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The performance-oriented Mazda MAZDASPEED3 sport hatchback receives a new 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound audio system as standard equipment for 2012, and the MAZDASPEED3 continues to deliver a rocket-like ride, a functional design and a good overall value.The Bad
Fuel economy numbers for the turbocharged 2012 MAZDASPEED3 powerplant aren't strong, and taller drivers might have problems finding a comfortable seating position and fitting into the well-appointed cabin.
The CarGurus View
Delivering stellar driving dynamics and quick-paced performance that matches or exceeds anything in its class or beyond, the 2012 MAZDASPEED3 remains a true enthusiast's vehicle. Torque steer under aggressive acceleration continues to be an issue, and the uniquely equipped cabin doesn't quite match the best in the class, but the MAZDASPEED3 truly deserves the "hot hatch" nickname.
At a Glance
A true driver's car at an affordable price, the Mazda MAZDASPEED3 5-door compact sport hatchback continues to garner numerous accolades from the automotive press and owners alike for its exhilarating ride, nimble handling and functional design. Currently in its second generation, the MAZDASPEED3 debuted in 2007 and still comes equipped with its original turbocharged MZR 2.3-liter 4-cylinder powerplant, which it shares with the MAZDA6. A spin-off of the MAZDA3 hatchback, which itself is well-regarded for its responsive performance and class-leading handling, the MAZDASPEED3 receives a sportier exterior design, a firmer suspension and a number of interior upgrades designed to separate it from the pack.
The MAZDA3 received an exterior makeover for 2012, and those updates apply to the MAZDASPEED3 as well. The freshened exterior look includes new front and rear bumpers and updated halogen headlights. Distinctive exterior features for the MAZDASPEED3 include an aggressive front fascia with a metallic-black grille, round foglights and a lower air dam, as well as flared front fenders, sculpted side skirts and a roof-mounted rear wing. The sculpted hood features an intercooler scoop, which channels air into the engine compartment. Black power side mirrors with integrated turn signals and large dual exhaust tips are among the other exterior features. The MAZDASPEED3 also receives unique 18-inch wheels.
Inside, the MAZDASPEED3 receives a few updates, including restyled instrument gauges with white lettering and red accents, a new leather brake handle with a chrome button and a 10-speaker, 265-watt Bose Centerpoint audio system, which now comes as standard equipment. In addition, an optional Tech Package adds a blind-spot monitoring system for 2012 and also includes auto on/off HID headlights with auto-leveling, a pivoting adaptive front-lighting system, rain-sensing front wipers and LED taillights.
Mazda offers the MAZDASPEED3 in Touring and Touring w/ R Production trims for 2012. Competitors include the Ford Focus ST, which features a 252-hp turbocharged powerplant, and the Volkswagen GTI, which also features a turbocharged powerplant generating 200 hp. Like the MAZDASPEED3, both are front-wheel-drive sport-oriented hatchbacks, and all are comparably priced. In addition, some owners have compared the MAZDASPEED3 to such iconic vehicles as the Porsche 911, the BMW Z3 and even sport-oriented vehicles from Lotus, Alfa Romeo and Audi, attesting to the hatchback's ability to provide a true driving experience with little compromise.
While its sporty exterior styling draws the eye, the MAZDASPEED3's turbocharged powerplant remains the heart of the vehicle. Mazda equips the hatchback with a 2.3-liter MZR DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant, which produces an impressive 263 hp at 5,500 rpm and a whopping 280 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. That's good enough to push the MAZDASPEED3 from 0-60 in around 6.3 seconds, although some testers have reported making the leap to 60 mph in as little as 5.3 seconds. Top speed for the MAZDASPEED3 checks in at 155 mph. The turbo engine links to a 6-speed manual transmission with a close-ratio short-throw shifter. In keeping with the MAZDASPEED3's sporty nature, Mazda does not offer an optional automatic transmission. The engine, which requires premium fuel, posts fuel economy numbers of 18/25 mpg.
The turbocharged powerplant provides aggressive torque across a wide rev range, which can result in some torque steer. To help keep the MAZDASPEED3 on its intended trajectory, Mazda equips it with an Advanced Torque Management System, designed to minimize torque steer while ensuring good wheel grip and overall control by the driver. Still, torque steer continues to creep in at times under heavy acceleration, according to some reviewers, who recommend keeping both hands on the wheel when putting the MAZDASPEED3 through its paces. However, turbo lag doesn't seem to present much of a problem.
Some reviewers also say the manual shifter and clutch take some getting used to, in part because the throw and shift handle are longer than expected, but they also indicate that most drivers should have no problem adjusting to the shifting patterns and appropriate feel in short order. Dual tailpipes and a sport-tuned exhaust system provide an appropriate note as the MAZDASPEED3 accelerates through the gears.
Ride & Handling
Like the MAZDA3 on which it's based, the MAZDASPEED3 delivers quick, precise handling and a highly capable ride. It rides on a firmer suspension than the MAZDA3, and some testers find the ride a little too stiff. However, they also say the MAZDASPEED3 remains firmly planted to the road during sporty driving maneuvers and continues to handle tight corners better than just about any other vehicle in its price range and beyond. The MAZDASPEED3 handles equally well in the city, with a quickness and nimbleness that should please just about any driver.
The MAZDASPEED3 sits on an independent front sport MacPherson strut suspension, and an independent E-type multi-link rear suspension. Front and rear stabilizer bars, upgraded from the bars in the MAZDA3, help ensure a stable feel. The front bar receives revised mounts designed to improve stability. High damping rates and stiff coil springs in the front and rear also help ensure a clamped-down feel in corners and on uneven road surfaces. In addition, Mazda equips the MAZDASPEED3 with a torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential.
The electro-hydraulic power-assisted steering, tuned for a rigid feel at higher speeds and a lighter feel at lower speeds, provides good feedback and ensures optimal control, while enlarged Mazdaspeed power-assisted ventilated front disc brakes and solid rear brakes deliver good stopping power at all speeds. The MAZDASPEED3 rides on unique 18-inch aluminum wheels with wide, high-grip Dunlop Sport performance tires.
Cabin & Comfort
Again drawing cues from the MAZDA3's cabin, the MAZDASPEED3 ups the ante with a black interior theme highlighted by a number of sport-oriented and upscale features. The updated instrument cluster, which includes an LED turbocharger boost gauge and a tachometer, now features new Mazdaspeed black gauges with white lettering and red accents. Black leather upholstery with red cloth inserts, black and red interior trim, and red stitching on the 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift lever, parking brake handle, center armrest and door trim enhance the sporty look. Aluminum pedals, Mazdaspeed scuff plates and unique floor mats also give the cabin a unique appearance. However, some lower-grade materials and hard plastic surfaces that carry over from the standard MAZDA3 trims, especially on lower panels, mar the upscale ambience, reviewers note.
A 10-speaker, 265-watt Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound audio system with a CD/MP3 player, Bluetooth and an auxiliary input jack joins the standard equipment list for 2012. Dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, interior ambient lighting, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and a multi-information display are among the other standard features. An optional Tech Package adds a navigation system with a compact 5.8-inch color touchscreen, push-button start and a new blind-spot monitoring system, in addition to a number of upgraded exterior features.
Most drivers will find plenty of room in the cabin, with gauges and controls within easy reach of the driver. The sport front seats provide good lateral support designed to keep passengers in place, but taller drivers might have difficulty finding a comfortable seating position, according to testers. Legroom and headroom might be a little tight for taller passengers as well. Cargo space checks in about average for the hatchback class, with 17 cubic feet of space with the second row up, expanding to 42.8 cubic feet with the 60/40-split rear seatback folded down.
Like the MAZDA3 on which it's based, the 2012 MAZDASPEED3 was named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, since it received a top rating of Good for protecting passengers in frontal, side-impact and rollover crashes. The NHTSA gave the MAZDA3 4 out of 5 stars overall, which breaks down to 5 stars for frontal crash tests, 4 stars for rollovers and 3 stars for side-impact crashes.
Standard safety features for the MAZDASPEED3 include front advanced airbags, front side-impact airbags and side-curtain airbags, as well as Dynamic Stablity Control, traction control and 4-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. A panic button in the keyless remote and a tire pressure monitoring system are among the other standard safety features.
What Owners Think
While owners rave about the MAZDASPEED3's performance, its biggest asset is its driving dynamics, according to several owners. Like reviewers, owners highly praise the MAZDASPEED3's handling and ride, as well as its acceleration and overall speed-demon qualities. Around town and on the highway, owners say it beats just about anything on the road, short of a $100,000 supercar. The sport hatchback's overall value especially impresses owners. Many do comment on the noticeable torque steer during hard acceleration, but most are aware enough to watch for it, and some even find it endearing, since it enhances the driver's interaction with the vehicle.
That interaction, for the most part, remains the essential appeal of the MAZDASPEED3. Owners consider it a true driver's car, and even though sales volumes might be low, driving enthusiasts recognize the fact that Mazda has created a car with them in mind. Individuals less concerned about driving dynamics and more concerned about interior comfort and styling might be better off looking elsewhere, according to a number of owners. While they find the cabin of the MAZDASPEED3 comfortable and well-equipped, other vehicles do a better job of pampering passengers. But again, owners say, that's the way it should be.CarGurus https://www.cargurus.com
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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Looking for a Used MAZDASPEED3 in your area?
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