Full 2009 Mazda MAZDASPEED MAZDA3 Review
What's New for 2009
There are no changes for the 2009 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3.
The 2009 Mazdaspeed 3 is sorta like George Foreman, only there's no Mazdaspeed Lean Mean Grilling Machine and it doesn't hawk mufflers for Meineke. Other than that, totally analogous. Even though it's based on the aging 3, the 'Speed 3 keeps knocking out the competition, just like George.
Like any good high-performance special edition, the Mazdaspeed 3 benefits from being based on an excellent car to begin with. Frequently hailed as the most enjoyable car in its class to drive, the regular Mazda 3 lends some very regal bloodlines. The 'Speed 3 takes those genes and adds a turbocharged engine that cranks output up to a sensational 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
But the transformation from civilized 3 to "MS3" doesn't stop with the powertrain. In addition to the usual litany of changes like a lowered ride height and firmer springs and dampers, Mazda added various braces to minimize flex during aggressive cornering. Eighteen-inch wheels and performance tires are fitted to each corner for better grip, while larger brakes produce stopping distances suitable for a high-end sports car.
All these upgrades make the Mazdaspeed 3 the top dog in its segment. On a smooth road with sweeping turns, the 3 can keep pace with almost anything in this price range, including some rear-drive and all-wheel-drive cars. Meanwhile, the comfortable and well-equipped cabin and the utility provided by the four-door hatchback body style makes this small dynamo a great daily driver.
The ability to provide knockout acceleration, excellent handling manners and hatchback practicality at a very reasonable price has made the Mazdaspeed 3 a victor in every comparison test we've put it in. Rivals like the Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper S, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI have all fallen at its feet. While some may offer a little more of this or a tad more of that -- particularly AWD and available automatic transmissions -- the mighty 2009 Mazdaspeed 3 is still the best bet in its weight class.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 is available only as a four-door hatchback and in two trim levels: Sport and Grand Touring. The Sport comes standard with 18-inch wheels, performance tires, a limited-slip front differential, a roof spoiler, automatic climate control, sport seats, a tilt/telescoping steering column, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with built-in audio and cruise controls, special Mazdaspeed interior trim, electroluminescent gauges and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and pre-wiring for satellite radio. The Grand Touring adds auto on/off xenon headlights, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, leather seat bolsters, a trip computer and a seven-speaker Bose stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer. A navigation system with satellite radio is optional on the Grand Touring.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mazdaspeed 3's 2.3-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine pumps out 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. All that power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, the only transmission available. A limited-slip differential and an electronic torque limiter (which regulates the torque based on gear selection and steering position) are used to enhance traction and minimize torque steer.
Acceleration is exhilarating, with the 0-60 sprint taking just 5.9 seconds and a blast through the quarter-mile taking only 14.2 seconds. That turbocharged power takes a toll on fuel economy; the EPA estimates 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are all standard. In frontal-impact crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the standard Mazda 3 scored four stars out of five. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the standard Mazda 3 received a "Good" rating (the highest on a scale of four) in frontal-offset impact tests. No side-impact crash tests have been conducted with a Mazda 3 equipped with side airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the rest of the Mazda 3 line, the Mazdaspeed 3 boasts a cabin with a distinctive and upscale design. It also shares the same large, clear gauge layout, precise controls, high-grade materials and tight build quality. Unique touches for the Mazdaspeed edition include more aggressively bolstered front sport seats, aluminum pedals, a red-and-black color scheme and "Mazdaspeed"-embossed floor mats. Accommodations up front are first-class, and even taller drivers should be able to get comfortable. The well-shaped and supportive backseat is fine for those under 6 feet tall, but taller passengers will feel pinched for legroom. Cargo capacity stands at 17 cubic feet behind the rear seats and expands to 31 cubes when those seats are folded. The 2009 Mazdaspeed 3 is fun to drive and practical -- a definite win-win.
Launching the 2009 Mazdaspeed 3 is always exciting, as the turbocharged engine offers tremendous low-end thrust. Turbo lag is virtually nonexistent, and this is an easy car to get into and drive fast. Of course, should you nail the gas mid-turn -- say at a left-turn arrow -- be prepared for a "Whoa Nelly!" moment of torque steering as all that prodigious power yips and yaws the steering wheel on you. In a straight line and when up to speed, it's much less of a problem.
Fling the Mazdaspeed 3 down a smooth ribbon of road and you can carry as much speed through sweeping turns as you could in more elite rear-drive and AWD cars. Credit goes to the sport-tuned hatchback's prodigious midrange torque, stiff suspension and considerable grip. The steering is exceptionally responsive when just off center, which makes flicking through transitions as easy as it is quick. Suspension damping is adequate on smooth pavement, but on rougher roads with tighter turns, the MS3 can get a little unsettled. Braking performance is outstanding for a car in this price range, with a stop from 60 mph taking only 111 feet.