By on August 19, 2011

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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

71 Comments on “Review: 2011 MazdaSpeed3 Take Two...”

  • avatar

    I just can’t embrace the looks of any of the Mazda 3-series. There’s something akimbo about the proportions, the curves, etc. that I don’t like, and that’s from any angle. The sedan is a little better, but the 3-door is definitely not right to my eye.

    • 0 avatar

      You mean 5-door. And the 5-door hatch doesn’t come with the 2.0, which makes it not that relevant to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I am waiting for the new body style (based on the Minagi concept) to make it to the Mazda3. My thought is that it will be on the 2014 model year.

      I think the body styling has hurt Mazda over the last couple years. They can’t get away from the Nagare style fast enough.

    • 0 avatar

      I was just going to ask if it was just me, or if anybody else thinks Mazda’s design theme is starting to get back to some wierd combo of pre-2001-2003-ish bizare-ugly-boring again… but you nailed it already…

    • 0 avatar

      I said the same thing, “the face”, “the look”, “what have they done to my car?”
      At the end, after 5 years with the previous generation hatch, I test drove every small car there is just to discover that you actually don’t need to look at your car all day long, you need to drive it.
      I just love this car, I have the 2011 hatch in black, very strong, sometimes it does feel ridicules in a good way, so much power and fun to drive it’s addictive.
      BTW, I don’t care about MPG, I took a ride in a 2011 Prius, what a disaster, the engine sound and feel like a loud sewing machine.

  • avatar

    That article brought a great smile to my face. Very creative writing – I laughed almost as much as I imagine you did driving that car. And having driven a couple of speed3’s, I can verify your description that it is very, very much.

  • avatar

    Great article. I loved the big bright red FUN letters. I could almost imagine this as a top gear review.

    I do agree that the styling on the last 3 was much easier on the eyes, but fortunately, when you’re driving, you don’t have to see that Billy Big Mouth Bass grill.

  • avatar

    Sounds like FUN for sure… but its a real shame the car has two too many doors and a silly grin on its face.

    There is just something about turbos, I’ve own THREE because the boost is like crack. So who really cares about torque steer, its like an powerful RWD car you have to give a bit of opposite lock to control. Having to keep a firm grip on the wheel is part of the joy of driving such a whip. My current C30 (which has bits of the Speed 3 in its DNA) gets twitchy when pushed hard in a tight corner, its is a flaw? I guess, but if I wanted a smooth, easy to drive car I would have gotten a Camry.

  • avatar

    Sounds like someone’s been mainlining Jonny Lieberman again. :)

    Does this thing take premium and how much when you flog it?

  • avatar

    I have one of the 2011 Sport model hatches, and I have to say that I have a hoot in it any time I want, and a very sedate daily driver whenever I don’t. It’s gratifying to find well-written articles like this one that make me feel even more wise for my choice.

  • avatar

    It’s great that truly FUN cars still exist. Mazda needs to keep this up as Honda is withdrawing from the fun market, Toyota left years ago, and Nissan is hit or miss.

    Those seats are hideous though!

  • avatar

    Lots of car for the money. And finally someone who gets optioning right: Nav, adaptive lighting, auto dimming rear mirror and rain sensing vipers in a non premium priced car.

    I have a feeling the insurance cost will hurt the young guys the styling obviously attempts to attract. But man, this is the kind of car enthusiasts in search of a daily driver ought to be clamoring for.

  • avatar

    Just can’t get past that S-E grin. Looks like a last gen Celica getting a lapdance.

  • avatar

    Eagerly awaiting Ford’s version

  • avatar

    That’s my DD (well, a silver one) and it’s fantastic. Definitely one of the most pleasurable cars I’ve ever owned, including all the Alfas and BMWs.

  • avatar

    My 2007 MS3 was a quite good car. MPG was excellent, and the only problem I ever had was that the air cut out just as we arrived at the Grand Canyon. Believe it or not, the air worked once again after shutting off the car for an hour or two (and no repair by me or anybody else). The shifter was a bit odd, as was the clutch, but for the price it was really quite the car. The mistake I made was replacing it with a WRX STI which got at best about two thirds the mileage of the MS3.

  • avatar

    Torque-steer compared to a large dog seeing a squirrel. Brilliant!!!!! My wife and I both laughed!

  • avatar

    This is the most entertaining review I’ve read on this site in a long time. Makes me yearn for the good ol’ days. Farago and Lieberman would be proud.

  • avatar

    Mazda playing with Disney Cars styling.

    Wonder if we’re seeing a Focus parameter here with cost of replacing that grill from a mild snouter?

  • avatar

    Great writing. I really did laugh out loud.

    I saw one of these in black the other day, and it looked really good. I find that some of the weird and ugly cars out there look much better in black. Also I think it would be less of a cop magnet in black.

    If a red one doesn’t cost a lot to insure right off the bat, I bet it will after 12 months, and 3 or 4 tickets.

  • avatar

    So maybe I’m a little drunk, but what the F does “Luckily, for those of us who’ve brained our damage” mean? Maybe I’m slow on the up take. Are you f-ing kidding me? I’m not perfect with my grammar, but come on…this is your job. Get it together. I wouldn’t be this upset, but all day I read car articles with more misspellings than a teenagers journal. You’re better than that TTAC.

  • avatar

    I will take a VW GTI over this any day, reliability woes and all.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to think so too, until I went along with a young relative looking for his first new car after college. The GTI is great if you don’t want to shift yourself, but in MT form I can’t imagine anyone but the kid’s mother picking the GTI over the MS.

      More disturbingly for Mazda, depending on insurance brackets, BMW sometimes subsidize their leases so aggressively that lease + coverage on a Euro delivered 335 can be awfully close to the same on the MS3. And then the kid gets to try his mettle on the Autobahn, or even the ‘Ring. Which may be another reason for mom to pick the GTI.

      • 0 avatar

        Did a Euro delivery on a ’08 328i wagon/6-speed with few options. $295/mo with $3K down.

        My ’11 MS3 w/tech package is $259/mo with $3K down.

        The $15K difference in MSRP would make you think the BMW was a better deal, but the MS3 has more toys and far better performance. Certainly the ladies are more impressed by the BMW new car smell, but if that’s not a consideration, the MS3 is a more satisfying car.

      • 0 avatar

        The GTI does have larger throws, and un-chipped, the MS3 will straight molest the GTI.

        That said, comparing the two, the torque steer and feedback in the Speed pretty much sealed the deal for me in favor of the GTI. I have a long commute, and I like my road trips on the looong side.

        The MS3 a great ride, no doubt about it. I may be the only GTI owner in the world that digs on the Nagare style.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven both. The Speed 3 wins.

      • 0 avatar

        Which is why I FINALLY bought one, two years later than planned. 2010 CPO with 18k mile in red, with the tech package. I’ve been chewing lots of gum to get my smile muscles ready.

  • avatar

    Loving the review. I’m really looking forward to trying one out, even if it’s the first generation model. FUN FUN FUN

  • avatar

    Couldn’t you say the same about the 1st generation Corvair, though? I’d say its lack of understeer must’ve been quite fun. There’s just an article in Curbside Classic about how fun the Corvair was. Wasn’t the Omni GLH also “fun”? Yet people seem to deride it for all its “fun” stuff. Sure it’s unrefined but utter refinement usually comes at the expense of fun. The world needs more car like this, though hopefully not so funny looking.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      There was nothing fun about the 1st generation Corvair, which was a modestly-powered car with vicious handling characteristics. Having the rear end break away from you on wet streets going at moderate speeds . . . and without any warning . . . is not “fun.”

      The VW Beetle would do that, too. Except that the Beetle, with it’s higher CG, would often roll.

  • avatar

    Mazda, like Acura, will surely be happy to forget their 2009-2013 years in terms of styling.

  • avatar

    When I test drove a 2009 a few years ago, I too found myself cackling like a maniac and thinking to myself ‘I gotta get me one of THESE !’ a la Will Smith in Independence Day. I traded in my 05 Cooper S the same day. The 02 WRX that I also owned until quite recently was more stable, surefooted and, ‘sensible’, if that word can be applied to a souped up AWD rally rocket, but the Mazda is way more fun.

  • avatar

    I should own a new one in less than a week! Went to test drive one today, both dealerships were out. Between the 2 dealerships they are getting 6 in on Monday :)

  • avatar

    Are you guys at Legends in Richmond?

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Still pining for a Mazdaspeed MX-5 with this engine. Have been since the original MPS3 came out.

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

    Dude, that was a really great review. Now I’m going to click your name and see if you’ve written anything else and read that too. Keep up the good work.

  • avatar

    I still suspect this epidemic of weird grilles has to do with the pedestrian safety standards.

    I mean, how many cars today DON’T have an ugly, overly busy, too-tall grille? The stylists are having to fill a lot of space without looking like they’re doing so. I think their brains are exploding.

  • avatar

    Enough! We get it, all the crap remarks about the front end. Really, every Madza 3 review, no matter what mag or blog, and the same old worn out, tired jokes and the “I woulda bought it cept for that front end” yeah right buddy, and maybe you’ll get a real job and move out of your parents’ house too. I biught a 2010 3 with the 2.5 in Grand Touring trim for my daughter last year, zero problems, 26.6 mpg and I have a 08 GTI and would trade with her in a heartbeat. Just a better, smoother ride compared to my car. My next car will be either a Mazda 6 with v6 or the new Charger v6 & 8 speed ZF transmission. (Assuming I still have a job in few years with this economy!)

  • avatar

    Although it is a bid old news, the Volvo C30 still stands out as the best execution of the Ford C-platform triplets — especially now that Polestar will offer its tuning to U.S.-market T5s (upping to 250 hp). Compared to the Mazda 3 (I had an 2008 2.5L) Better design both inside and out, higher quality materials, and at the moment a better warranty.

  • avatar

    Now I have the dog from UP stuck in my head, but this isn’t a bad thing. Thank you for the fun review.

  • avatar

    I recently bought a MazadaSpeed3 and have been driving it for a few months now. Personally, I like the styling on the inside and out. Most cars nowadays are styled to blend in seamlessly with the urban landscape. I never have any trouble finding my car in a parking lot (especially in the Mazda blue people like to complain about).

    Mr McAleer is spot on as far as the driving experience. Every time I pin the go pedal, I get a ridiculous grin on my face. Yes it torque steers. Think of it as a mechanical reminder to hold onto the steering wheel with both hands when you’re driving with violence. Aside from that – the handling is faultless. It sticks. I have yet to get the tires to even complain in a corner and its not for a lack of trying. You’ll find yourself reaching any destination faster than you ever have in the past, especially if it happens to be at the end of a twisty road. I don’t believe there’s a public road in the US where you’ll find yourself short of grip or turbo boost.

    I drove a GTI, a WRX, a new Mustang V6, a 370Z, a Honda Civic SI and a Corvette as points of comparison. Aside from the Corvette, which made me wonder why GM went bankrupt, none of those cars made me grin as much as the Mazdaspeed3. The GTI is competent but just didn’t move me. The WRX seems to be an exercise in gratuitous technology. The Mustang is stylish and comfortable and drove a bit like a nice sedan. The 370Z just feels wrong (I am less than enchanted by the merger of France and Japan) and the Civic SI would have been interesting if it weighed 700 pounds less. In a world of competent, reliable, and profoundly dull cars, the Mazadaspeed3 stands out. Give it a test drive if you get a chance.

  • avatar

    “Unfortunately, they’ve also grafted on a – admittedly functional – hoodscoop.”

    Didn’t the old RX7 all come with functional hood scoops?
    Is it more decorative than functional in the Speed3? Where is the intercooler, behind the bumper?

  • avatar
    a cat named scruffy

    Great review Brendan.
    You’ve convinced me to drive one of these before I decide what to get next even though I don’t really want a hatchback.

  • avatar

    I used to own a ’09 ‘Speed3. Sold it because wives and cars don’t mix; now I miss it like the ex I should’ve never dumped. Having test-driven both the 2009.5 WRX (with the bigger turbo) and ’09 Genesis Coupe, the Speed3 was just that much more fun to drive. It just begged to be driven fast, hard, all the time. Just like that freak girlfriend. How I miss her, *sigh*. Just like Brendan, it swiftly elicited giggles upon pushing the gas. Well, to me they sounded more like maniacal laughter, but according to the sales rep’s look it sounded more like giggling. Whatever. I had never missed driving so much until I got my Speed3. And it’s still mine because I took it’s virginity.

  • avatar

    That was an awesome review. Well written and witty without being overly wordy. Like Mr. Karesh said above, you’ve captured the essence of the car and put it in words – it is essentially ‘fun to drive’ in a package. I have a Black Mica 2010 MS3 sitting at a mileage of 15,500+…and I have enjoyed every kilometer that it has put on since I picked it up new 15,489km ago. It isn’t the perfect car. Along with everything that you’ve said about it, I’d like to add that the nav software sometimes sucks at putting a street name to upcoming streets, the shifter doesn’t like to be rushed, and the large silver door handles on the inside cover up some real estate on the otherwise excellently-padded armrest. I don’t like the red seats or the red ‘chickenpox’ dash trim, and wish they would have gone for flat black for the seats and a different red/black pattern for the dash trim pieces…however I *do* really like the funky red pattern when they’re used for the door inserts. The auto-wipers sometimes goes into Speed #1 setting even in light spitting rain, and they would occasionally perform a random wipe even on a dry day at the height of summer. The bluetooth streaming software is rather rudimentary (it doesn’t even display the name of the track, or allow you to switch folders). Also, the horn sounds puny and embarassing.

    BUT, despite all of the above little nitpicks, I find excuses to go and drive it anyway. Whether it’s going to the grocery store or Starbucks, or scheming to enter an on-ramp in 3rd gear with no cars ahead of me, I understand the appeal of this car. It isn’t a docile econobox, nor is it a tamed and utterly obedient car that rockets you to extra-legal speeds with German precision – it’s exactly as some other reviewers have described it. Raw. Rough around the edges. A born hooligan. It’s times like these that you shake your head and wonder what the hell you were thinking when you turned your nose up at the seat colour, the smiley face grille and the chickenpox dash pieces. The interior isn’t as nice as that in the GTI, let alone the leather-optioned sport package GTI, and the exterior styling sports that grin and prominent hoodscoop. Who. Friggin. Cares. All of the above would have been deadly sins if the car itself was lacklustre in performance and handling – which it most certainly isn’t.

    It isn’t an all-out sports car nor is it considered powerful compared to some of the true monster cars out there. At the end of the day, it’s a hatchback econobox with better suspension, a more powerful engine, different drivetrain bits and interior pieces, and a hoodscoop. However…and I’ve said this many times before..the car has been carefully positioned within the market to be a tremendous bang for the buck. You’d think that the price would make the interior a hideous mess of cheap rattly plastics, but aside from the red seat decor and the dash trim pieces, everything I can think of looks good, feels good, is put together nicely and works well. I was recently testing out the bluetooth voice command system and I was suitably impressed by the accuracy at which the microphone picked up my voice and translated it into commands, letters or numbers.

    In closing, I’d like to point out that the driving dynamics of this car changes somewhat significantly when the motor mounts are upgraded. The OEM motor mounts on this thing are garbage and the first thing that most MS3 owners do is change the OEM rear motor mount for an aftermarket part that is both more solidly made and stiffer. This causes less torque steer to occur, improves shifting from 1st to 2nd, and 2nd to 3rd, and allows you to put more power down to the wheels instead of having it lost as the engine bucks on the soft OEM liquid-filled rubber mounts. Most MS3 owners also change the passenger motor mount for additional stiffness. However, I understand that the OEM motor mounts are there for quelling NVH and it would not be a fair test of a car if they were replaced by aftermarket pieces for the purpose of the review. Regardless, the MS3 is definitely a grin-inducing machine that has an interior nicer than most cars in its price range; as long as Mazda keeps making cars like these, the future will always be bright and more than tolerable for those of us who love driving.

  • avatar

    “The new car looks like it has swollen glands, with one editor calling it a “monstrosity” and saying the stylist responsible for it should be run out of the company; another described it as “half comic book and half boy-racer weird.” — C/D


  • avatar

    Hey pretty cool review

    Iam new here and agree with just about most of it myself
    I just bough one of these pocket rockets 2 months ago
    a 2011 with only 5000 miles. it was a Bank Repo
    lucky me.

    It has the remainder of the factory bumper to bumper 36000 mile warranty, But it was Mazda certified as a used car giving it a 100,000 miles drivetrain warranty instead of the usual Mazda 60,000. How is that possible ?

    Well most speed 3 guys turn them in around 40 to 50,000. so Mazda has to juice up the warranty to get buyers to buy them used.
    NOBODY turns in a speed3 with only 5000 miles. So i saved $5000 by buying a used one and got a better warranty then a new one. lol

    So with that introduction. Heres another brillant tip. When I bought the car, it had just had its 5000 mile oil change and i drove it for about 2000 miles before i noticed the oil was dirty and weak. And that the engine was kinna whiney and not very flowing

    I took it back for another oil change and asked what kind of oil is this dealership using in their speed3 s ? The service writer told me it was standard 5W 20. I then opened the hood of the car after giving him a distinct ” You Idiot ” staredown and said very loudly in front of the whole shop. ” Hey Man ” you cant put 5W 20 in a speed 3. Its suppose to have 5W 30. At this point ALL the mechanics and service personal were having their ears standing up as I pointed to the oil cap and said SEE, it even sez it on the Fricken cap . Why the Hell are you putting oil in for a regular Mazda sewing machine, when the speed 3 requires thicker oil for the turbo.

    At this point, there was utter shock in everyones face that was within 100ft of my voice, needless to say i demanded not only they pay for the new oil change, but that i would pay the diffrence to put Mobil One in, instead of that generic garbage most dealers use.
    And stayed there to greet the delivery truck that brought it as well as parked a seat in front of the bay my car was in and watched the tech install it.

    Do yourself a favor, if you bring your speed3 to a dealer for an oil change, make SURE its the right oil. and I highly recommend a Full Synthetic, as the car is MUCH Smoother and Faster to boot.

    Ohh and as you can tell by the user name, I find the 60s Austin Powers Swirlomatic interior much more Shagadelic then the usual boring Darth Vader all I see is Paint it Black Crap.

    Cool Car
    Cool Post !

    The lava
    is now having his Java!!!!

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • DenverMike: You kidding? I’d love a ’71. Anything ’71. Pinto on up! Most things from 50+ years ago...
  • el scotto: @ILO Sir, MBAs will wake up and decide that perhaps transportation is not the place to take place in the...
  • Inside Looking Out: Yeah but it is available immediately. While from Amazon – good luck if it shipped from...
  • el scotto: evil el Scotto checking in. I grew up in a small town in Indiana. One of the lawyers in town, it’s...
  • el scotto: @ILO Sir, Moose. It has to be able to make high-speed moose-avoidance maneuvers.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber