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Future Sport Compacts: Mazdaspeed3, Civic Type R, BMW M2, Audi TT RS

Even sportier versions of these cars are on the way soon.

Mazdaspeed3

What We Know

Take the last Mazdaspeed3’s recipe and add a bit more aggression. The 2.3-liter turbo-four should grow to 2.5 liters and will be based on the company’s new Skyactiv engine family. The turbocharged engine will be used first in a refreshed CX-9 crossover due in 2016. Power should increase to about 300 hp. The old 263-hp Speed3 had a nasty reputation for torque steer and wheelspin, so all-wheel drive could tame the new mill. As on the last Speed3, expect Mazda to offer only a manual transmission; the company has no experience with dual-clutch gearboxes and is unlikely to put a traditional automatic in such a performance-oriented car. As with the first two versions—and rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS—Mazda will almost certainly build the Speed3 only as a hatchback.

Why It Matters

The MX-5 Miata can only carry so much of the company’s Zoom-Zoom spirit, and there’s no sign of an RX-7/RX-8 successor, so Mazda needs another performance car to keep enthusiasts returning to showrooms. Hot hatchbacks are enjoying a renaissance in the U.S., and Mazda wants to join the fray in a bid to boost sales any way possible. The regular 3 has been widely praised for its lively handling and responsive power­trains—it won a 2014 Automobile All-Star award, and we were big fans of our Four Seasons 2014 Mazda3 hatch—so we have high hopes for an all-wheel-drive Speed3 that could take on players such as the Golf R and Focus RS.

Potential Pitfalls

Mazda hasn’t invested in turbocharging as much as other automakers, instead relying on the low friction of its Skyactiv naturally aspirated engine family to help it improve fuel efficiency. Perhaps more worrisome, Mazda officials won’t even confirm they have greenlit the Speed3 for production, and we have yet to even see a concept. Word is, though, we will soon.

When to Expect It

Expect a two-year wait. The standard 3 will likely be refreshed in 2016, with the Speed3 following in 2017.

Honda Civic Type R

What We Know

Turbocharged engines are coming to Honda in a big way. The all-new 2016 Honda Civic Si that launches early next year with its 1.5-liter turbo-four will be followed by the Civic Type R, which will feature a 2.0-liter turbo-four already rated at 306 hp in European trim. While the European version is a four-door hatch, the U.S.-spec Type R will only come as a two-door coupe. Both the Si and the Type R ride on a new Civic platform that has been designed and developed in America. (The Civic Concept from the 2015 New York auto show is pictured.) The coupe’s wheelbase will grow from its current 103.2 inches, and it will have a lower, wider stance. A shorter front overhang, longer hood, and rearward greenhouse also make this front-wheel-drive platform look more like a rear-wheel-drive package. The Civic Si will be akin to the VW GTI, and its front MacPherson struts and multilink rear suspension will be calibrated appropriately. The Type R will be more along the lines of the Golf R. We expect an adaptive suspension with stiffer springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars.

Why It Matters

We had a brief drive in Japan of a European-spec Honda Civic Type R with a preproduction version of the 306-hp, 2.0-liter turbo engine, and we’re certain that this front-drive rocket will have what it takes to compete in the sport-compact stratosphere, even against the likes of the coming all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen’s recently released Golf R. This halo car should help revive the reputation of the entire Civic lineup, which took a big hit from critics when Honda introduced the conservative ninth-generation Civic.

Potential Pitfalls

We expect the European version of the Civic Type R to be similar to the car we’ll get here, and while its body cladding and big rear wing are well executed, it could turn out to be too boy racer for the U.S. market, which has come to appreciate the refinement of cars such as the Golf R. Some sophistication and maturity might be required to ensure the Type R becomes more than just a high-price, low-volume image vehicle.

When to Expect It

The 2016 Honda Civic coupe and sedan go on sale this fall, followed shortly after by the Si coupe and sedan. Timing is less specific for the Type R, but we believe it’s due sometime in 2016 as a 2017 model.

Audi TT RS

What We Know

Our Audi sources say the next TT RS will be an exciting step up from the old model, with improved power and dynamics. Some aspects will remain similar; for example, we’re told the familiar Group B rally-inspired, five-cylinder engine will return. Output will increase significantly—at least 400 hp is the goal—and will be channeled through its DSG dual-clutch transmission. The TT’s new aluminum-intensive chassis and bodywork will improve rigidity, and Audi likely will tune its Quattro all-wheel-drive system to allow significant rear biasing for tail-out, rally-style antics. Sounds like fun, no?

Why It Matters

Audi was skeptical about bringing its last-gen TT RS across the pond, but not after a 2010 online petition demanding it do so registered more than 11,500 signatures in just a month. When the premium hot hatch arrived in late 2011, it sold out nearly as fast as supporters signed the petition. Demand is strong for Audi’s RS models in the U.S., and strong sales for the new TT RS will help ensure we keep getting the good stuff.

Potential Pitfalls

As good as the last TT RS was, Porsche’s Cayman turned out sharper. If the same holds true this time, it could fail to expand interest beyond Audi’s loyal fan base.

When to Expect It

As a mid-cycle entry, expect a 2017 debut in Europe and add a year or so for the U.S

BMW M2

What We Know

Smack between the M235i and the M4 will be the sub-$60,000 BMW M2, so it’s not surprising the M2 will pluck parts from both. The M2 will lift its brakes, suspension, and active differential from the M4, and beneath the M2’s hood you’ll find a version of the M235i’s turbocharged inline-six engine tuned to make more than 360 hp. A six-speed manual transmission will be standard (phew), and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic optional. Though all-wheel drive is available on the M235i, we expect the lighter and more powerful M2 to be rear-wheel-drive only. Amen.

Why It Matters

We like the M4, but it’s big and—dare we say—bloated. And although we adore the M235i, it could benefit from more bite. We hope the BMW M2 will be a slightly more subdued resurrection of the
1 Series M Coupe, the short-lived, limited run model with 335 hp that made us smile, even when it scared us senseless.

Potential Pitfalls

We fear the M2 will skew far more toward the snarling M4 than the spritely M235i instead of finding a sweet spot between the two.

When to Expect It

Production is expected to begin later this year, and it should go on sale in the U.S. soon after.

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