First, I must admit my bias: when people ask what my favorite car is, I tell them that it is my own car, a first-generation Mazdaspeed 3. I am predisposed to really like the Speed 3, given that I actually bought one with my own money. Because I own one, I was also able to drive the first- and second-generation cars back-to-back to see how the Speed 3 has grown in four years. On paper, the growth is mainly in the body and weight (it's bigger and heavier), and that can be felt from behind the wheel. The 2012 Speed 3 feels heavier, softer, and more mature. The interior has better ergonomics, higher-grade plastics, and more premium features. What hasn't changed, however, are the mechanicals: both cars use the same 263-hp turbocharged in-line four that sends its power through a fantastic six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels. Thanks to unequal-length half-shafts and a torque limiter in first and second gears, torque steer is generally kept to a minimum during around-town driving. But if you nail the go-pedal, you'd better hold on, because the Speed 3 will happily remind you that it is one of the hottest hot hatches and will try to wrench the wheel from your hands with a nasty bout of torque steer. Thankfully, the addition of a boost gauge for the Gen II helps new drivers know when to expect the blast to come on. Where the first-generation Speed 3 was a wild thing that happened to also be practical, the second generation is a practical hatchback that happens to have a wild side. At least I know now that if I have to replace my car I'll be getting ... another Mazdaspeed 3.
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