2013 Mazda MazdaSpeed3: Larger Than Life, Frighteningly Powerful, And Occasionally Unbalanced

2013 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 (photo by James Hamel)Some people (and cars) are just born with that special something — a star power that not only makes them special, but also makes it acceptable for them to be a bit more demanding of the world around them. This phenomenon is often dubbed “being a diva”, and it applies just as much to famous people who demand Cool Ranch Doritos in their dressing rooms (lookin’ at you, Britney Spears) as to cars like this 2013 Mazda MazdaSpeed3: both are larger than life, frighteningly powerful, and occasionally demonstrate signs of being a bit unbalanced.

Our test MazdaSpeed3 was also a very bright, sensual red (Velocity Red Mica) that not only screamed “fast” and “give me a ticket”, but also hinted at this car’s seductive charms. One might say it was a shade of “hussy red”, but that would be taking it too far, as this hatchback looks handsome in all photos, especially when equipped with the 18-inch gunmetal alloy wheels that set a nice contrast with this sporting red hot hatch.

Speaking of divas some might refer to as “hussies,” Dolly Parton has often said that “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap, and underneath the wig and the boobs lay a brain and a heart.” Since the MazdaSpeed3 is based on the more basic commuter many people use as their main transport when they “9 to 5,” how well does this far more powerful, glitzy, star-power-infused variant fare as a daily driver? Let’s find out if there’s substance underneath all the visual menace that the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 possesses.

2013 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 (photo by James Hamel)The Looks
If you’re introverted, stick to a regular Mazda3, or at least don’t order your MazdaSpeed3 in red. We happened to like the latter’s muscular wheel arches, squat haunches, and front-end smile — two of which we also find appealing in men. After all, a nice smile goes a long way.

Adding to the sporty effect is the rather large air intake on the hood that looks like it was designed to inhale birds, kittens, and other sweet, furry creatures the car encounters as it roars down the road. Doesn’t matter if it’s a freeway, a city street, or just down your driveway, there’s no doubt that the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 does everything with a dose of rough and tumble seriousness. This is not a car to be ignored, as driving it is one of the most engaging things you can still do legally on regular roads. However, that isn’t to say this car won’t bite back if you treat it like some underpowered commuter with lazy, imprecise handling.

2013 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 (photo by James Hamel)Living with the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 as Your Daily Driver
The 2013 MazdaSpeed3 is anything but imprecise. Its steering is so quick, it could cut you like a surgeon’s scalpel without you even noticing. Even though Mazda has done a lot to improve the way this hot hatch tends to steer itself as you shift from first to second at redline, this is not a maneuver you want to undertake without both hands firmly on the wheel. All the MazdaSpeed3 asks of you is that you pay attention to it while driving. Is that too much to ask?

You see, the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 comes with an epically potent, out of control 2.3 liter turbocharged, direct-injected 263 horsepower/280 ft-lbs of torque four-cylinder, all putting the power down via the front wheels. Thankfully Mazda included a torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential that help keeps the engine power from steering the car under most circumstances, but there are exceptions. Just listen to what your MazdaSpeed3 tells you to do, and we promise it won’t be the cause of your death. It just likes to have a good time.

The MazdaSpeed3 will never leave you hanging, thanks to a specially tuned sports suspension as well as uprated brakes made to withstand the extra abuse a car with this kind of power plant will suffer. Try as you might to drive the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 slowly and maturely, but that darn turbo is like a tiny devil on your shoulder screaming “floor it!” Bad devil. It also corners like it’s nailed to the pavement.

Tire roar is noticeably louder than in a regular Mazda3, but when cruising at freeway speeds, wind and engine noise are nicely muted. If you still want aural liberation from “car noises”, then you will be suitably impressed by the standard 10-speaker Bose audio system that helps drown out any unwanted sound. With the second row in place, the MazdaSpeed3 offers 17 cubic feet of cargo room, which grows to 42.8 when you fold the rear seats flat. That’s one handy red-hot-hatch rocket ship.

2013 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 (photo by James Hamel)Safety, Fuel Economy, Value
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 are 18 city/25 highway, and due to our love of the intoxicating turbo, we averaged 19.1 miles per gallon. We’re sure that with a lighter left foot you’ll get better fuel economy. As far as safety goes, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the five-door MazdaSpeed3 a “Top Safety Pick”, which is just off the top score of “Top Safety Pick Plus” — though in fairness, the 2013 Honda Civic Si is the only car in the MazdaSpeed3’s class to earn the extra “Plus”.

Our 2013 MazdaSpeed3 started at a very reasonable $24,200 considering the features on hand like halogen headlamps, a 265-watt Bose 10-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/AUX/iPod integration, Bluetooth, dual zone automatic climate control, a limited slip differential, leather seats, and keyless entry.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and if you want an automatic transmission instead, you’re S.O.L. (Perhaps Monsieur or Madame would like to see a Volkswagen GTI?) Our tester also came equipped with a spurious $200 interior lighting kit, a homelink with rain-sensing technology package ($275), as well as the MazdaSpeed Tech Package, which adds $2,485 to the sticker resulting in an MSRP of $27,180. That last package includes a full color/full-sized in-dash navigation screen, replacing the old, difficult-to-read unit from the last model year. There’s also a blind-spot warning system, push button start, an alarm system, rain sensing wipers, automatic xenon headlamps, adaptive swiveling front lights, and LED tail lamps.

Conclusion
In a world where so many of us are stuck in the hum-drum monotony of living a Dolly Parton-style “9 to 5” existence, the 2013 MazdaSpeed3 is like a shot of adrenaline and a “cup of ambition”. Driving this car is a visceral experience you don’t often find nowadays, and it isn’t necessarily for everyone. It’s far too ferocious for that. Ask yourself, are you man or woman enough for the 2013 MazdaSpeed3?

What We Liked About the 2013 MazdaSpeed3

  • The potent engine and involving driving experience makes for an exhilarating street-racer
  • The new full-size navigation screen front and center on the dashboard
  • The utility you get from any five door hatchback model, and did we mention the turbo?

What We’d Change About the 2013 MazdaSpeed3

  • It could use a little bit more rear legroom as competitors offer more space
  • Mazda should shoot for a “Top Safety Pick Plus” rating for the redesign of the MazdaSpeed3
  • Less notchiness in the stick shift, if possible, as the regular 3 Skactiv’s unit is perfectly weighted
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