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.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I was surprised to discover that the Speed 3 has a blind-spot warning system, although I would've traded it for heated seats this morning. That handy option seems slightly out of place on a pocket-rocket Mazda that excels at pinning you in your seat whenever you flex your right foot.
I love the turbo-boost gauge, an LCD readout located right between the tachometer and the speedometer. I also love making it climb to the top of its scale (+15 psi).
These tires look fairly worn, which helps explain the understeer I experienced when taking a couple corners pretty hot. Overall, though, the 2012 Mazdaspeed 3 is a great overall package: good price, nice gearbox (easier to drive than regular stick-shift 3, actually), more power than the chassis can reasonably handle, and a versatile body style. The back seats are too cramped for this family man, though, so I won't be competing with Donny for the next Speed 3 that arrives at our local Mazda dealership.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Wow, what a difference a generation makes! The new Mazdaspeed 3 drives like the last Speed 3's more mature, caffeine-free brother. Where the last car was a bit frenetic and high-strung -- especially when the boost kicked in -- this new Speed 3 is comparatively, dare I say, relaxed. The turbo buildup is far more progressive, which makes it easier to get off the line quickly without overwhelming the tires. I got behind the wheel expecting the clutch to have the strangely high engagement point present in our Four Seasons Mazda 3 but it's easy to use and has virtually no learning curve.
All around, the 2012 Speed 3 is an improvement over the last generation car. It's easier to live with day to day but hasn't grown up too much to be called a hot hatch.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I defer to Donny Nordlicht's opinions, to an extent, since as a Mazdaspeed 3 owner, he's an expert on the model. As a 24-year-old car geek, he's also the absolute target market for this car. Basically, this car comes down to four numbers: 263 hp, 280 lb-ft of torque, 155-mph top speed, $25K. That's all you need to know.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Excuse me, but did one of my colleagues just call the Speed 3 "relaxed?" When compared to the first-generation MazdaSpeed3, perhaps it is, but it's still an incredibly hairy hot hatch. This little thing sends 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque through its front wheels, which can prove a bit tricky when launched hard, especially on slick or broken pavement. As we wrote after driving a 2011 example late last year, it's much like preparing to ride a bull at a rodeo: you'd best sit down, hold on tight, and prepare for a fight. Apart from the gauges, nothing has changed since then; I don't understand why our tone has.
The Speed 3 is perhaps the last of the truly manic hot hatchbacks. Volkswagen's GTI has long been a more balanced blend of speed and tranquility, and the forthcoming Ford Focus ST promises to offer almost as much power and some nifty suspension tricks to help negate torque steer. If a balanced blend is what you're looking for, look elsewhere - but if you're looking for a wicked, wild ride, the Mazda may plant a grin the size of its front grille upon your face.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
This is the third Mazda 3 variant that we've had in the office in the last few weeks. Driven sedately, the casual driver might not notice a big difference between this Mazdaspeed 3 and its less powerful brethren. But driven more aggressively, the 263-hp turbo four-cylinder delivers a dose of power separates this car from a regular Mazda 3. There's still a fair amount of torque steer as all that power is delivered to the front wheels, but overall the package seems a bit more civilized than the previous Mazdaspeed 3. This is a car that would be pretty easy to live with every day and could still provide you with some thrills.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The Speed 3 is a taste I've yet to acquire. Some love its excitable, massively powerful engine. And indeed, the sudden blast forward under heavy acceleration, particularly in second gear, puts a grin on your face. However, there are other offerings in this segment that make better use of their power, like Volkswagen GTI or the Subaru WRX. Or the regular Mazda 3. We had the Speed 3's calmer brother in the office recently and I find it a better balanced, more rewarding enthusiast's car. The steering, gearbox, and handling are all just as or nearly as good, and with a 2.5-liter 165-hp four-cylinder, it's hardly slow. The only differences are that it's less expensive, less ostentatious, and less of a handful.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor