2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

For a decade, Mazda has been selling factory-built, performance-tuned models under the Mazdaspeed banner, brilliant driving machines built for hard-core driving enthusiasts on a budget. But now, with the impending arrival of a redesigned Mazda 3, and Mazda’s new focus on combining fuel-efficient SkyActiv engines with light weight and the company’s trademark fun-to-drive handling, it would appear that Mazdaspeed’s days are numbered*. It is against my prediction that Mazdaspeed models are about to become extinct that I borrowed a Velocity Red Mica version of the 2013 Mazdaspeed 3 and took it for a rousing romp on many of my favorite sections of twisty Southern California 2-lane roads. Call it a goodbye tour of sorts.

* Pure conjecture on the author’s part. No official announcement has been made as this is written.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

My last stint behind the wheel of a Mazdaspeed 3 was in 2007, the model’s debut model year. I recall it being raucous and unrefined, but a ridiculously fast giggle inducer. I’m happy to report that it remains so.

Punch the accelerator, which is what this turbocharged, 263-horsepower car is designed for, and it threatens to eject itself from the road, torque steer twisting the leather-wrapped wheel, which requires a firm grip by the driver. It is best to launch this car with care, feeding it more throttle as it gains speed. On anything but level, smooth pavement, hard acceleration presents a challenge, the tires relinquishing grip when encountering minor undulations or bumps. Power into a right-hand corner, and the torque steer produces a vectoring effect that pulls the Mazdaspeed 3 through the curve. It takes effort and talent to drive the Mazdaspeed with maximum velocity.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

Good thing, then, that it does such an outstanding job of communicating with its driver. The moment torque steer is building, the driver knows. The moment the wheels are losing grip, the driver knows. Every rut, every zit, every scar in the road surface is transmitted to the cabin via suspension components and tires that are fluent in performance.

The 6-speed close-ratio manual gearbox supplies short, positive throws, and in a clear sign defining the intended buyer, the foot pedals are set up for easy heel-and-toe footwork as the car approaches a corner. On the mountain roads I traveled, with posted speeds ranging from 15 mph to 55 mph, I spent a bunch of time shifting between second and third gears, with third sometimes proving difficult to find.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

The Mazdaspeed 3’s suspension is firm but not brutally so, though significant vertical body motions are rapidly, almost rudely, quelled, making for an occasionally bouncy ride. The P225/40ZR18 Dunlop SP Sport tires prove sticky and reluctant to squeal, two excellent qualities in a high-performance tire.

On higher-speed roads with sweeping curves, the Mazdaspeed 3 is capable of getting its driver tossed in jail. On tight, kinky roads with hairpin corners, the amount of weight over the front tires becomes a liability, and the car tends toward understeer. Mazda says the Mazdaspeed 3’s weight is distributed 62% over the front wheels and 38% over the rear wheels. It definitely feels like that when attempting to thread a tight set of S-curves, and after a run down writhing Latigo Canyon Road in Malibu, the expensive front tires displayed clear evidence of understeer.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

Regardless of how tight a turn is, the Mazdaspeed 3 turns in with speed and accuracy, exhibiting minimal body roll. This car is equipped with a quick steering rack and sharp response, the only detriment is the lame steering wheel Mazda installs in this car, lacking thumb rests or a flat-bottom design, and equipped with a rim far too thin for a proper performance car.

This is not a quiet car. Wind noise is not as prevalent as road noise, the tires channeling aural data regarding minor changes in pavement texture with stunning clarity. The exhaust braaaaaps, impacts produce corresponding rifle shots in the cabin, and highway drone accompanies longer distance travel.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

It is, however, a reasonably fuel-efficient car. I averaged 23.4 mpg over the course of 150 miles, half spent driving in the suburbs and exploring the car’s prodigious limits on mountain roads, the other half spent on freeways, coastal highways, and country roads. EPA fuel economy estimates are 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in combined driving. Happily, we can report that the Mazdaspeed 3 appears to exceed EPA highway estimates, an unusual occurrence in almost any modern vehicle.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

The Mazdaspeed 3 is a blast to drive, and it’s practical, too. Equipped with a 5-door hatchback body style and folding rear seats, the Mazdaspeed 3 carries 17 cu.-ft. of cargo behind the second-row seat, and up to 42.8 cu.-ft. of stuff with the rear seats folded down.

Interior controls are logically located, simple to understand, and easy to use. Some are flimsy feeling, and the optional navigation map in my test car displayed an irritating tendency to revert back to a zoomed-in position after I had zoomed out to see surrounding areas.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

Sport-bolstered performance seats are standard, and proved both comfortable over long distance and supportive when exploring maximum cornering capabilities. The armrests are softly padded, but that describes little else in the car, including the spots where the driver braces his or her legs during enthusiastic driving. Rear seats are cramped in terms of legroom and the bottom cushion is positioned a little too low, but there is good foot space and a center armrest. Four adults can ride for short distances.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

In terms of safety, the optional Blind Spot Monitoring system is a nice feature to have, and the Mazdaspeed 3 is a “Top Safety Pick” according to the IIHS. However, in NHTSA crash tests, the car receives a 2-star rear-seat side-impact test result and a 3-star rating in cases where the car slides laterally into a pole or a tree. That kind of performance makes this car a non-starter for carrying kids, or, for that matter, anyone else you care about.

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 Quick Spin

I’m also not a fan of the Mazdaspeed 3’s exterior styling, including the car’s “smiley face” front end and this year’s standard Black Mica-painted wheels that appear to be coated with brake dust. Plus, what is it about a red car equipped with a hood scoop that makes every Ricky Racer want to take you on like you’re contestants on “Pinks”? Talk about aggravating.

Nevertheless, I’m going to miss the Mazdaspeed 3. This is a visceral little machine designed to put the driver in direct contact with the pavement, and when driven smoothly on certain kinds of roads, like Encinal Canyon Road or Mulholland Highway in the hills above Malibu, it is especially rewarding.

My main issue with the Mazdaspeed 3, aside from its funky face and fugly wheels, is the 2-star side-impact crash-test rating from the NHTSA. I need something in which I can carry my kids, and do so with a clear conscience. The good news is that Ford is picking up where Mazda is leaving off, having introduced the Focus ST for the 2013 model year. So while I’m pouring one out for my homie Mazdaspeed, it is good to know that Ford has an even better alternative.

Mazda provided the vehicle for this review

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 photos by Christian Wardlaw

By Christian Wardlaw