the power drop. It's not exactly the best sensation on dry pavement, and it's straight-up nerve-racking in the wet and oily."
        (Wow, sounds like a blast. Really worth my $20k+)

        That's half the reason I went with AWD:
        1) I DO NOT considering FWD cars performance vehicles.
        The other reason:
        2) I drive up to the mountains too much to get a RWD car, and I wanted a car that was fun to drive, so AWD it was.

        But for econoboxes, you can't knock FWD. It's cheaper and easier to drive. Just the idea of having my front two wheels doing all the steering and accelerating of my car goes against having a powerful car I want to enjoy driving.

        Any questions, read BoxerFanatic's recent post. As he suggests, may as well just have brakes on the front wheels. Heck, just put performance wheels/tires on the front, too. Just drag yourself around from the front of the car, just like being pulled by a mule.
        Fun stuff...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Come to Utah idiotpigeon, I'll show you a thing or two. Most of the "mods" I did to my car I machined, and welded myself. I've saved thousands by copying the designs rather than paying for them. I did have to fork up a little extra money for the ability to tune my ecu, but still no where near what I would have wasted on awd of the same year.A rally car is only good for that, rallying, and there ain't much of that done on a day to day basis. Straight lines or canyon roads I'll kick your arse... say what you will, I know I'll never change your point of view but if your ever in Utah, I'm always up for a race.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't understand the massive torque steer that journalist talk about with the Speed3, I have one and under hard acceleration I the wheel does tug but nothing crazy. A lot of reviews claim that you need both hands on the wheel and I don't think the wheel moves around that much.

      Maybe a lot of these guys are driving crazier than people drive would ever drive on the street but I have never experienced what is being described.

      As an owner I'm biased to reviews but I'm also curious since most reviews I see state this and I have never experienced it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I find that on smooth pavement the wheel tugs gently into the corner, but over rough pavement, or frostheaves like we have lots of here in Michigan, the car is extremely skittish and can literally be scary. I believe I've heard the phenomenon referred to as crab-walking, where the car will suddenly and violently jump to one side if you cross a bump under power. In my experience this happens so quickly that the car has moved laterally before you can react to the steering wheel.
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