2013 Mazdaspeed3
2013 Mazdaspeed3
2013 Mazdaspeed3. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Justin Mastine-Frost

Since production began back in 2007 the Mazdaspeed3 has rapidly become the weird half-cousin of the hot-hatch segment. While it offers more power than the rest of its FWD classmates and looks a bit more wagon than hatch to my eyes, it still lines up as a head-to-head competitor with the likes of the Volkswagen GTI or Ford Focus ST hot hatches.

With these other two hot hatches coming up shortly in head-to-head competition, this seemed like the perfect time to get behind the wheel of the redundantly named wonder to see how different from the pack it really is.

Many names have come to describe the big gaping grille that adorns the front end of the Speed3 recently and I have to say I’ve had a hard go of picking a favourite. It’s a bad anime character for sure, and regardless of what mental image you associate it with, there’s no denying it looks pretty goofy. When taking both visuals and personality into consideration this thing is the automotive equivalent of a high-strung golden lab puppy.

At one point I did contemplate making a fake tongue to hang off the grille, but after the criticisms from the peanut gallery about me calling the Juke Nismo names, I decided against it. Thankfully, the addition of a functional hood scoop, side skirts, and tailgate-mounted spoiler do assist in toughening up an otherwise cutesy exterior.

My tester came with Mazda’s optional black wheels, which pair up with the black grille and interior perfectly. I’ve heard a number of people griping about the Speed3’s exterior starting to look dated and I’ll admit it’s starting to show its age. But after seeing the first few images of the new Mazda3 and how they’ve incorporated their current Kodo design theme I’d be happy to stick with the current model for the time being.

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2013 Mazdaspeed3. Click image to enlarge

Once in the passenger cabin it’s all too easy to understand the cries for a redesign. The cheesy leather and cloth seats look terribly dated, and offer little in the way of support for enthusiastic driving. The control setup for Mazda’s multimedia isn’t half bad, and although it took some getting used to, the high-mounted display for fuel consumption and other pertinent info suits the dashboard layout, however we can only hope this information display gets integrated into the instrument cluster with the newer model. Unfortunately the audio system had a really bad habit of losing its memory when the car was shut off causing playlists to restart with every key cycle, but other than that everything ran reasonably smoothly.

The longer I sit behind the wheel the more and more I’m irked by the use of cheap plastics in the interior. I get that we are dealing with a car with a sub-$30K MSRP, but with so many other manufacturers offering better interior finishes this is another category where the Speed3 falls flat. I probably wouldn’t be harping so bad on it if it weren’t for the two bits of plastic trim on the back of the steering wheel at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. I know I’m going to take some heat over picking on a minor detail like this, but it’s just such an illogical use of materials that I can’t wrap my brain around it. Who was sitting in the engineering office and thinking, “Gee, let’s put our cheapest possible material right where a driver will have his fingers every time he drives!”

Now that I’m done harping, we can move on to the good stuff; how this thing drives. Much as it can be assumed from its giant grinning grille, this thing will put a smile on your face in no time. Once you get the hang of the Speed3’s seriously light clutch and get your foot to the floor, this thing breaks into a sprint like nobody’s business.

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