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2010 Mazdaspeed3

A high-performance rocket that doubles as a hatchback Add to ...

The Autodrome St. Eustache is one of those community race tracks where, on certain summer nights, anyone can pay $20 for 20 minutes of letting loose in whatever ride you've got.

Mostly, it's an oval, but there is a road course and it's on this we're now getting a taste of the factory-tuned 2010 Mazdaspeed3. The Speed3 is a four-door hatchback that perhaps 10 or 15 years ago would have been a completely suitable race car on some minor circuit.

It's that fast on the straights and that quick in the corners and the steering is that tight and the braking is that strong. This is a minor-league race car from the early 1990s - sans the four-point belt, super-snug racing seats and roll cage.

And I'm not wearing a helmet, so despite the urge to completely wring out everything, I'm being a little on the careful side. There's a wall at one end and, as you exit a big left-hand sweeper, it comes worryingly close.

You want to get out there to set up for a straight bit, one perfect for lighting up the turbo, which helps the 2.3-litre four-banger spool to 263 horsepower. But if you push too hard, the tarted-up exterior - at least compared to the regular Mazda3 - might take a pranging.

This little hot-shoe Mazda starts at $32,995 and there are no options, other than $200 for the white pearl paint. Red would be my choice, but black and blue are free options, too.

The heart of it all is a 2.3-litre DISI (direct injection, spark ignition) four-cylinder with an intercooled turbocharger. This is the same engine you get in the normal Mazda3, only twice as gutsy.

Oh, yes, this is a lot of power, especially for a front driver. Subaru's all-wheel-drive Impreza WRX has a smidge more, at 265; the other AWD rival is Mitsubishi's Lancer Ralliart (237 hp). All the rest of the competition are front drivers: Honda Civic Si (197 hp); Mini Cooper S (172 hp for the base or 208 hp for the John Cooper Works edition); Volkswagen GTI (200 hp).

Mazda has boosted power by about 10 per cent over the last Speed3, and also tweaked the engine software and widened the ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox. Yes, that hood scoop is real, to help the engine take in cool air. All told, the 0-100 km/h sprint takes 6.1 seconds, says Mazda, noting fuel economy is a bit better, too.

Perhaps most important of all, the power gets to the road without the sort of drama often associated with zoomy front drivers. Torque steer - that pulling to one side that can accompany muscular front-drive cars when they are launched aggressively - has been almost completely wiped clean.

How so? The boys with the pocket protectors have put in a mechanical torque-sensing limited-slip differential, for one. For another, the drive shafts, left and right, are stiffer.

Speaking of stiff, this being a racer in disguise, Mazda has bucked up the Speed3 in important places - suspension mounting points, for instance. They've been reinforced.

The rest of the package is straight out of Pocket Rocket Tuner 101: increased spring rates; better dampers and stabilizer bars; bigger four-wheel disc brakes; 18-inch aluminum wheels with Dunlop performance rubber; rear spoiler. Anti-lock braking, traction control and anti-skid control are all standard.


The Speed3 is quite the piece. Yes, all that power is routed through the front wheels and the traction nannies will intervene if you lead-foot around. Unless you turn them off.

Overall, this ride will carve corners with ease and you do not need a racing licence to have fun. The steering, the brakes, the chassis - they all communicate plenty of info to the driver.

So how does the Mazda stack up with the competition? The WRX and Ralliart feel more hard-core and, with all-wheel-drive, they are. Both are a bit more skittish in terms of turbo response, too.

The GTI simply has less jam and isn't really the racy-ride equal of this Speed3. Honda's Civic Si seems a bit tame, too. The John Cooper Works is a load of a car and I personally love its looks. But the Mini only has two doors.

Mazda has created a nice formula and carved out a tidy little place for itself here. The Speed3 is fast but not furious, and the cabin has enough room for four people and some luggage.



Type: High performance four-door hatchback

Base price: $32,995

Engine: 2.3-litre inline-four, turbocharged

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/8.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic Si, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Mini Cooper S and John Cooper Works edition, Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen GTI

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