It’s clear why we selected the Mazdaspeed 3 (along with the base Mazda 3) as an All-Star for 2010: the direct steering and crisp handling alone put it in the very upper echelon of sport compact cars, alongside the Volkswagen GTI and the MINI Cooper S. Still, I could never bring myself to buy a Mazdaspeed3 for two primary reasons: ridiculous torque steer (yes, I know it’s slightly less severe than the previous-gen car) and an incredibly stiff and overly notchy gearbox. I thought that maybe this test car’s gearbox hadn’t yet been broken in, but the car has about 2500 miles on the odometer.
I wouldn’t necessarily steer others away from the MS3, though, since its price is highly competitive and it offers tons of horsepower. Plus, the Mazda comes in a versatile hatchback body style (which we liked during a year with a non-Speed Mazda3) and very supportive seats.
– Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I agree with Rusty. Although I applaud Mazda for offering this hard-core compact, the Mazdaspeed3’s violent torque steer and notchy shifter tend to overshadow all the things that put the standard 3 at the top of its class-precise steering, excellent ride and handling balance, great packaging. If you don’t mind an arm-wrestling match every time you get behind the wheel, though, the Speed3’s 263-hp, turbo four is an absolute blast.
– Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
It’s a shame Mazda didn’t decide to offer all-wheel-drive on the Mazdaspeed3. Not only would this allow the hot hatch to put down all of its power all of the time, it would also potentially pull in buyers from snowbelt states who worry about big power and front-wheel-drive in the snow. The Volkswagen GTI doesn’t have the torque steer that seems to define the Mazdaspeed3, but it also doesn’t have nearly as much power when you jump on the gas at highway speeds. As it stands, I might be inclined to take a Mazdaspeed3 over a GTI just to have something a little different. I see a lot of GTIs running around and hardly ever a Mazdaspeed3.
– Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Power isn’t everything. Although the turbocharged, intercooled 2.3-liter four nestled under the Mazdaspeed3’s hood cranks out a whopping 261 horsepower, it doesn’t exactly make this vehicle an absolute blast. Instead, it tends to spoil a near-perfect, front-wheel-drive platform with gobs of torque steer. All-wheel-drive, as Phil Floraday suggests, could provide a solution, but the two-piece Revoknuckle front struts in the 3’s distant cousin, the Ford Focus RS, could possibly be a quick and less expensive solution.
Luckily, there’s a vehicle that offers virtually everything I love about the Mazdaspeed3 but in a more manageable, balanced package: the Mazda3. True, you sacrifice nearly 100 ponies and an impressive brake system, but you’re given a tactile, tossable five-door that’s far more balanced and rewarding to drive on a daily basis.
– Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Base price (with destination): $24,090
Price as tested: $24,520
2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
6-speed manual transmission
18-inch alloy wheels
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Steering wheel audio/cruise control buttons
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Dual-zone automatic climate control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
60/40 split rear seat
Auxiliary input jack
AM/FM/CD with MP3 6-speaker audio
Tire pressure monitoring system
Dynamic stability control
Traction control system
Options on this vehicle:
Sirius satellite radio — $430
Key options not on vehicle:
MazdaSpeed tech package — $2515
Compact navigation system
265-watt Bose audio system
In-dash 6-disc CD changer with 10 speakers
Compass/Auto-dim rearview mirror — $275
Fuel economy: 18/25/21 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.3L turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 263 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 3272 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 7.5-inch aluminum wheels, 225/40R18 Dunlop SP Sport 2050 performance tires