High performance meets low price
by: ANNI TRACY, Attention grabbing styling and attention demanding acceleration meet  
in the Mazdaspeed3.

There is nothing subtle about the newest version of the Mazdaspeed3, the factor high performance version of Mazda's compact hatchback.

OK, the color fade on the fabric seats and door panels is sublime. But nothing else is, including the wide grill and air dam, the huge air scoop, the large spoiler mounted above the rear hatch and the wide 10-stroke wheels.

But the real show stopper is the ridiculously powerful engine. The intercooled turbocharger pumps the 2.3-liter four cylinder engine up to 263 horsepower and 280 foot pounds of torque - more than enough to easily spin the front tires in the six-speed transmission's lower gears.

Driving the Mazdaspeed3 is great fun but also requires full-time attention. Despite computer controls intended to reduce torque steer, the front end still shakes under heavy acceleration, especially when turning from a stop. Not as bad the dreaded Yugo, but more apparent than most other small front-wheel-drives with sporty pretensions.

Fortunately, the stiff chassis and big four-wheel-disc brakes help keep everything under control. And the torque steer diminishes as speed increases, so passing at freeway speeds is a straight-forward affair. But drivers shouldn't take their eyes off the road when accelerating hard at lower speeds.

Which is tempting to do for two reasons. First, the dash is so well designed and fitted that it attracts attentions. All passengers commented on how good it looks. The lines are clean and simple, the controls are understandable and easy to ready. The well-bolstered sports seats and wrap-around door panels help create a cozy driving environment.

But second, the optional navigation screen in our test model was very small and hard to read. Although most navigation screens are way too large and distract, Mazda engineers have gone too far in the other direction - although it's nice to see that someone is trying something different.

Since it was first introduced several years ago as the high performance version of the Mazda3 compact, the Mazdaspeed3 has been well received as one of the most affordable fun cars on the market. Beginning at around $23,000, the new version should continue that reputation.

Facts and figures

Model: 2010 Mazdaspeed3.

Manufacturer: Mazda.

Class: Performance compact.

Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

Style: Five-door, five passenger hatchback.

Engines: 2.3-liter turbocharged and intercooled DOHC inline 4 cylinder (263 hp, 280 ft.lbs.).

Transmissions: 6-speed manual.

EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 18/25.

Price: Beginning at approximately $23,000 (as tested $25,000).

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