*Staying With The Stick* Review: 2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed3

 

I recently took delivery of a 2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed3 for a week’s worth of driving to figure out, as a Mazda fan, former owner and Mazda car salesman, whether or not it’s worth buying.

Here’s what I came up with:

This is not just a review of the Mazdaspeed3, but also the start of a new set of RawAutos features entitled, Staying With the Stick, highlighting the best automakers who still provide us fun manual transmission cars. First we start with the Mazdaspeed3, who never wavered in their quest for fun driving.

Now as some of you may know, I used to be a Mazda car salesman. Others may know that I used to own a CX-7 and then a Mazdaspeed6. Remember, it’s a Mazda Mazdaspeed. Two words.

The Mazdaspeed3 is to hot hatches what BrawnGP was to Formula 1. Not the oldest, but already one of the best.

It was made to compete against the likes of the Volkswagen GTI, MINI Cooper S, etc. Unfortunately in America we don’t have the privilege to get the best European sport hatches.

But for the lack of what we don’t get, the Speed3 helps to make up for.

I love this; the face of the 3. It’s as if the designers watched the movie ‘Cars’ one too many times and took it to heart. I love the smiley faces on the new 3s. Some will say that the hood scoop appears too boy racerish, and while I can understand that, I have to disagree. I don’t mind a scoop, so long as it works. Functionality is key, to me.

Okay, now that scoop is functional, and it feeds air to the engine mounted intercooler on the 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 263hp @5,500 rpm and 280lb-ft of torque @3,000 rpm. It’s the same engine as the outgoing Mazdaspeed3, but a few things change to keep up with the engine’s power.

My personal problem with the old Mazdaspeed3 was that it had too much torque steer, as do most front-wheel drive cars, especially cars with the amount of power that the Mazdaspeed has. Even though the outgoing model had a limited-slip differential as standard, it was still a bit too much at times. This new model has modified left and right drive shafts to limit that torque steer. And in a bit, I’ll tell you how that works out…

With all of that laid out, let’s talk about the new RawAutos feature, Staying With the Stick.

Mazda doesn’t shy away from saying they have more driving pleasure than any other Japanese automaker. And while that may sound hokey, I actually have to agree. As a Mazda car salesman we had a special route to take potential customers on, and it involved them turning the steering wheel a lot. We took them out on highway, eventually leading to two beautiful, curvy on and off-ramp areas where they were forced to push the cars through some hard corners at higher speeds. With a manual transmission, Mazda can be found racing around more road courses in America than any other car on any given weekend. It’s a slogan, but also the truth. The Spec Miata and Playboy MX-5 Cup are racing series’ dedicated to the Mazda Miata. That’s how good the car is.

Now Mazda isn’t just a good Japanese automotive brand that you can see racing at your local track. No, they’re also the only Japanese company to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They took the competition for all they were worth in 1991 with the 787B, and it had a rotary engine… Which, because of how good the rotary is on the race track, was banned. So anyone attempting to use a Wankel or rotary powered motor in Le Mans Series racing can’t.

Anyway, Mazda has been seen racing their road cars and creating special racing versions for the track since 1968. The first car being a Cosmo 110s (2 of them were prepped and raced) for an 84 hour endurance race at the Nürburgring. One car finished 4th, while the other broke an axle after after 81 hours! And the rest, as they say, is history.

And this now brings us to what I think about the Mazdaspeed3 in terms of driving it.

So my first thought when I got the car was that it was a much better looking car in other colors. The Liquid Silver Metallic this 3 came with isn’t my favorite. In fact, believe it or not, I was talking to my friend and his dad -who was the photographer for this car- at lunch about how good looking I thought the car was. It had good lines, and I was pretty sure you’d be able to tell this one apart quite easily from a regular Mazda3 5-door. Boy, was I wrong as hell.

As we’re pulling out of the restaurant, I’m waiting at the traffic light, and what pulls up beside me? That’s right, kids, an identically colored Mazda3 5-door. Son-of-a-*****. I knew what was coming next; *ring, ring* “Yes, I see the car next to me…” The voice on the other end, my friend, was heard saying, “Yeah, I can’t tell your car from his. The only difference is your Mazdaspeed badge. Oh, and I think your exhaust tips are marginally bigger. Other than that, you’re identical.”

So, basically, unless you’re staring at a Mazdaspeed3 from the front, you won’t know the difference. Which, can be a good thing. In this case, however, it’s not.

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One thing I wish that this Mazdaspeed3 had, and it’s something that I know people have converted to in the previous model, is the active-torque split all-wheel drive that the Mazdaspeed6 came with. A very similar AWD setup is used on all current SUVs. As for the Mazdaspeed3, that’s something Mazda won’t do, and I never quite understood why. The video above illustrates how Mazda’s all-wheel drive system works in its normal cars. In the Mazdaspeed6, there were sensors that checked your yaw rate, steering angle, etc. and applied the correct power accordingly. The car sat standard with a 50:50 true all-wheel drive power bias, but could dispatch 100% of the power to the rear-wheels.

Something I love, and what you’ll probably love, too, is the price. Base MSRP for an MS3 is $23,195. That’s loads of fun in a small price. This car has an as tested price of $25,880. And for that price, it gets you a cargo net for $40 dollars, and the technology package at $1,895. The tech package has a 242-watt Bose 10-speaker stereo system, a 6-disc in-dash cd changer, Sirius satellite radio, navigation system, perimeter alarm, keyless remote, with keyless lock/unlock and start. That’s quite a bit of kit for roughly 26-grand. The $750 destination and handling fees are already applied in that amount, too. Also, those are the only two options. Nothing else.

As for the interior, it’s well put together and thought out, and I didn’t think that I’d like this small navigation screen, but I think it actually suits the car perfectly. I like that I don’t have to take my hands off the steering wheel to fiddle with the navigation, set an address, or whatever else. And at the size it is, it really doesn’t make a difference. I mean, TomTom, Garmin and the other portable nav companies are still selling systems with the same size screens. This one is about 3-3.5-inches, and the portable Garmin that I have is only 3.5-inches. However, I wish that it would find more destinations when I’m looking for food. It unfortunately only looks at a small radius, about 10 miles or less to your location. That’s annoying. My Garmin and Google Maps on my Blackberry will search the whole state if I want them to.

The radio isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. Then again, I’m not much of a Bose fan for inside the car. But for 26-grand, it’s not that bad, I guess. But the one thing I do love is that the radio remembers the volume for each function you’ve used it for. Like, let’s say I’m listening to satellite radio and I get a phone call on the bluetooth system. I answer the call, and from there the volume is different from when I was using the radio. Okay, now I’ve got the phone call on a low volume setting, because I’m only around town. Now each time I answer the phone, it’ll be that same volume, unless I change it for the next time, etc. If that makes sense. And once I go back to the radio, it goes back to the original volume I had it at before I took the phone call, which is great.

But this brings me to another point: What in God’s name is this crazy design that’s on the seats, the dash and the doors? It’s one thing to like Joseph and his multicolored technicoat, but do I have to have the design in my car? At least when I’m driving I don’t have to see how large the print is on the seats. But then I have to look at the dash and the doors from time to time. And what if I’m taking a girl on a date? Or I’m trying to ask a girl out? When she takes one good look at the interior coloring, any chance that I had of her thinking I was at least cute enough will go right out the window. I’m not a good looking guy, so I have to rely on my cars at times to get me by.

Other than that, comfort levels are good. And, surprisingly, the suspension is sporty, but it’s not so firm that you can’t take a long drive in it. You have a good amount of room, even for the people in the back. And with the seats folded down, you’ve got tons of space to put stuff. Even with the seats up, there’s quite a bit of cargo space for anything under the hatch. Gas mileage around town and on the highway wasn’t bad, either. It wasn’t what I’d call plentiful, but you could still get, about, 26-27 mpg on the highway. Not too bad for a front-wheel drive hot hatch with a turbocharged 4-cylinder that’s biased on revs.

over 1,500 words later, you’re wondering, “Should I buy the damn car or not?” And I say yes, for some, and no, for others. Here’s my indecisive reasoning why: You see, the Mazdaspeed3 is a great car, and it’s easily worth the sub-$30K price tag.

Driving it gives you the sense of all-out mastery of speed. You have to work with the short clutch to make the shifts smooth and jitter-free. Which is good, to me. And  it’s easily the fastest car in its class. It’ll run 0-60 times well under 6-seconds, and definitely into the 5.5s. The MINI Cooper S and VW GTI can’t do that. At least, not without some tuning. But this car is just TOO FAST. On a regular road, when the turbo kicks in when you’re making a turn, your hands better be on that wheel nice and tight, because you’re going for a ride. And if you’re not ready to shift as fast as this car wants you to, you will absolutely bounce off the limiter if you aren’t used to such a car. Luckily, I was. But my father and best friend weren’t so understanding of that fact, until it happened.

The chassis is nice and poised to work with whatever you give the Mazdaspeed3, but the Cooper S and GTI are just better cars. You can option leather, unlike the MS3, and while you don’t necessarily get the same amount of cargo and passenger space, you do get cars that feels worlds better. You get more class and less boy racer with the two veterans. You can, also, pick up some very nice used examples that will be cheaper than the Mazdaspeed3, while still having good quality inside and out.

With that said, this is only Mazda’s second stab at the hot hatch segment. You see, we don’t have hot hatches in America. All we’ve got are the GTI and Cooper. And over in Europe, they’re just 2 good representations of that, while there are so many other hot hatches that are faster, better and more fun to drive over the pond. So, I say, Amen to Mazda for trying to offer that to us in a proper fashion. Oh, and the Mazdaspeed3 only comes in standard shift. Can I get an Amen?!

A big thank you goes to Corey Privette and Fernando Cruz, who took all of the great photos of the Mazda Mazdaspeed3. At one point Fernando turned to me and said, in a broken Brasilian accent, “This car just has such beautiful lines. I can’t find a bad line to shoot.”

You can find Fernando Cruz’s fantastic photography work at FCX Photography. And Corey will become a new addition to our photography team.

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I'm a car, music, and Howard Stern aficionado. I also love planes, trains, anything to do with science and engineering, as well as politics. I'm working on my screenplays, TV shows, and a book or two. Stay tuned to when I'm really famous and even more awesome.

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  • Tim Holmes

    This test drive review of the Mazdaspeed 3 is simply “Awesome”. I really liked the snaps too. Thanks for the post. Why not check out this incredible video too? I found it by chance on CCM-News website at http://clients.ccm-news.com/?client=Mercedes-Benz and sharing it with all my friends ever since. It’s about the launch of the new Mercedes-Benz driving simulator! It’s worth a watch!

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    Hey Josh, just checked out your website for the first time in a while and WOW! It looks fantastic!

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    I just saw your website and it is really nice and also it is full of information and also test drive would be so fantastic. I would like to do experience.

  • peregrinus

    “Cars”? Looking at the front of the ‘Speed3, I am immediately and lastingly reminded of an earlier Pixar movie.

    “Hellooo   … my name’s BRUCE.”

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    Wow, beautiful pictures, i am going to love the car.
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