2010 Mazdaspeed3
2010 Mazdaspeed3. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Mazdaspeed3

Ottawa, Ontario – Cheap thrills are hard to find – at least, the ones you wouldn’t be ashamed to tell your family about. You might also be hesitant to tell people you just paid more than $30,000 for a compact hatchback, but then, the Mazdaspeed3 isn’t your run-of-the-mill compact.

At its 2007 introduction, the original Speed3 came clothed in a body that looked mostly like its 3 Sport cousin, but was powered by a 2.3-litre, 263-horsepower turbocharged engine borrowed from the larger Mazdaspeed6. My favourite thing about that car was how subtle the differences were between it and the regular 3 hatch.

2010 Mazdaspeed3
2010 Mazdaspeed3
2010 Mazdaspeed3. Click image to enlarge

Thankfully, I can say the same about this second-generation model. Now, though, it’s a little easier to pick out from the front, thanks to the hood scoop that feeds air to the engine’s intercooler. Any other differences will only be obvious to those who know what they’re looking for, to wit, my mom thought this car was “cute” the first time she saw it.

I suppose the gaping grille, shared with the rest of the 3 lineup, could be considered cute; it’s a polarizing look that many would refer to in less complimentary terms. Regardless, the second-generation front-end styling is a better fit with this car’s aggressive attitude, even if that attitude is only truly revealed once you drive the car.

Under the hood is the same engine that powered last year’s Mazdaspeed3, making the same 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, though Mazda claims improvements in power delivery, fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions. While squeezing more distance out of a litre of gasoline is a noble pursuit in any kind of car, economical driving isn’t what this car is about.

Mazda claims a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 6.1 seconds, and it certainly feels that fast. Even with the car’s standard limited slip differential, there’s enough power to wake up the traction control system all the way through second gear.

2010 Mazdaspeed3
2010 Mazdaspeed3
2010 Mazdaspeed3. Click image to enlarge

One major criticism of the original Mazdaspeed3 was the vicious torque-steer, a tendency for a powerful front-wheel drive car to pull side-to-side in hard acceleration. Mazda says that the new car’s thicker driveshafts were aimed at quelling that, but it’s still a going concern, particularly when the pavement is uneven. The standard limited slip differential prevents the car from smoking one front wheel while the other stays put, but the side effect is that the car can be a real handful when powering through a corner.

At higher speeds, though, the engine’s torque is a real bonus, allowing the car to pull strongly, even in sixth gear, as long as the motor is spinning above 2,500 rpm.

In a week of mostly highway driving and speeds around 120 km/h, my real-world fuel consumption was a little more than 9.0 L/100 km, against the car’s ratings of 11.5/8.0 (city/highway). Premium fuel is recommended, but it will run on regular.

The clutch is heavy and engages abruptly, but once you get used to that, the great pedal feel makes this an easy car to drive smoothly. The shifter is generally very nice, but it’s easy to get hung up between second and third gears in quick shifting.

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