2010 MAZDASPEED3_010Nobody asked me, but . . .

If you are an enthusiast, the MazdaSpeed3 has got to place all your senses on red alert.

Laser-like response to steering, throttle and braking inputs.  A rumbling, head-turning exhaust note.  G forces that shout “friction circle.”

It’s like Christmas every day.  A road machine that will send visions of competing at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca or in the WRC dancing in your head.

From 100 feet away the 2010 MazdaSpeed3 looks like its more pedestrian (Is any Mazda3 pedestrian?) 5-door Mazda3 counterparts.  As it rumbles closer, the visual differences are obvious:  an intercooler hood scoop, a more aggressive lower air dam and round fog lights, flared fenders to cover the car’s wider tires, side skirts and a larger, roof-mounted rear wing.

The interior design theme emphasizes black with red accents and includes red stitching on the steering wheel, seats, door trim, shift lever boot and center armrest.  An LED  turbo boost gauge is positioned between the speedometer and tach.  The front sport seats are designed to provide comfort and support in every direction, especially when hitting the twisties.

Overall, the new MazaSpeed3 is evolution, not revolution.  Why change a good thing?  And that theme includes the 3’s 2.3-liter DISI turbo 4-cylinder which delivers 263 bhp at 5500 rpm and a wheel-spinning 280 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm.  It’s a carryover from the previous Speed3 where it made the original version one of the most powerful front-wheel-drive performance cars in its compact segment.  So most of the changes for the 2010 Speed3 are focused on refinements such as improved intercooler efficiency for gains in real-world power and fuel economy and slightly taller 2nd through 5th gear ratios to make better use of the engine’s abundant torque.  The MazdaSpeed3’s torque management system, which controls torque steer by adjusting torque output based on gear position and steering angle, has been recalibrated to allow more of the torque to be available in the lower gears while still keeping torque steer at manageable levels.

Nobody sweats the dynamic details—steering, cornering, braking, ride—more than Mazda’s band of chassis tuners.  Excellent dynamics start with a rigid structure that features extensive use of lighter high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels and the use of thicker sheet metal in high-stress areas.

The MadaSpeed3’s firmer suspension includes stiffer springs, higher damping rates and revised mounting points for the front anti-roll bar that reduce bushing deflection, increasing the bar’s effectiveness.  To balance excellent handling with a supple ride MazdaSpeed3s ride on 225/40R18 Dunlop SP Sport 2050 performance tires.

Steering feel and response are Mazda specialties and have been improved through more rigid 3-point mounting of the steering rack, compared to the previous 2-point system. The hydraulic power steering pump is now driven by an electric motor, reducing parasitic drag on the engine and giving the development team much more flexibility to dial in steering feel.

Brakes are carryover from the previous Speed3 and include 12.6-in. vented discs up front 11.0-in. solid rear discs and ABS with Electronic Brakeforce and Brake-Assist.  Brake feel during hard braking has been improved via a change of brake assist from mechanical to a new electronically-controlled system.

The 2010 MazdaSpeed3 is loaded with standard features, including variable intermittent windshield wipers, roof-mounted aerodynamic antenna, illuminated vanity mirrors, stability control, electroluminescent gauges, aluminum pedals, and dual-zone climate control. An available MazdaSpeed3 Tech Package offers advanced keyless entry, push-button start, a compact full-color navigation system, Sirius satellite radio, a perimeter alarm, six CD changer, and Bose Centerpoint surround sound—a five-channel system that features a digital amplifier, noise cancellation technology and 10 speakers.

Mazda introduced the Speed3 to the media on the road and track, turning us loose on the up-and-down turns of Laguna Seca and on nearby secondary roads.  The car is fast and fun in either venue.  It accelerates and brakes like a race car.  It corners with phenomenal grip and stick.

The steering is quick and precise.  But with 280 lb-ft of torque demanding to be let loose through the front wheels, the steering exhibits strong torque steer in the lower gears.  At times like this you have two choices.  You can be an exhibitionist and allow that torque steer to take over.  Or you can be a driver, recognizing that power (or torque) is nothing without control (Thank you, Pirelli.) and that the discipline you exercise in the forcefulness and timing of applications of your right foot on the loud pedal will directly dictate the speed of your laps around a track.  There is no more obvious indicator of this behavior than Laguna’s Turn 11, a 90-degree turn leading you onto the long front straightaway.  Everything about being a racer tells you to go in hard and fast, downshifting, turning and nailing the throttle as early as possible.  Slow down?  That’s for the back markers.

But a real racer will recognize that with a powerful front-drive car such as the MazdaSpeed3, losing a couple of extra mph going into the turn will allow you to straighten the wheels sooner coming out of the turn and squeeze on more power earlier, resulting in a faster top speed and a shorter time on the front straight . . . and quicker lap times.

Affordability—bang for the buck—has been a strong suit of the MazdaSpeed3.   The latest version continues this tradition with a MSRP of $23,195.  The Tech Package costs an additional $1895.  The Speed3 has competitors including the Civic Si, VW GTi and the Impreza WRX.  One, the Subaru, has all-wheel drive and a price tag about $2000 higher than the Mazda. All are exciting fun-to-drive compacts.  But none offer the combination of power, handling, ride, room and standard features found in the MazdaSpeed3.

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