The regular Mazda3 is already one of the best-handling choices in the small car market and you can get it with either a revvy little two-litre engine or a torquier 2.5L mill with 167 horses. For a front-wheel-drive compact, 167 ponies should be plenty. I mean, what kind of a lunatic would you have to be to want more power than that?
Wait a minute. I’m a lunatic!
Luckily, for those of us who’ve brained our damage, there’s the Mazdaspeed3, and my goodness but doesn’t it look like it’s just escaped from a loonie-bin for mentally imbalanced fish? I liked the old Mazdaspeed3 quite a bit simply because, apart from the bulging hood and over-sized exhaust pipe, there weren’t many clues to its riotous performance. In short: it was a bit of a sleeper.
The redesigned model is not a sleeper. It yells. It’s so far from subtle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lady Gaga wearing one as a hat in her next music video.
To the already controversial Nagare style treatment of the Mazda3 hatch have been added the hot-hatch garnishes of +1 wheel size and big spoiler: these are the usual cheddar and bacon which transform humdrum hamburgers into artery-clogging eats par excellence.
Unfortunately, they’ve also grafted on a – admittedly functional – hoodscoop. This sort of thing is akin to the slice of beetroot that Australians insist on putting on their burgers. It’s fine for rough-and-tumble Outback types (i.e. Subaru), but a Mazda with a hoodscoop is just plain weird.
And don’t get me started on that lower grille treatment. Is it meant to resemble gills? Am I supposed to shave with it? Either way, it’s all very shouty; this car might as well have an all-caps “TURBOOO” down the side in six-foot-high mid-90s pastel lettering.
Thing are equally juvenile in the interior, where Mr. Diesel and Mr. Walker have apparently been filming a Coke Zero commercial. Red stitching on black leather is one thing, little red-and-black bubbles and swirls on the dashboard trim, door insets and seat cushions is another. Still, once you’re sitting on the seats, you won’t have to look at them.
With regard to the interior instrumentation and layout, it’s a Mazda3 hatch: everything that works in the regular car works here, and it’s all very nicely laid-out and simple to use. One caveat, there appears to be a small commemorative stamp celebrating cartography or something stuck to the upper instrument binnacle. Oh hang on, that’s the navigation system.
Still, it’s usable and Mazda bundles the Navi together with their excellent adaptive front lighting system and a thundering BOSE stereo. All this technology does end up turning the steering wheel into a typewriter (18 buttons!), but after just a few days I could find everything I needed without taking my eyes off the road. Which was good.
Two hundred and eighty foot-pounds of torque at just 3000 rpm. That’s a whole lotta cowbell. In a recent review of the Mazda2, I likened that car’s leisurely attitude to acceleration to that of a small dog leashed to a fat person. The Mazdaspeed3 is… quite different.
Forget Jinba Ittai. Driving this car is like taking a Rottweiler the size of a Clydesdale for a walk. There’s a lot of power (263 hp) and, hey, you’re in charge of it right? Well, sort of.
At some point, you’re going to want to tickle the loud pedal, and at that point the Mazdaspeed3 is going to shout, “Squirrel!” and shoot forward in any number of directions, taking your arm with it. To combat this tendency, Mazda’s engineers have fitted a choke chain: boost is limited in the first three gears dependent on steering angle, and there’s a torque-sensing limited slip diff. Has it worked? Have they tamed the torque steer?
Now if you’ve read up to this point, you may be thinking that I didn’t like this car. You may be postulating, “So, you’re saying it’s ugly and a bit crude and kind of a spaz when it comes to putting the power down. Why should I buy this thing again?” Well, I’ll tell you: the Mazdaspeed3 is worth every red cent because it’s capital-F, capital-U, capital-N, double underline, two stripes of highlighter, sprinkle it with glitter: FUN.
Never mind tenths of a second at the Nerd-burgring, never mind 0-60 times and skidpad g’s and all the other quantitative nonsense we use to determine which car is best. The Mazdaspeed3 is a great car because the first time I gave it the beans it elicited from me a raucous bark of laughter. Yes, the ‘Speed3 might better suit a straight-jacket than a car-cover, but I couldn’t wait to get out and drive it.
The ‘Speed3 grips like a cat on a curtain and shakes a tail feather on throttle lift-off. It surges forward with sudden great big gobs of torque and in third gear you can pass anything up to and including tachyons.
From that point on it was a constant mission to find excuses to take the ‘Speed3 out on any number of chores. I would nip down to the grocery store to buy milk and return home with cheese instead, just so I could be sent back by a tutting wife. I called long-lost out-of-town friends to arrange visits that would let me bomb down the twisting highways. I even volunteered to go to IKEA.
At no point did my untamed steed do less than plaster a big stupid grin on my face every time. From twin exhaust pipes, it sounded its barbaric yawp across the twining network of blacktop as lesser econoboxes huddled together like clumps of frightened beige sheep.
Yes, the WRX is a more surefooted companion, and yes, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is a compelling alternative to the ‘Speed3 in driving dynamics and in the looks department as well. But when we finally run out of oil, and you grow up to drive a nice sensible electric mid-size sedan, this is the one hot hatchback that your kids will be asking if you had the chance to drive.
There’s been much chat about the future of Mazda and whether or not their focus on driving pleasure will survive ever-more stringent fuel economy regulations. If we’re lucky, Mazda will still be building a car with as much character as this in the future.
Hell, of course we’re lucky: they’re building it right now.
Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.