By Gary Chan
I was so excited to hear that the Mazdaspeed3 was available to test drive. I’ve always loved small agile cars and this epitomized that ideal with power to spare. The field has narrowed over the years and the Mazda is the first one in a while to bring excitement to the tarmac.
- Powerful engine
- Strong brakes
- HID headlights
- Driving ergonomics
- Suspension (perfect for performance driving)
- Somewhat notchy shifter
- No remote rear hatch release
- LCD information limited to one line and does not auto scroll
- Suspension (a bit firm for around town driving)
First impression of the Mazdaspeed3 was it’s amazing acceleration. Dang, it moves. Being only 3200 lbs with 260+ hp and 280 lb-ft of torque on tap, I expected it to move and was not disappointed. One of the first things I noticed was that first gear was sometimes hard to find after accidentally starting in 3rd gear a few times. After a few false starts I learned to just push the stick all the way to the left before engaging first gear. To minimize torque steer, Mazda’s engineers have worked their electronic magic limiting the amount of power/torque available in the first two gears. It works well, but you can still feel the tug of the wheel under hard acceleration in those gears. I wonder what it would have been without the electronic intervention? Even with a little torque steer the responsive steering complements the firm suspension. Night time driving is a joy with a set HID headlamps that are amazingly powerful and cut an even, wide swath in front of the car.
With a platform shared with the Volvo C30/S40, the car feels very rigid with almost zero flex. All of the doors close easily and solidly. There were no loose parts or extraneous sounds from the body or interior during the test drive. If you open the hood, you’ll notice that everything is clearly labeled. And you even get an anodized red billet oil cap emblazoned with “Mazdaspeed”. Strangely absent is a tower strut brace. No matter as there are many manufacturers of cross braces found on the Internet. The body and paint is very good for a hopped-up compact car. Panel gaps are consistent around the car and trim pieces fit like puzzle pieces in their respective locations.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
This is a sports car so I wasn’t disappointed when I sat in the driver seat and found myself well bolstered in supportive seats. With a combination of leather and cloth, the seats offer plenty of grip preventing body movement in aggressive driving. The pattern on the cloth parts is like a textured carbon fiber weave with red-contrast stitching around the perimeter. The seats are not powered, but easily adjusted using two-levers on the lower left. The steering wheel telescopes and tilts like many cars these days allowing me to quickly find a custom driving position for myself. You can go down to your local Kragens Auto Part store, and pick up some aluminum pedal covers to dress up your interior, but Mazda designers have saved you the trip by supplying beautiful drilled aluminum pedals some with rubber nubs for grip. Not being a very tall person, and after all was dialed-in, I found the Mazda driving ergonomics suited my frame well.
The three-spoke steering wheel (with dimpled leather on the left and right hand positions) has audio and cruise controls which are clearly labeled. It’s just the right diameter with the leather stitching matching the same contrast stitching as the seats. Behind the steering wheel, you’ll find the speedometer (center), tach (left), and engine temp/fuel/trip info (right) in three circular gauges. All gauges are clearly legible with large numbers or letters regardless of the lighting conditions.
There’s not much to say about the center console. All of the HVAC and radio controls are clearly labeled with black-on-white abbreviations or icons. My only complaint was the small LCD screen which became evident when using the satellite radio. Most screens display the song name and artist, but on the Mazda, you had to manually toggle through to get the info; same with music genres … small issue, but the engineers could have easily made the screen taller to make information navigation easier on the user.
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