Review – 2011 Mazdaspeed3: The Happy Hot Hatch

Sequels are always difficult. Take for instance the first generation Mazdaspeed3. That car had quite a following. When it came time to replace it with a second generation model, there had to be some talk around the water cooler as to how fans would react to the update.

I spent a week with the 2011 Mazdaspeed3 to find out if the smile really does make the car happier, and if they did anything about the torque steer? I guess the main question is, did the second generation Mazdaspeed3 lose any of the charm that made the first one so lovable?

The last generation Mazdaspeed3 could almost be considered a sleeper. Sure it was slightly different looking from the garden variety Mazda3, but in all reality, you needed to know what you were looking for to tell the difference.

On the second generation Mazdaspeed3 the exterior changes are definitely more noticeable. From the hood scoop feeding cold air to the intercooler, to the gill like front mouth opening, the front is uniquely different.

One thing the new Mazdaspeed3 features over the last generation is body sculpting. The metal on this car is much more complex looking. The lines on the new Mazdaspeed3 make the car look much more modern and expensive.

The car’s 18- inch wheels fill out the wheel wells nicely. Those wheels are also wider than the last generation, giving the Mazdaspeed3 more grip. Out back the dual exhaust peak out from each corner of the rear bumper.

At the end of the day, it is the front of the Mazdaspeed3 that polarizes people. That happy-go-lucky smile; it is as if the front of the car is always smirking at you. Some find this happy look silly, but I personally find it unique, in a good way.

The interior of the new Mazdaspeed3 is a mixed bag both in design and materials. Starting with the seats….the last generation Mazdaspeed3 had terrific seats. If you optioned up to the Touring model you even had alcantara inserts that went nicely with the usual leather. If you didn’t get the Touring model, instead of alcanatara you had a nice woven mesh-like material. Each of the front seats had Mazdaspeed embroidered into them.

In the new Mazdaspeed3 you have one seat option – leather seats with a unique cloth insert in the center of each seat. The insert is red and black, and is made of a somewhat shiny material. This same insert is also used on the door panels. I’ll tell you this – it in no way is as nice as alcantara.

The dashboard has nice soft-touch finish with decent graining. Sadly, it is complimented by cheap psychedelic looking plastic that resides on both sides of the dashboard. This plastic features black and red dots.

Some will find the new center stack design confusing, while others will find it intuitive. I personally found it confusing for the first few minutes, but quickly became familiar with the layout.

Overall the interior is a pleasant place to spend your time. There are improvements that have been made versus the first generation, while some things have taken a step sideways. The materials and design isn’t Volkswagen GTI level, but it is unique in its own right.

The powertrain numbers haven’t changed from the first generation Mazdaspeed3, and that is just fine. The one-choice turbocharged direct-injection 2.3-liter four-cylinder pumps out 263-horspower and 280 pound feet to only the front wheels. The power comes on strong and fast; you will be hit with all that torque at 3,000 rpm.

The EPA rates the Mazdaspeed3 at 18/25 mpg. I saw an average of 21.3 mpg in mixed urban/suburban driving.

If you ask anyone that has driven the first generation Mazdaspeed3, they will say two words: torque steer. Some say it added character, while others….well others weren’t too keen on that characteristic. The second generation Mazdaspeed3 does have taller gearing in gears one through five, but the redline still comes up quick.

Steering is direct and very linear. The brakes are strong and progressive. The suspension is just this side of tolerable; you can be assured that you will feel the road. It is definitely livable as a daily driver, but this is not your fathers Mazda6.

It is winter in Minnesota and so I thought it would be important to talk about my experience driving the Mazdaspeed3 in the snow. Not only do we already have a ton of snow on the ground, but we received more while the Mazdaspeed3 was in my driveway. Thankfully the little hot hatch was wearing snow tires.

Keeping the Mazdaspeed3 in control on dry roads is hard enough for some to handle. Keeping it in control on snow covered roads? That’s a down right challenge. Snow tires or not, the power wants to slide the front end all over the road. That is not to say it can not be done, but it definitely takes your full attention.

It would make a lot of sense for Mazda to create a Mazdaspeed driving course. Maybe they should require anyone that wants to buy a Mazdaspeed3 in a snow belt state to pass this make-believe course.

The second day I had the Mazdaspeed3 the bobcat that clears the snow from the driveways in our Townhouse complex backed into it. That is why you see damage to the driver side in some of the pictures.

The Mazdaspeed3 I was in had a sticker price of $$24,520 after destination charge. The price of entry is more than reasonable. This particular vehicle did not have the $2,515 Mazdaspeed technology package. This one package is really the only option, as it groups together all the main options.

After a week with the Mazdaspeed3 there is no question the second generation Mazdaspeed3 has not lsot any of the charm from the first generation. The smile on the front clip mimics the smile that will be on the drivers face each and every time they are behind the wheel. It is worth mentioning that the Volkswagen GTI is slightly more refined, but it is slower. If you don’t mind the torque steer and the smile, the Mazdaspeed3 is a very fun hot hatchback.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Mazda

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2 Responses to “Review – 2011 Mazdaspeed3: The Happy Hot Hatch”

  1. timmy t-rex #

    I loved my 05 Mazda3 (SP) it was one of the first and only car i have purchased new. You were right about the snow drive it was a challenge even on the (little) hill of a road that i live on. Another good read codos to the author.

    02/28/2011 at 3:03 pm Reply
  2. Sunglider #

    Ditto on the snow review…I have a 2007 MAZDASPEED3. I absolutely love how it handles…hugs the turns. It’s so fun to drive. It’s powerful. But in the snow….I hate to say it…but I hate the car. I live in New England and go up to the mountains every weekend, and never feared driving in the snow. Now, I’m afraid of a dusting. It slips and slides despite my Pirelli snow tires. Maybe they are too fat, but regardless, I’m getting a snow car soon. Five years of white knuckle driving is enough.

    10/26/2012 at 6:09 pm Reply

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