Sensible people of the world, you are right. Cars like the MAZDASPEED3 are foolish. Really. Isn’t the entertaining car it’s based on, the Mazda3, enough? Up against Civic, Corolla and Elantra, the standard 3 is the enthusiast’s choice. The SPEED3? Like cutting butter with a chainsaw. Buy one and you’re only asking for a ticket (no, not parking). If you understand that it’s a juvenile machine I applaud your common sense. Feel free to click on my friend Kelly Moore’s page. She’s very good. And sensible. Bye now! Thanks for coming by!

Alright, now that they’re gone…

Performance enthusiasts on a budget, this car’s for you. Base MAZDASPEED3s go for $23,945 and have all the equipment and velocity needed for a good time. The only real option is the $1,895 Tech Package with navigation, Bose sound and keyless operation (my tester has it). There’s a surprising amount of competition for Speed Racer’s paycheck – Subaru WRX, VW GTI and Honda Civic Si, Chevy Cobalt SS, Dodge Caliber SRT-4 and Mitsubishi’s Lancer Sportback RALLIRART.

Like the name that’s spelled out with capital letters sans spaces, MAZDASPEED3 is bold and impatient. The sheetmetal gets cues from the swoopy ribbed Nagare concept vehicles, mercifully toned down for production. Personally I see some of Chris Bangle’s “flame design” in the Mazda3. Study the body and small flourishes will continue to emerge for days. The big smile (or devilish grin) on its face is controversial. Darker paint colors seem to tone it down if it bothers you.

Its first name is ‘speed’, it has to be fast

Turn off the stability electronics and the SPEED3 will spin its 18-inch wheels with performance treads all day long if you have the budget for tires. Under the functional hood scoop breathes a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter 263 horsepower 4-cylinder. Yes, that is a lot of power for a small car, 96 more HP than the most powerful standard Mazda3. Tranny choice is easy, a crisp 6-speed manual is all there is. The clutch pedal is on the light side with nice take up.

0-60 takes about 6 seconds according to the Dynolicious program I use. That’s actually a tick slower than last year’s model (though I’m told the quarter mile is now faster). At cruise, drop down a gear or two and SPEED lives up to its name with immediate power. Great for passing those who left this page earlier to check out Kelly. There’s very little lag from the turbo. Watch its operation on the small gauge tucked between the speedo and tach.

Hold tightly to the thick leather wrapped wheel when mashing the go pedal, the über 3 has torque steer. Common to powerful front drive cars, this speedster has a good amount of it. We love our torque in the U.S. and Mazda gives us slightly more of it than other markets. Ergo, we feel a bit more steering wheel tug than our fast friends in Europe or Japan.

Could be worse. A subroutine in the PCM programming reduces torque output in parts of the powerband for gears 1 through 3. Torque steer is felt more when the wheel is turned and the programming recognizes that, further calming things down. Concerned about gear box durability? SPEED3′s transmission comes from the heavier, all-wheel-drive MAZDASPEED6. That should be stout enough.

Speed without handling is just drag racing

The new chassis allows for a more comfortable ride and better handling. Remaining flat as Kansas, MAZDASPEED3 is great fun to fling into a corner. A taught suspension has the ability to tempt sensible drivers into taking turns … shall I say on the brisk side? Fortunately the ride quality never ventures into harshness and road noise is average. This could be a daily driver for an owner (young, single and male most likely) who has a good amount of willpower (young, single and male least likely). Gas mileage is 18 city, 25 highway drinking premium fuel. Terrific anti-lock disc brakes at all four corners rein velocity back to 0 in a hurry.

A nice place to watch the world rush by in

All Mazda3s have great interiors. The SPEED version adds some special “carbon fiber on LSD” trim pieces (my words not Mazda’s). Deeply bolstered leather buckets get grippy fabric inserts that match the trim. Large drivers may find the seats too snug, my average sized frame likes them a lot.

Material quality throughout the cabin is a step above most in class. So is the deep crimson and cobalt lighting. Dual zone climate control is a welcome surprise at this price and size. The navigation screen is small though very crisp. Bluetooth is standard (phone pairing is so simple I did it at a stoplight without the manual). There’s an audio plug for MP3 players but no dedicated iPod interface. The cool kids want that.

Car goes fast with cargo space

In back two average sized adults will be OK, three a bit tight. There’s decent foot room and a fold down armrest with cupholders. Too bad there isn’t a map pocket for the driver’s chair. No center headrest either. Naturally the seats split and fold to swallow big things.

The Mazda3 is available in a 4-door sedan model. The MAZDASPEED3 is only made in the more practical hatch design. With the security cover removed 6 bundles easily fit, one more than the sedan. A nice touch, with the proximity key option that’s part of the Tech Package, little rubber buttons on the front door handles and tail lamp operate the power locks. Very handy.

Gripes? Programming the nav system with a little nub on the steering wheel is tedious. There are options on the Mazda3 that can’t be had on the SPEED at any price. Adaptive HID headlamps? Nope. Auto headlamps. Nyet. Sunroof? Denied. That would raise the center of gravity, bad for cornering. Still, it would be nice to have a choice.

At just under just under 26 grand as tested this loaded MAZDASPEED3 is a great performance value. Conservative drivers that kept reading anyways should know that power in and of itself is not a bad thing, it’s how it’s used. To that end I say this: Please drive responsibly. Also, good drivers NEVER text while behind the wheel. And since I’m being a Dad, leave the left lane open. Do that and there’s no doubt you’ll see a MAZDASPEED3 breezing by with a smile on its face. It’s this cars happy place.


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