By RICHARD WILLIAMSON
Scripps Howard News Service
When you're in hot pursuit of trend-setting enthusiasts, you can't afford to let your looks slip, especially in the automotive world.
So, Mazda is pursuing the pocket-rocket cognoscenti with a redesigned Speed3 intent on zooming to the front of the popular pack.
The 2010 version looks somewhat brawnier and bolder than the 2009 model, with a maniacal smile on the front end formed by a black lower air dam. Backswept headlamps represent the speed demon's gleaming eyes. A voracious air scoop on the hood is framed by creases that taper toward the emblematic nose.
From the rear, Speed3 presents a stout, hatchback heft. A rear valance is painted the same metallic black as the grille. Twin chrome tailpipe tips, a roof-mounted rear wing and large, 18-inch alloy wheels identify the compact as a performer on pavement.
As in the past, the Speed3 is a specially tuned, limited edition version of the workhorse Mazda 3. Like other makers, Mazda delights in tuning these cars for young enthusiasts, who might, occasionally, race them on city streets against medical advice. Challengers include the Dodge Caliber SRT4, Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper S, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI.
Speed3's propulsion comes from a 2.3-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine cranking 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, and sending 280 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm through a six-speed stick.
Mazda claims a 10 percent torque advantage against other turbocharged engines via in-cylinder cooling from direct injection.
In capable hands, the Speed3 can hit 60 mph from a dead stop in 5.7 seconds and top out at 155 mph. You don't have to be a racer to enjoy the Speed3, however, if you love brisk takeoffs and soaring confidently up the freeway entrance ramp, this car will make you happy on a regular basis.
And one of the best things about these so-called "ricers" is that you don't pay a large penalty for power at the fuel pump. The Speed3 covers 18 city miles per gallon and 25 on the highway for an estimated annual fuel cost of $1,999.
Mazda engineers made the engine output similar to last year's model but sought to let it flow more consistently through the RPM range. One element that helps is the hood-mounted intercooler scoop, which frees up grille space for a fresh-air duct to feed the engine's intake. Breathing cooler air improves efficiency and performance.
Gear ratios in the compact, three-shaft gearbox were revised, with 2nd through 5th gear all getting slightly taller for better application of the engine's strong torque.
The advanced torque management system reduces torque steer, a phenomenon in front-drive cars where one wheel turns slightly faster than another.
For the 2010 version, structural engineers nearly doubled the use of high-strength and ultra-high strength steel in the safety structures like bumpers and side impact beams. Suspension mounting points gain rigidity from thicker sheet metal in high-stress areas and a hybrid joining technique combining conventional spot welds with structural adhesives. Torsional stiffness around the rear suspension mounts is improved roughly 2 percent.
Engineers also stiffened the suspension with stiffer springs, higher damping rates, and revised mounting points for the front stabilizer bar.
Steering feel and response were upgraded through more rigid three-point mounting of the steering rack, compared to the previous two-point system. The hydraulic power steering pump has also been removed from the engine and is now driven by an electric motor.
The brakes were updated with a new electronically-controlled brake-assist system that shortens stopping distance in panic-stop situations. Most drivers tend to hit the brakes tentatively at first. The new brake assist is better at recognizing true panic-stop situations than the previous generation's mechanical system.
In the Speed3's interior, Black is the key color, offsetting an organic red graphic design with red stitching. The dashboard is designed to give a roomy feel while displaying critical information closer to the driver's focal point. The instrument cluster includes a new LED turbo boost gauge between the meters.
In the depths of a worldwide recession, Mazda has kept the pricing steady on the Speed3. The Sport version carries a base sticker price of $23,195. That's nearly $4,000 more than you would pay for a regular Mazda3 with Sport trim.
WHAT'S NEW: Remodeled for 2010.
PLUSES: Performance, fuel economy, styling.
MINUSES: Limited rear-seat legroom.
BOTTOM LINE: High status in the compact performance pack.
E-mail Richard Williamson at email@example.com
Details on the 2010 Mazda Speed3 Sport
TYPE: Front-drive, four-door, five-passenger, compact hatchback.
PRICE: $23,195 base, ($21,717 invoice), $25,340 as tested.
WHERE BUILT: Hiroshima, Japan.
KEY RIVALS: Dodge Caliber SRT4, Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper S, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen GTI.
POWER: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, DOHC, 16-valve, 263-horsepower 4-cylinder engine; six-speed manual transmission.
PERFORMANCE: 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds; quarter mile in 14.3 seconds; top speed 155 mph.
FUEL ECONOMY: 18 mpg city, 25 highway; estimated annual fuel cost $1,999.
CHASSIS: Torque-sensing limited slip differential; track-tuned, independent suspension with stabilizer bars; variable assist power steering; power disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake distribution; dynamic stability control; traction control system; 18-inch alloy wheels; P215/45R18 93Y high performance tires.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 176.8 x 69.5 x 57.7 inches.
WHEELBASE X TRACK: 103.9 x 60.4 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 3,153 pounds.
STANDARD: Dual zone auto climate control; 60/40 split folding rear seat; Bose audio system with seven speakers and six-disc CD changer; rear window wiper; tilt/telescoping, steering wheel; cruise control; power windows/locks/mirrors; front/side air bags; remote keyless entry; engine immobilizer; liftgate spoiler; center armrest with storage; cup holders; rear window defogger and wiper.
OPTIONS: Tech Package includes 242-watt Bose Centerpoint 10-speaker surround sound audio with in-dash six-disc CD changer with MP3, Sirius satellite radio with six-month subscription, navigation system, perimeter alarm, advanced keyless entry, push-button start ($1,895).
Richard Williamson writes about automobiles for Scripps Howard News Service.
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