With the exception of a small but vocal subset of mostly young drivers, the pocket-rocket battles have never really exploded in the U.S. like elsewhere in the world. Which is one reason why some of the world’s hottest hatches have yet to find their way to our shores. Nevertheless, the latest salvo to be fired across the bow of the GTI and WRX comes in the form of the updated 2010 Mazdaspeed3. Which along with the RX-8 and Miata MX-5 forms quite a harmonious triad of sporty vehicles for Mazda.
Love it or hate it, with their latest redesign, Mazda’s stylistic outlook is now unquestionably centered around the gaping, smiling, big-mouthed bass look that is present in the collective mugs of the Miata, RX-8 and Mazda3 cars. As an added benefit, the Mazdaspeed3 is also just as fun to drive.
Under this redesigned exterior are all of the elements that have made the Mazdaspeed3 a hit with critics and owners. The preferred powerplant is an updated version of Mazda’s direct-injected 2.3-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine. Changes for 2010 include the world’s first single-nanotechnology catalytic converter and engine-management updates that have raised fuel efficiency and lowered emissions. Performance figures with this arrangement are an impressive 263 horses and 280 lbs-feet of torque. An additional update to the 6-speed manual transmission is the only other drivetrain change from the last model. 0-60 mph numbers are achieved in less than 6 seconds with a top speed electronically-limited to a top speed 155 mph.
Handling is improved all around for the 2010 version with wider 18-inch wheels and a revised MacPherson strut and multilink rear suspension setup that uses both stiffer springs and higher dampening rates. Mazda estimates total torsion stiffness as increased by 2% as a result.
Despite its sport car leanings, the Mazdaspeed3 produces 18/25 mpg fuel economy in city and highway driving. This is comparable to the WRX, though several clicks below the GTI’s 21/31 mpg numbers. It should be noted, however, that the GTI is over 60 horses shy of the Mazda and more expensive.
In comparison to the ultra-conservative styling of the GTI or to a lesser extent, the WRX, the flared-wheels and functional hood scoop of the Mazdaspeed may take home the extroverted honors of this group. Thankfully, these changes over the last model are not just for show. The larger scoop improves intercooler airflow and facilitates a new intake duct to improve efficiency. While we wouldn’t go so far as to call it over-the-top, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, it is by far the most youthful-looking car of the three. Not a bad thing, especially since that is precisely the market that hatchbacks tend to do well with.
Inside, the interior is even more attractive than the sharply appointed “3,” with black and red stitched bucket front seats. One extra sporting feature for the Mazdaspeed3 is a turbo boost gauge located between the speedometer and tachometer. The optional Tech Package includes push-button start, navigation, satellite radio, alarm, six-disc changer, and a five-channel Bose sound system. Befitting the utilitarian side of owning a hatchback, storage space has increased slightly over the previous version to 17.0 cu ft.
Starting at essentially $24,000 the 2010 Mazdaspeed3 comes with very few cash-draining options outside of the previously mentioned Technology Package ($1,895). That’s a good thing. Nothing is more disheartening than the promises of affordable sporty car fun dashed by the costs of added options.