The EPA estimates the 2013 Mazdaspeed3's fuel economy at 21 mpg combined, 18 mpg city, and 25 mpg highway. My average miles per gallon hovered at a point that was considerably lower (about 12 mpg) thanks to a combination of a lead foot and San Francisco traffic, but an extended period of calm highway cruising brought my weeklong average up to a decent 17.8 mpg -- still, nothing to brag about there.
Don't let all of that talk of front-wheel drive, torque steer, and torque limiters deter you. The 2013 Mazdaspeed3 is still an amazing car. The power is good and available at a nice midpoint of the power band, where it can be easily accessed. The front-wheel-drive platform encourages good, fundamental driving techniques to maximize your traction and speed. Fortunately, the 'Speed3 offers fantastic feedback through all of its driver contact points (steering wheel, pedals, and the seat of your pants).
As I mentioned earlier, my first experience with the Mazdaspeed3 was in the rain at night and the torque steer was terrifying in that low-traction, low-visibility scenario. This time out, the bit of torque steer that I felt in the 2013 model actually made the car feel more alive and more fun. I couldn't help grinning as I made small corrections to wrangle what felt like too much power for my own good and a car that simply wanted to get into trouble. The Mazdaspeed3 forces you to pay attention to what you're doing when driving quickly -- you can't drive this car in the classic poser position with one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the shifter -- but its relatively safe front-drive architecture and unobtrusive traction control system don't punish you for momentary lapses when you're just headed home for the day.
The 'Speed3's ride is firm, but also not punishing or harsh. You'll want to dodge potholes, but you also won't have to worry about having your fillings shaken out when going over cracks in the road or expansion joints. A good deal of road noise filters into the cabin, but not so much that I had to shout to be heard by passengers or crank the volume to enjoy music. The exhaust note is better-sounding than the Bose stereo anyway.
At the end of the day, the Mazdaspeed3 is an absolute joy to drive and makes me, the driver, feel awesome when everything comes together and I nail a perfect downshift, balance the car on its nose through an apex, and come blasting out of a corner with the turbo at full boil. Possibly more importantly, the Mazda's hatchback design is remarkably easy to live with as a daily driver, boasting plenty of space for four adult passengers and a boot full of their junk.
However, there are a few nits to pick. For example, while the shifter has good engagement, it sometimes catches on the gates during a 2-3 upshift or 5-4 downshift. It's no deal breaker, but requires a bit of care and getting used to. Also, a rearview camera isn't an option on the Mazdaspeed3, but it probably should be. It would certainly make parallel parking much easier and alleviate a bit of my fear of scuffing those sweet 18-inch wheels. Like my complaints about the cabin tech, these flaws in the driving experience are noteworthy, but also relatively minor.
In sum: Current king of the hot hatchbacks?
Our 2013 Mazdaspeed3 totaled $27,955 as equipped. That's starting from a base price of $24,200, and adding a $795 destination charge, the aforementioned Technology Package, an autodimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink for $275, and ambient lighting that floods the footwells with blue light for $200. At that price, the Mazda's hot hatchback finds itself in a very interesting class of vehicles.
The 2013 Ford Focus ST is more efficient and just as quick as the Mazdaspeed3 in most situations -- despite having less power and torque on paper. The Ford also has nicer interior materials and is only slightly more expensive than the Mazda. The Ford Focus ST is also less squirrelly and gives less torque steer than the older 'Speed3. Whether that last bit is a good thing depends largely on how you get your driving grins. I kind of like the idea of having to occasionally wrestle my car into line, but I think most drivers will value the Ford's additional stability.
The all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX five-door is easily the king of this hot hatchback class and will likely outrun and outcorner both the Mazda and the Ford, but is more expensive and arguably doesn't offer the same level of driver involvement. Some may consider the Volkswagen Golf R a competitor, but its price tag pushes it just outside of realistic comparison. It's a shame that Mitsubishi recently discontinued the Lancer Ralliart Sportback; that model would have also been a good fit for this group.
|Model||2013 Mazda Mazdaspeed3|
|Power train||2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission, FWD|
|EPA fuel economy||18 city, 25 highway, 21 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||17.8 mpg|
|Navigation||optional TomTom-based system|
|Bluetooth phone support||standard|
|Disc player||single-slot CD, MP3/WMA decoding|
|MP3 player support||standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection, optional Pandora Link app integration|
|Other digital audio||optional SiriusXM Satellite Radio, HD Radio decoding|
|Audio system||10-speaker Bose audio|
|Driver aids||optional blind-spot monitoring, Active Front Lighting System|
|Price as tested||$27,955|