First Drive: 2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3

There's one thing missing in love-it-or-hate-it cars like the Mazdaspeed 3: apathy. Whether you adore its tire-shredding, blistering acceleration or loathe its torque steer and turbo lag, you'll never get out of this hatchback feeling nothing. Redesigned for 2010, the Mazdaspeed 3 remains the muscle car of the hot-hatch world, and just like the last Speed, it remains the ultimate polarizer of the Mazda family.

For example, one could easily criticize the new Speed for offering no more power than last year's car. We won't. Word behind the scenes is that engineers experimented with more power (the engine will reportedly handle 300 hp with no problem) and even all-wheel drive, but the lessons of the late RX-7 stopped that thinking dead in its tracks. The RX-7 became too complex and too expensive, resulting in its demise. Demise is bad, so the Mazdaspeed 3 stays simple, cheap, and fast.

And that means it remains a hot hatch with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine furiously spinning the front wheels. The unibody is similar to the one in last year's car, with only slight structural enhancements made possible by the selective use of high-strength steel. The new Speed is roughly the same size as its predecessor, and weight has increased by only about 100 pounds. Even its electronically limited 155-mph top speed remains the same. So what's different?

Well, perhaps you've noticed the styling. And by "styling," we could only be referring to the Speed's freakishly happy yet uncomfortably sinister mug. Love it or hate it, the grille opening is roughly the same shape as the one on the standard version of the happiest car on the planet, but with a slightly perverse, almost Joker-esque, insert. Circular lenses replace the rounded-trapezoid foglights from the regular 3, and the front fenders are flared to house tires that have grown in width by one size. A hood scoop tells other would-be racers that this Mazda means business.

The functional scoop routes cold air directly to the top-mounted intercooler. The previous Speed 3 used ducting in the hood to feed the intercooler, which left no room for cold-air plumbing for the engine. The new configuration not only provides for better airflow to the intercooler but feeds the engine with chillier intake air as well. The better cooling results in higher engine output in hot conditions and at low speeds, such as when sitting in midsummer traffic.

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