By on August 18, 2010

Most cars today avoid doing anything terribly well so as to avoid doing anything terribly badly. Then there are Mazdas.  I love my Protege5. The agile chassis is a joy around town, BUT refinement and rust prevention were clearly not on the engineers’ to-do list. I love the RX-8 even more. Outstanding handling, surprising utility for a sports car, BUT the rotary is torque free and can drink a Corvette under the table. And then we have the MazdaSpeed3. You already know what I’m going to say about the MazdaSpeed3. But I’m going to say it anyway.

In addition to how it handles, I also love how my Protege5 looks. Though clearly not a 2010 design, the car’s clean, well-proportioned lines will never grow old for me. It’s not a design that grabs the eye, but it delights when studied. The first-generation Mazda3 that replaced it struck me as overly trendy. I liked some aspects of its exterior design, but not others, and the whole lacked coherence. When the time came to redesign the Mazda3, Mazda (gotta love the unavoidable redundancy) carried over the basic shape… but turned it up to 11. Every surface from the big smiley grille rearward aims to grab the eye. While initially off-putting, some of the exaggerated surfaces grew on me over the course of a week. Even the grille has to be admired for the sheer audacity it must have taken to put into production. At least it’s not boring or pointless.

The first-generation Mazda3’s interior was a big step up from the Protege5’s in both style and materials. Though generally clean and purposeful, red details and varied textures added just enough visual interest. The 2010 model’s banzai design philosophy continues inside the car. This is more of a problem than the exterior, because you must look at the interior the entire time you’re driving the car.

A hooded display pod arches across the top of the IP behind the instrument cluster. Though this pod usefully locates the displays near the driver’s line of sight, in other ways continually challenged my sense of logic. The entire left half is blank; the instrument nacelles would obscure anything located there, after all. A compartment for the nav’s memory card occupies the center—they couldn’t locate it somewhere less visible? And the displays for the nav and HVAC/audio are two unequally sized rectangular pegs squeezed into the ride side of the rounded hole. If you’re going to overstyle something, you should at least have someone with some design sense do the dirty deed.

Some materials are good, others are iffy. Upholstered armrests on the doors? Quite good. The red-dotted black fabric and plastic trim specific to the MazdaSpeed3? Iffy.

The interior works better functionally than it does aesthetically. The controls on the center stack are so easy to reach and operate that those for the audio on the steering wheel are truly redundant. Operating the nav exclusively via a cluster of controls on the overpopulated (18 buttons!) steering wheel could have been a usability nightmare, but isn’t. The nav screen is much smaller than most, but in the end I had little problem with it.

Not that all is perfect on the functionality front. The main instruments are so large that I could not position the wheel where I would have liked to without partly obscuring them. With instruments larger is generally better, but only up to a point. They don’t need to be legible from ten feet away. And why does the speedometer read to 180 MPH?

The swoopy exterior styling forces a distant driving position that’s become common in today’s cars. Locating a deeper instrument panel farther away does enhance an interior’s perceived roominess, but also visually distances the driver from both the car, which consequently feels larger, and the road.

The 2010 MazdaSpeed3’s front seats’ bolsters perform well considering their modest size, but in this instance larger would be better. The lumbar support is non-adjustable, and there is a single height adjustment, so cushion tilt cannot be adjusted independently of seat height. That said, front seat comfort is pretty good.

Like the rear bench found in the first-generation Mazda3, the 2010’s back seat is tighter than that in the Protege5. Adults will fit back there, but just barely. The MazdaSpeed3 continues to be offered only in hatchback form, so it’s considerably more practical than a conventional sports car.

With a name like MazdaSpeed3 and a big hood scoop (the better to feed the intercooler with?), enthusiasts are going to expect substantial horsepower. They won’t be disappointed. The turbocharged direct-injected 2.3-liter four is good for 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,000. Just not always. In the first three gears and especially when the wheel is turned Mazda restricts the engine’s output to reduce the likelihood of throttle-steering the car into a ditch. It’s strong in those gears regardless, once the tach spins past 2,500, and there’s a thick sweet spot from 3,000 to 5,500. Unlike some turbos these days, this one feels boosted. Not because there’s much lag—there isn’t—but because of the rush as boost kicks in. One puzzle I’d like Mazda to solve: the clutch must be feathered a tad to avoid a momentary stumble right after starting off.

The engine’s sound is dominated by a deep, poppy exhaust that is nice to have when pushing the car hard on an empty road, but is too likely to attract attention otherwise. (No, I wasn’t speeding through the subdivision, it just sounded that way.) In Mazda’s defense, they’ve exercised more restraint with the exhaust than some others, and while always audible, the drone won’t drive you batty on the highway. In other ways, the engine might be too refined for its own good—I prefer a little more intake and valvetrain whir with my exhaust roar.

The shifter’s throws are light and moderate in length, but are a bit notchy and engaging third can be tricky. The oversized brakes feel strong, are easy to modulate, and readily handle any off-track challenges. Fuel economy ranges from mid-teens to mid-twenties, depending quite heavily on how the car is driven. Figure low twenties with a moderate right foot in suburban driving.

Handling has traditionally been a Mazda strength, and the MazdaSpeed3 easily lives up to the brand’s reputation. The electro-hydraulic (not fully electronic) steering provides good feedback through the small, thinly padded wheel. Though not as agile as the Protege5, the MazaSpeed3 has a delicate, lively feel and can be precisely placed in turns. Accelerate through the curve and the car hunkers down, only beginning to lapse into understeer as its high limits are approached. Lift off the throttle and the car quickly rotates into oversteer. While the loose tail end is easy to catch, and can be put to good use at times, a steady foot through turns is generally best. The stability control is effective, unobtrusive, and knows its proper place—you must be driving the car quite fast and hard—or quite stupidly—to trigger it on dry pavement. It’s much easier to trigger the traction control.

The biggest surprise with the MazdaSpeed3: a thoroughly livable ride. Some premium sedans with performance pretensions ride considerably worse than the Speed3. The Mazda’s spring rates are moderate, with good body control achieved through well-tuned damping. Some drivers will mind the slight amount of float and roll in the hardest driving, and will no doubt mod the suspension accordingly. For most enthusiasts though, the ride-handling compromise is nearly ideal.

But all is not perfect with the MS3, and I’ve saved the worst for last. Putting a torquey engine in a conventionally-suspended, front-wheel-drive compact is a recipe for torque steer. While Mazda has selectively reduced engine output to reduce torque steer, this does not eliminate it. I’ve experienced worse, even much worse. But I’ve also experienced none at all, and none at all is much better than some. One mitigating factor: getting on the gas while turning has the effect of steering the car deeper into the turn rather than towards the curb. The torque-sensing limited-slip differential might deserve credit.

Like the Protege5 and RX-8, the MazdaSpeed3 possesses a healthy number of strengths and weaknesses. It’s fairly practical, totally livable, and very fun to drive. But the styling is questionable and the torque steer regrettable. All-wheel-drive is the road not taken. But the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart with all-wheel-drive are more expensive and less fun. The Mitsubishi Evo is as fun, and then some, but it’s far more expensive, less economical, and not as practical. Among front-wheel-drive competitors, the Volkswagen GTI is more tastefully styled and furnished, but doesn’t accelerate or handle as well. So, while the MazdaSpeed3 is clearly not a perfect car, for an enthusiast with a family and modest budget it could well be the best available car. Just look past the silly grin and keep a firm hand on the wheel—there’s serious fun to be had here.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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91 Comments on “Review: 2010 MazdaSpeed3...”

  • avatar

    The Hot Hatch continues in the second decade of the new Millennium. Owners of this car will, twenty years from now, remember fondly their time with this unique car in much the same way I think back of my 90 HP 1983 GTI. Yeah, the Speed3 is a bit crude and the interior is definitely budget car but there’s some astonishing performance for a very reasonable price that budding auto enthusiasts can afford.

    Automotive reviewers make a big deal about torque steer in high-horsepower front wheel drive cars, but when you’re 22 years old, it’s kind of fun and becomes a learned result from stabs of the throttle with corresponding compensation. I had a blast with a 220 HP 1992 Taurus SHO and so will drivers of this plucky Mazda. I say kudos to them for making such a fun car so accessible to those of who live in the real world of car payments and the need to bring home some lumber from Home Depot every now and then.

    • 0 avatar

      Ha ! To this day, I still pull the wheel slightly to the left when hitting it hard. Dodge Omni GLH turbo. Crude but in the right circumstances you could harass the mighty 944 Porsche…torque steer be damned.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Thorough review! Thanks.

    Here in the great White North where road salt is heavily used Mazdas are developing a reputation for being rust-buckets. When I’m asked for buying advice I recommend striking it from the shopping list.

    • 0 avatar

      When people ask me about the Mazda3 I always ask if they live where the roads are salted.

      Mazda’s position is that once the car is more than five years old the rust is not their problem.

      Mine started rusting at 5.5 years old.

    • 0 avatar

      The first rust spots showed up on my ’05 Mazda3 after 4 years in Vermont. I had the first one repaired but I’ve given up now – just going to live with it until I get rid of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently the rust problem extends to the inside of the high-pressure pipe in the power steering system. Rust particles can enter the power steering pump and cause it to go into a fail safe mode and shut down to avoid overheating. Now they’re recalling 300,000 Mazda 3s and 5s. They need to hire a few metallurgists.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah for sure the Mazda’s are rust buckets, but they are looking better than five year old Huyandais.

    • 0 avatar

      If you live in southern Ontario and don’t get your car rustproofed periodically, you’re asking for it.

      Some cars are better, some worse, and Mazdas are at the “worse” end of the spectrum, but I lived and commuted between Niagara, Toronto and Oshawa for a decade. Five winters in a Protege5, too, and it never saw so much as a bit of rush on the hood from stone chip damage. The secret was taking it to Krown every year

    • 0 avatar

      I can echo all the above. My wife’s 2002 P5, used for typical kid shuttling and shopping duty in suburban Ottawa, started to rust by the end of the third winter. Despite numerous pleas for help, Mazda Canada gave us the finger regarding any financial assistance for rust fixes. The car is now a hideous blotchy Silver turd. And every other P5 I see has the exact same issues.

    • 0 avatar

      Haven’t rustproofed a car in decades (and, yes, this is SW Ontario). Our current cars are 7 years old each, no rust. My last one sold at 7 years, no rust. My wife’s last one sold at 9 years, minimal rust on the hatchback only. Her previous one also at 9 years, no rust.

      Aftermarket rust-proofing is not required if the manufacturer builds the car right.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      And that is why I am glad I live in Washington State, where road salt is only used in severe weather conditions. We use AWD and/or snow tires to get around, and have perfectly rust free 40 year old cars gracing the streets of Seattle.

    • 0 avatar

      The reason some parts of the world salt like crazy is because they experience some pretty wild temperature swings: easily +5C to -5C in a day, and +10 to -10 isn’t unheard of.

      What this results in is, basically, roads and sidewalks that can turn to skating rinks in a matter of hours. Even snow tires aren’t much of a defense against black ice and sanding is useless once the melt washes everything into the gutter.

      Areas that are warmer simply don’t freeze; areas that are colder would be useless to salt (it’s only effective down to a particular point) and can use sand instead.

    • 0 avatar

      I was seriously considering a Mazdaspeed3 with a little over 5K miles (at a VW dealer), but I took a peek around the wheel wells and spotted some rust. I decided it wasn’t a good choice in the Northeast Ohio snowbelt.

      Great review.

  • avatar

    Nice review MK, I had a brand new 2002 Protege5 for a couple years, I still miss thrashing it, such a fun little car. Fortunately I didn’t have it long enough to have to deal with the rust I now see inflicting all of them. I then moved on to a 2004 Mazda3, then a refreshed 2007, both great cars, far more refined than the P5, but just not as fun to drive. Once I saw the new 2010 MZ3 that was it for me, sorry Mazda, you lost me to another OEM.

  • avatar

    I did a same day back to back comparison of the MS3 and the GTI when I was shopping in May. It is an impressive car, but when you drive a GTI immediately following it, the MS3 seems lacking. Yes, it technically performs better, but the GTI seems to do it in a much more enjoyable fashion.

    That said, torque steer was a non-issue.

    @ Leek – amen. New house, new wife, dog, and new car – nothing else would have fit the bill besides the MS3 or GTI and I have been thrilled with my purchase.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s funny, when I went to test drive the MS3 and GTI and felt the MS3 was by far the more fun car to drive. It pulls way harder, handles better, and the steering is near perfect. The GTI wasn’t bad, just a step or two down compared to the MS3. The thing I hated worse about the GTI was the really long clutch travel. The interior was really nice but the 1st gen Mazdaspeed3 GT’s with the partial leather is nice as well. I don’t like the 2nd GEN Mazdaspeed3’s exterior or interior though, it looks silly in my opinion. Neither the 1st gen nor 2nd gen MS3 had any real terrible “torque steer” as long as have your hands on the steering wheel (where they belong) between shifting. I seriously don’t understand on the complaints about “torque steer” regarding this car! Are people driving with one hand on the wheel or what? I’m not even a big guy and I can WOT in any gear any time any where and the car always tracks straight. It should be stated that “torque steer” is only a problem when you’re not gripping the steering wheel with both hands. If the car ends up steering into a ditch it’s your own fault.

  • avatar

    Good review as usual. I started reading this site because I beleive it to be the most honest and critical of all other sites on the Web that cover this genre. Again good job.
    I have always liked Mazda products. I have owned three. 95 Protege, 99 626 and a 2001 MPV. THe best car out of the three was the Protege. I owned it for 10 yrs before I finally sold it(the engine for the Protege produced all of 96 HP) , the car was in great mechanical shape when I sold it. The 626 was used when bought it. It began to leak oil at 40,000 miles so I sold it on a trade in for a new 2001 MPV. The MPV was underpowered with a FOrd Duratec engine producing about 175hp. I owned the MPV for four years and sold in on a trade in as the Duratec began to have some issues. IN spite of the problems that I had two of the cars I really like their driving dynamic and style. They were not the best mechanical cars on the market but some of the most interesting. The Mazda 3 looks like it will follow in this same tradition.

  • avatar

    Ohio requires front license plates. With the front license plate those cars look like a crazy rabbit with two buck teeth.

  • avatar

    Nice car I just could not go out to the garage every morning and look at that grin.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    Living in the Salt capital of Canada, Ontario is a good place to make sure you put Krown or some other Rust protection on any vehicle, yearly not just Mazda! IMHO!!!

    • 0 avatar

      The lack of rust on my other cars made me lazy…

      The 2007 MazdaSpeed3 was less reliable than the regular Mazda3. Subsequent model years have been equally reliable.

      Despite being the first model year of the redesign, the 2010s have been at least as reliable as the first-gen cars.

      Reliability stats here:

  • avatar

    Many cars are designed in California, which also requires front license plates. So you’d think designers would keep them in mind. Instead, it looks like designers are waiting for state laws to adapt to their work.

    • 0 avatar

      Mr. Parker : He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny.
      Mother : He does not!
      Mr. Parker : He does too, he looks like a pink nightmare!

      A Christmas Story. Love that movie!

    • 0 avatar

      I applaud designers that don’t handicap the rest of the country by planning a design for those misguided states that still require front plates.

    • 0 avatar


      In the match of the “misguided” vs. the rest, the current standings are 31:19, I think. I’ve lived on (and hence: moved to) either side of that fence, so I’d definitely prefer a car design that allowed for well-integrated front plates.

    • 0 avatar

      CC –

      Heh, a quick google confirms you are right, I didn’t know so many places required them. I wonder how much front plates actually increase safety (if at all) though. Apparently there are already measures in a number of states that require them to remove such restrictions.

      I’m really surprised that places like Alaska and Montana, which are otherwise pretty forgiving where it comes to motoring regulations, require them.

  • avatar

    I personally think the MS3 from head on looks sinister with its smile. It smiles because it’s up to something.

    What I want to know though is does the horn sound any better than the last generation? The horn on my brother’s 07 MS3 is embarrassing at best when used.

  • avatar

    Michael, how have the Mazda3s fared in the rust and suspension-durability department? I had as good as sworn off Mazdas due to the rust and bushing/endlink racket in my 03 Protege, but the Mazdaspeed3 has the exact feature list I want for my next car and I generally like my local dealer… and I’m not sure a VW is going to have less issues.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had some rust reports already for both the Mazda3 and Mazda5. Both rust in the same area as the Protege, around the rear wheel openings. My guess is they keep incorporating the same design flaw.

      I haven’t checked the repairs reported for suspension issues with the Mazda3. The related Mazda5 had major suspension problems in its first model year.

      I can deal with suspension issues. Not sure what I should do about the rust.

    • 0 avatar

      One (the only?) area that VW does excel in is paint and rust protection. You will likely have to replace suspension components though – that smooth yet responsive Euro ride eats bushings, control rods, and tie rod ends.

  • avatar

    Nice review. I had a last gen Mazda3 and your points about the half baked design of the hatch are spot on. The rear section, in particular, looked like it was glued on as there was a awkward change of width at the read window. The interior also had some ergonomic issues, one being the 2 stage instrument illumination setting that was either too dark of too bright.

    That said the new model looks better to me – particularly if you get it in a dark color which makes the “grin” disappear.

  • avatar

    speedos that read way above top speed = pet peeve

    I’ve got a 03 protege and i love it for what it is: fun, reliable, practical, economical AND noisy, hard-riding, and underpowered (130hp).

    I’ll need a new ride soon and hot hatches are always on my radar b/c i need something to accomodate the family and camping/beach trips. we’ll see what’s on the market in a few years.

  • avatar

    Michael…sounds like a perfect car for AWD.

  • avatar

    “And why does the speedometer read to 180 MPH?”

    In case you get a tail-wind?

    • 0 avatar

      What do you think the Mazdaspeed3 tops out at like 120mph or something?

      180mph isn’t all that far fetched considering it’ll hit 161mph stock. And yes is perfectly stable at those speeds.

  • avatar

    Have been considering one of these, but here is what I’ve heard:

    The prior generation suffered from randomly smoking turbos, right? Something like the PCV valve not allowing sufficient vacuum in the crankcase thereby forcing the draining oil from the turbo to leak through the seal. Any idea if Mazda has addressed this issue in the 2010?

    Also, I have heard reports of loose steering racks that rattle at low speeds, and power steering pumps unable to keep up under hard driving conditions.

    BTW, I think the regular Mazda3 speedo reads 160 doesn’t it? Not sure what the deal is with that.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t checked through the repair descriptions, though they’re all posted to the site. From 2008 on the overall repair frequency is fairly low.

    • 0 avatar

      The 1st generation MS3’s didn’t suffer from wide spread randomly smoking turbos. Sure this has happened to some but it’s not like everyone with a (07-09) MS3 has had or will have a smoking turbo. If there is / was a problem all the owner has to do is take into warranty (5yr / 60k) regardless. The vast majority of MS3 owners have had no such problems.
      The first year of production was the worst with the motor mount issues but Mazda addressed this a long time ago. So there was really nothing for Mazda to address in the first place. The slightly shorter gearing, hood scoop and other little things Mazda did with the 2nd Gen MS3 do nothing to surpass the performance of its predecessor. This has been confirmed via test results, lap times, etc. It’s basically just a bit smoother on the rough stuff but still a fun car to drive with more standard features such as Bluetooth.    

      Loose steering racks that rattle at low speeds? Power steering pumps unable to keep up under hard driving conditions? Never heard of these things being an issue with the MS3. I’ve had an 08 MS3 GT for the past 3+ years and 50k miles, haven’t had a single problem and I just the piss out of the car. It’s built like a tank.

      As far as the Speedo, as I said earlier the MS3 tops out at 161mph stock so 180mph isn’t all that far fetched/ crazy. I would be surprised if the regular 3 could hit 120mph, not sure what the Speedo goes up to.

  • avatar

    Two things strike me in this review:

    1) the clutch sounds like the same on/off switch in my 2002 Miata. It’s impossible to launch the damn thing without dialing in about 400-600 more RPM than necessary. SOmetimes more. And even then, there is usually a “buck”.

    2) Miata guys know all about the wheel well rust issues. Every wash, and several times in the winter, ya gotta flush that whole area out.

    • 0 avatar

      So the Miata too?

      I have some data suggesting that the RX-8 is also part of the club.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, Agree on the Miata issues, but for the most part this is a defect in the drain area of the convertible top rather than bad metal I think. That is the only place my 1990 ever rusted and it has spent its life on the Salty roads of St. Louis and the Stupidly salted roads of Watertown, NY. I have seen Georgia Garage Queen Miatas rusted in this area though. Gotta keep the top drains clean. No rust on my 2007 Hyundai though…The bottom looks new still. We wash em at least weekly (undercariage too) year round to include the 30 below days.

    • 0 avatar

      Test drove an 08 miata and though t it was me since I haven’t rowed the boat in a while. Then I drove a 05 Z4 and felt the diff clutchwise.  As far as fun goes the less expensive car wins this one.

  • avatar

    For those wondering about the 180 speedometer, the MS3 will hit 150ish in stock form. It’s limited at 155 but that’s easily removed. Add some go-fast parts and that 180 may come into play.

  • avatar

    Glad to hear Mazda went the moderate spring/ good damping route. With a well designed suspension that has enough travel, a hot hatch can ride and handle incredibly well with good shocks. I still recall how well my Accord rode on Neuspeed Sport springs and the holy grals- Koni Yellow adjustable shocks. Spring rates were a mild increase over stock (20-30% stiffer) with slight lowering (hardly noticeable- ~1.5″ all around); however the car was transformed, almost wholly in part by the taming of low speed damping. That’s a definite plus for the MS3 for sure, as manufacturers are still getting it wrong.

  • avatar

    If only there was room for a K3LA. That would solve the horn problem.

  • avatar

    That grill is a deal breaker for me unless there is some (I hate to say it even, but it’s that bad) aftermarket ricer clip that would fix it.

  • avatar

    I have a 2007 MS3. When the redesign came out I was pleased that I had no reason to think about upgrading. While the original is under-stated and easily mistaken for a stock Mazda3, the redesign with that useless hood scoop just screams “LOOK AT ME!”.

    At just about 50,000 miles I’ve had no major reliability issues. My two complaints are the clutch shudder (mentioned in the review) and the thumb button on the e-brake rattles. I’ve had it replaced, and still rattles.

    Oh well. Still, for the $20K I spent, I’m pleased. If I had to make the same purchase again today, I’d probably get the WRX, but in 2006 the WRX wasn’t competitive with the MS3.

  • avatar

    Michael, will the MS3 lure you away from the ol’ P5? Let me know if you’re looking to let go of the latter. ;-)

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I must agree with the Protege5 – it was a subtle but classy design.

  • avatar

    I love my black Mica M3 hatch (bought new in 2006) but……how many more times will I replace engine mount #3?, 3 times so far, and these tires that are so expensive to replace? and how come the rear brake pads go bold at 25k when the front still going at almost 60k?
    I also been turned off by the new grill.

  • avatar

    The MS3’s biggest flaw is its biggest asset. FWD allows it to be way less expensive and better equipped than the AWD competitors, but that FWD is always there to remind you, especially if you drive it year round, and the MS3 is made for every day use. Heaven forbid you add more power.

    I did consider the MS3, as it is the spiritual successor to my old Dodge SRT-4(the neon based one), but I already did the FWD thing. You have to adjust your driving based on weather conditions. Hit a sand patch off the line and you are screeching and snarling when you aren’t even trying. At this level of sportiness, AWD isn’t just there to get you through snow.

    I bypassed that and went with the WRX. More refined than the MS3 but less so than the GTI. I’ll have to live with the fact I could have gotten more excitement for my dollar, I am cool with it. I can tweak a soft suspension, but you can’t add AWD to an MS3.

  • avatar

    Interesting everyone talking about Mazda rust issues.

    My 90 Miata has no rust problems, zero zip nada.

    Then again our winters here in Louisville are certainly not as severe as those in say Ontario. Some winters it does not snow at all, although this last winter it snowed more than average.

    And I always always wash it after they salt the roads. And I always keep a good coat of wax on.

    No rust, and the paint still looks pretty good for a 20 year old car.

  • avatar

    Can’t sleep the Mazda3 will eat me…

    I just purchased a 2006 hatchback (my third Mazda and first used one) because I just couldn’t stand the awful styling of the newer models. I love the styling of the Protege5 and my first gen 3. I could have even lived with boring styling… anything would be better than the awful insectoid from outer space look. Here’s hoping they fix it soon, because if they don’t I’ll never buy a newer model than mine again.

  • avatar

    I like this car.

    If it was more attractive, I would love it.

  • avatar
    Acc azda atch

    Michael.. thank you so much for the reviews.

    THIS.. is loud.
    Its obnoxious
    Its grinning widely…


    In a sea of vehicles that are boring to look at.. that dont challenge the status quo.. here is one that finally says.. EFF YOU!

    I just need the cash to pick one up…
    Just wish they made it in a color that was loud enough to scare the birds!!! Bright Orange, burnt Sienna, P***Y MAGNET YELLOW

    For once.. be proud that ya look different. Give it a coupla years.. the design guard is changing and all those who wish for boring designs.. will get their wish. — Bunch of crap.

    Finally a car that is different to look at.. THAT SCREAMS its CHARACTER… and people laud it for being smiling.. and cant get over the grill.

    In a world dominated by top heavy mommy n daddy SUV / CUV, mid (fullsize) sedan garbage.. here is finally a vehicle that ya can drive.. and let the world know.. how good it feels.. to drive the SOB!

    AMEN I say, AMEN!

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a marked difference between being distinctive in a good, memorable way, and being distinctive in a way that just serves to stand out. The new MS3 is the latter case. Everything about it looks great, but a bit derivative, outside of that manic face. It looks like the Joker’s mouth, all cut further at the sides.

  • avatar

    My old Protege5 was a great car, and I never had any rust issues. It was fun, tossable, I thought it had a nice interior, and the styling didn’t age as fast as a lot of similar cars from the era. I didn’t have any reliability issues until the end, but I also drove it hard and never did any maintenance besides oil changes that weren’t exactly on schedule, and even then mechanically it was still fine, it was climate and electrical issues that made me decide to jump ship.

    I’m apparently in the minority of people who really like the new Mazda3’s looks. I love the smiling car, it just makes you happy to see it. I think the interior of the previous gen was a little nicer, I loved the 2008 model’s red on black mesh seats.

    In the end, I was originally planning on a Fiesta or a new Mazda3 to replace the P5, but even with my employee discount (my dealer also owns a Mazda store) the figures couldn’t compare with a beautiful low mileage trade in that I managed to snag.

    Michael –

    How was the AC performance? If I had one complaint about my Protege5 it’s that the AC never seemed to cool down as fast or get as cold as I would have liked.

  • avatar

    I feel that the Mazda3 AC is not as good as the Protege’s, but I’ve got a sedan… and that might make all the difference.

    Figures. Karesh would write the Mazdaspeed3 article, and all the Protege owners come out of the woodwork!

    My one complaint with the first-generation 3 is that it’s nowhere near as delicate or as tactile as the Protege. Confusing, since the Focus manages to get the tactility right, at least, and that’s nearly the same car. Of course, Ford uses stiffer springs and more damped dampers (if that’s possible) than Mazda does.

    Starting to get some surface rust on my 6 year old Protege sedan… no salt on the roads here, but I have a clogged drain in the trunk. It’s off at the bodyshop now getting a once-over. I’m hoping to turn 6 years into 12.

    Neither the Fiesta nor the Mazda3 has the space of the P5. I’m considering holding on to mine until the Mark 3 Focus comes out.

  • avatar

    I love the Protege 5. I drove one years ago, and it handled great. Lots of fun.

    The new 3…maybe in a dark color. Less grimace? From the rear two thirds, I think the car looks absolutely…fetching? Truly. But that kisser. Aye.

  • avatar

    I like the looks of this Mazda3. But, I really like the looks of the Protege pictured there better. It just has more of a classic look to it.

    I had a 1999 Protege sedan that was a hoot to drive, almost as much fun as the Miata. Loved that car.

    One knock on Mazdas: the air conditioning does not seem all that good. One thing I can say for American cars is that they do have good cold air.

    My Miata is in the shop right now getting a new compressor and evaporator plate.

  • avatar

    I still admire Protege5s when I see them on the street. When they were new, my then girlfriend and I were in the market for a car for her. The Protege5 was high on my list of suggestions. It would have been perfect, actually. The local Mazda dealer had other ideas. They had one in the prep bay. It was already sold, and the dealer didn’t want us to LOOK at it, let alone order another one. That same dealer thwarted my VW Fox aspirations in 1987 and my Miata desires in 1991. In 1989, I was sent there on a training exercise by the dealership I worked at that summer in college, and their response to my interest in a GTI 16V was to try to hard-sell me the car that the owner’s son had spent months chain smoking in while dogging. Sadly, they were representative of every Mazda dealer I’ve found in Virginia and California, leading me to buy a new Ford, a new Mini Cooper, two used Mazdas, and a new Honda from other sources. If I were a Mazda USA exec, I’d start paying attention to the sales experience.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the appreciation of the P5’s subtle, handsome styling. Every time I think mine has grown too long in the tooth, too scratched and rust-speckled, all I need to do is look at its inviting, gimmickless lines. It might be the prettiest thing Mazda designed since the original RX-7. It’s also dead reliable, spacious, economical, and, with 130hp pulling only 2700lbs, proves that a small car doesn’t need serious horsepower to be a whole lot of fun. If only Mazda would look back to its recent past as it struggles to get the formula right.

  • avatar

    I believe Mazda has ditched the grinning design theme and as such I’d hold out for the next generation. Having said that, it is unacceptable for rust issues in the year 2010. Yes, I accept that any car not cared for will eventually rust up here in the salt belt, but these seem to be much worse than the average.

    If this was Detroit Iron someone would have said that by now! And I am no fanboy…I own a Mazda and a Hyundai.

  • avatar

    Mazda needs a good smack in the face for spearheading the absurd stretchy headlights industry meme. Some of the ones I’ve seen at car shows have them extending back within a few inches of the a-pillars – WTF! Stop it! Stop it!

  • avatar

    This review does not give the vehicle’s MSRP so, what’s the point? (Do I have to click somewhere for the datasheet?) Yes I know I can look the MSRP up online in 2 seconds but why discuss the car’s merits without putting it into cost context? A good review will additionally have the routine maintenance costs and intervals. Only British mags seem to do this anymore (and not all of them). Maintenance costs are something the manufacturers don’t like to discuss, all the more reason that The Truth About Cars should.

  • avatar

    I will buy a Mazda when they don’t rust and they get rid of those ridiculous Cheshire cat grills. In the year 2010, no car should rust in it’s first century of life. Car manufacturers had rust problems worked out years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I believe, like the reviewer, that it is a look that would likely grow on you. Personally I feel, like other posters, that at least the look is unique, not cookie cutter.

  • avatar

    I wonder about 180 mph speedometer. It makes the zone that most people like to drive in so small, you can not be real sure how fast u are going, until u are pulled over.

    I would like to have the option to replace the speedometer numbering to max out at about 110 or so – even that is optimistic. I live in the I95 corridor, to go faster that that for any length of time results in ridiculous fines and insurance penalties. It would also make the speedo much easier to read.

  • avatar

    I own 2 Mazda 3’s. A 2007 hatch and a 2010 Sedan (I wanted a 2nd hatch but the wife didn’t think the money was worth it.)

    My 2010 is dark grey- which really minimizes the grin- and in the real world you just don’t notice it that much- it’s lower to the ground and out of the way than most photos make it seem. (Can’t speak for what the rearview mirror of drivers in front of me is though). I too like the looks (obviously). To me WRXs and GTIs are boring aesthetically. That being said- I prefer the previous model hatch to the new one- which I feel is about 10% overwrought. And I like the interiors of the previous model better as well.

    I love both these cars. Even at 6’4”, I don’t like cars much bigger than this- and in my mind nothing else in this grade competes for the overall crown when you look at sportiness, utility, and quality (and price!)- especially if you want a hatch.
    It’s only the dealer network I think that stops Mazda from competing at the top of this class with Civics and Camry’s. I’ve heard in Canada it does compete better than the US.

    I too have had the AC problem. I think the large black dash under the windshield radiates heat from the sun. This is my biggest complaint with the car.

    …and no rust yet on the 2007 living in relatively salty Ohio (fingers crossed).

    I do like the looks of the new Focus though from what I’ve seen- if it was out when I bought the 2010 I would probably be choosing between those two.

  • avatar

    Oh you poor northerners. Just do yourselves a favor and move down South where it’s warm and sunny and rust free. I lived in horrible Buffalo for 21 years, and have now been in SC since 1997. I’d never ever go back up there. No rust, easygoing people (for the most part), good weather and low taxes. Aaaah…

  • avatar

    when was the last time you drove a corvette?

  • avatar

    You know the more I look at this car the more I think it looks like a Toyota matrix.

    Can’t decide if that is good or bad.

  • avatar

    Do you want to know why young people are no longer interested in cars? I suspect that a big reason is the lack of an automatic transmission option in cheap, fun to drive cars like this one. Pandering to transmission snobs is shutting them out of what would otherwise be a perfect market.

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch

      The whole problem.. is a fun to drive car.. SHOULDN’T HAVE an automatic.

      Id guess that the reason why people aren’t interested in cars.. is the reason why most people talk #(@*@ about this one, cause they are more interested in the tech.. than driving the beast.

      The LOOK of the car.. is a / supposed to be a DIRECT correlation to how you’d feel.. if you REALLY drove this.

      AUTOMATIC trans.. shouldn’t even appear in this car. PERIOD.

    • 0 avatar

      No, I don’t think that’s it.
      Over here in Europe, everyone who wants to get a driver’s license is trained on manuals as per default, so some cars being available only with a manual is no barrier to taking an interest in cars. But we have the same phenomenon — young people being a lot less interested in cars than we all were when I was young — here too.
      There must be another reason, though I must admit I don’t know what it is.

  • avatar

    Here is all I need to know about the MS3: Purchase price.
    Mazdaspeed 3: $36,149 Cad.
    Golf GTI 5 Door: $31,040 Cad.

    Better interior, DSG gearbox, better quality, better resale, better styling, better price. Nuff said.

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch


      I know everything in Canuckistan is higher..

      But you haven’t given me a actual reason why the Mazdaspeed3 is any better than the Golf GTI.

      Resale are based on your own belief of how the car might sell upon those who want it.

      Styling is completely judgmental. The Mazda is one of the few cars that actually tries to break the mold. I get sick and tired of everyone complaining about the fascia of the vehicle.. as being too loud. Don’t like it.. don’t buy it. There is plenty of gutless generic garbage out there.. and many WITH NO HATCH for people to spend their money on and be ordinary!

      The interior on a VW vehicle.. is always black with no color save for some aluminum trim.
      The Mazda can be had in a lower version (no turbo but higher general displacement, 2.3 v 2.5) with a tan trim and cloth. (If ya know anything about hot v cold weather.. I’d take the tan cloth interior anytime.)

      VW quality!? They’ve got electrical issues out the ass. If Mazda could dip the car when the parts go on.. they’d have less of an issue. But I surmise its just cheaper to spray it on than pay for a tank and a assembly line to dip all of the cars.– Like Hyundai does.

      A cheaper or more expensive price doesn’t make it better.
      Ya can bargain the price down, between the financing, rebates and if ya pay cash, and the options ya get.

      NO.. its not “Nuff Said”.

    • 0 avatar

      Better interior? Subjective

      DSG gearbox? Subjective but true enthusiast / men drive stick

      Better quality? VW’s are among the worst when it comes to crap breaking

      Better resale? Both suck but the Mazda will be better

      Better styling? Subjective but I’d have to agree against the 10′ MS3, the 1st GEN MS3 looks better.

      Better price? Well if they cost that more in Cad it looks like you got 1 right, congrats!

  • avatar

    All those smiley face Mazdas look like clown cars . All they need is a clown at the wheel and a big rubber bulb brass oogah oogah horn on the driver’s door to complete the image . In states where front license plates are required some of them (Miata) look like a mouth sporting a single buck tooth . What the hell were they thinking when they came up with this goofy design ?

  • avatar

    This article could not have been more timely for me (I haven’t been on the site in the past week so just getting caught up). Looks like I blew the motor (not sure until we tear down but probably threw a rod) in my Contour SVT on Friday at the track, so when I got towed and dropped off the car, there was a brand new MS3 sitting right outside for a test drive. Figured might as well take a spin while waiting on my ride.

    I had almost all the exact same impressions from a 15 minute test drive that Michael had in a week – odd clutch pickup, great engine (really notice the boost), good brakes, and excellent ride and handling (although didn’t really test out the handling).

    However, there are enough shortcuts to make me think twice – that weird, weird dash display, the strange seating position, the cloth/leatherette mix.

    A new car isn’t really in the mix for me at this moment anyways. More likely to drop a 3L in the SVT and keep it going. I know Sajeev would approve.

  • avatar

    Had my 2010 MS3 for 6 months now.

    – great, fun little car with a ton of power for the displacement

    – smooth power delivery, does not seem to have much turbo lag if any, and doesn’t suddenly kick you in the back above a sudden RPM range, powerful brakes!

    – love the LED tails, AFS HID lights, tech toys such as push button start, bluetooth audio/calling, 6 CD Bose (the bass sucks though), auto headlights/wipers, frigid AC with climate control and dual-zone temps, etc.

    – incredibly practical and spacious for the size, I can fit my mountain bike in the hatch area (with seats folded down) and close the door completely without having to use bungee cords.

    – same or better fuel economy compared to my old 2.3L Mazda 3, and the 2.5L Mazda 3 (observed over 6 months of use, no change in driving habits except to partake in boost).

    – astoundingly nice interior for the price and segment, though I wish they didn’t use the disco-themed seats (the first gen MS3’s seats were MUCH nicer). The polka-dot patterned plastic trim on the dash can be ignored and actually doesn’t cause glare like the silver trim does. Cloth inserts for the doors are actually really nice, I like them.

    – exterior styling is very modern and will not look dated even 4 – 5 years from now, even the smiley face can be seen as an asset here.


    – smiley face can jump out at you sometimes, even on a black car… not a big problem, planning to paint the bumper insert black to match the bumper, and black out the Mazda logo so it looks less like a button nose.

    – FWD has its limitations, it is this car’s biggest limitation and biggest asset (cost/efficiency-wise)

    – torque steer is there at WOT, but presents itself as a slight tugging when you have both hands on the wheel. Add good aftermarket motor mounts and torque steer will almost go away.

    – stock fuel pump is not strong enough to handle anything beyond an intake, it needs upgrading if more intake/exhaust/cooling mods are added (an AP is also needed).

    Mazda has carefully positioned this car right where they wanted it to be. Adding AWD would have upped the price and make it directly compete with the STI and Evo, so instead of doing that, they focused more on everything else at the expense of AWD. It’s skewed more towards the DD side than the track side, although the only real thing it’s missing is AWD – everything else appears to be there.

    With some mods (intake, motor mounts, AP, FMIC/TMIC, exhaust) you can have a very capable track car that knows how to settle down outside of the track in real life. As far as AWD and winter…I have driven mine through a Canadian winter with Hankook iPike w409s and I have no issues at all going anywhere, up a hill, down a hill, out of thick snow, slush, etc. Winter driving is more about the tires and driving style than whether power goes to two wheels or four.

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