Like Rusty, I'm close to the target demographic of the Mazdaspeed 3. I've certainly sung its praises in the pages of Automobile and on these Web pages, and all of that has been well-deserved. But if given the choice, I'd put my own money towards the base Mazda 3 without a second's hesitation.
There's no question that the Speed 3 is faster, but a car's ability to accelerate is only one small piece of the puzzle. And in the case of the Speed, it comes at too great a cost to the rest of the driving experience. I think the 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the regular Mazda 3 hatchback produces more than enough power to make for a fun runabout. It does it, however, with instant response and linear power delivery. The Speed 3 suffers from far too much turbo lag for my tastes, and it has far too narrow of a power band.
The Speed 3 is a near-perfect specimen where body control is concerned - but remember, it's called the Speed 3, not the Fun 3. The base car is more enjoyable to toss around; its rear end is far more willing to come around (the Speed 3 has become an understeer-only proposition), and its limits are lower and more attainable on public roads. And ultimately, I think it's more fun to drive. Is the Speed 3 a bad car? Of course not. But I think the base car is even better.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor