More Expert Reviews
by Gary Chan
- Fun! Fun! Fun! to drive
- Rev-happy engine
- Cockpit ergonomics
- Less rear leg room than flying economy-class
- Ride comfort sacrificed for sportscar handling
- Torque steer … whoa, hang on, Nelly!
The last MS3 that I drove was a 2008 model. It was a fun car that stuck to the road like glue. With a few updates and a completely new body, I put in my request for this new model months before it became available eager to see what had changed. Ride-wise it wasn’t too different from the previous version, but the updated interior and controls were welcome improvements.
Many of the people I ran across told me, “That car screams, Give me a ticket!” Thankfully, I avoided the police during my 5 day test drive. I had a Velocity Red Mica MS3 Sport with a 6-speed manual transmission and outfitted with the only option package available: the Mazdaspeed Tech Package (which included an upgraded Bose surround system, in-dash 6-disc changer, 10-speakers, Sirius® Satellite Radio, a compact navigation system, keyless entry and start, plus an alarm).
The first thing I noticed was a heavy clutch requiring some leg strength compared with my trusty Integra. No bother. I quickly adapted and was flicking through the gears with reckless abandon. With only one or two people in the car it’s a bumpy, if not somewhat harsh ride.
With four adults inside, the ride is much improved. After a few miles of driving in the city and on the freeway, my wife was not a happy camper complaining that her body was being “jolted” around. To me, it was okay because I appreciated the stiff suspension and responsive dynamics they created for my short drives.
As with the previous and current Mazda 3 (Speed and standard models), road and engine noise permeate the interior. I wish their engineers had spent a bit more time insulating the cockpit to make the driving experience a bit more pleasurable instead of having to raise the audio volume a bit higher than normal or needing to talk a bit higher just to be heard.
In the 200+ miles that I put on the car, I didn’t detect any noticeable squeaks or rattles, and this was on a tester that had over 8k miles on it. None of the surfaces or seats showed much wear so I suspect the interior would last and look great for quite some time. The quality of the interior construction is very good reflecting a car costing much more than $25k. The engine compartment is dominated by the hood scoop-cooled intercooler, but everything is still easy to access and service.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
Thank goodness Mazda offers an optional full-color display as well as a smaller display for HVAC and satellite info. The single-line LED display on the previous version was painful to use (and see). With mainly steering wheel buttons, you can control/set/adjust almost everything found in the display.
Therein lies the rub: you have to use one of the 15-buttons or three-toggle switches to accomplish anything. There are the HVAC controls and audio controls on the center stack, but other functions like configuring my Bluetooth® phone required too many steps through too many screens or audio prompts. I had to pull out the manual and go step-by-step through the instructions to pair my phone (and it took 3 attempts!). Ugh. Not intuitive at all.
Okay, so the navigation screen is rather small and pushed deep into the dash to help you quickly focus from the road to the screen, and it worked rather well. What didn’t were the navigation instructions … they were a bit slow to update, and I passed several streets based on the voice commands. My navigation app on my simple Sprint phone is better.
It’s too bad they removed the HID headlights that were standard on the previous model, and replaced them with standard halogen lights. Even the Mazda3 Grand Touring models have HID lighting as standard equipment.
The cockpit was a totally different story. It felt like it was made for me even with its rather sparse seat adjustments of height, seat back-angle, and fore-and-aft positioning. The leather and cloth-trimmed seats with beefy thigh and side bolster were perfect in keeping me planted and comfortable. The steering column tilts and telescopes helping to achieve the best driving position.
One annoying interior feature was the center console with the sliding padded armrest. I would either hit it with my elbow when shifting or it would slide back and forth sometimes with my arm resting on it.
With 263 hp on tap from the 2.3L direct-injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and 280 lb-ft of torque, it moves. It’s slightly slower than the previous generation as this new car weighs a few hundred pounds more.
The conditions during my entire test drive were wet (here in sunny California!) so I was unable to fully push the limits. From a standing start, the engine revs so fast that you have to watch the tach otherwise you’ll feel the fuel being reduced after you pass redline as a safety measure. As I accelerated hard, I definitely felt the torque steer wanting to pull the car to the side. Shifts are fast and precise (gone are the shifting issues from the 2008 model).
The Mazdaspeed3 is plenty fast for performance driving around here in the San Francisco Bay Area and its surrounding mountain roads. Just keep the rpm’s about 3500, and you’ll stay on boost while grinning from ear-to-ear.
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