2013 Mazda Mazdaspeed3

The Mazdaspeed3 is a high-performance variant of the popular Mazda3 Hatchback. It features a practical and versatile interior, a healthy list of standard features and a spirited turbocharged inline-four.

Differentiating the Mazdaspeed3 from its lesser kin is an aggressive bodykit, a unique take on Mazda's controversial "grinning" grille and a rear spoiler. The interior is spruced up with Mazdaspeed-branded trim in addition to well-bolstered sport seats.

What really makes the car unique in the Mazda3 lineup is its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The mill produces 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm and pairs exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Although all that power in a front-wheel-drive car results in some torque steer, particularly when driving on uneven surfaces or exiting corners with the throttle pinned to the floor, it also propels in the car from zero-to-60 mph in just over six seconds.

The Mazdaspeed3 was developed prior to the advent of Mazda's lightweight and super-efficient SkyActiv engineering philosophy, a fact reflected in its fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

Stiffer springs, higher damping rates and a repositioned front stabilizer bar compared to the normal Mazda3 ensure responsive handling,.

Otherwise, the 'speed3 is much the same as the standard model. The interior utilizes a wrap-around dash top that contains radio and climate control information as well as a small optional navigation screen, while materials and fit and finish are in the top half of the class. With nearly 44 cubic feet of cargo volume with the split-folding rear seats in the down position, hauling space is ample.

Standard and Optional Features
Standard features include combination leather and cloth upholstery, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, 18-inch alloy wheels and BOSE premium audio -- a five-channel surround system featuring a digital amplifier, noise cancellation technology and ten strategically placed speakers.

An available Tech Package offers advanced keyless entry, push-button start, a compact full-color navigation system, Sirius satellite radio with six months of free service, a perimeter alarm, six-CD changer, self-leveling bi-xenon headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers

Mazda reckons the weight and structural penalties of a sunroof would compromise the driving experience, so the Mazdaspeed3 is not available with one.

Occupant Safety
Standard safety features include dual front, side and side-curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

Key Competitors
The Mazdaspeed3 competes against other sport compacts such as the Volkswagen GTI, the Honda Civic SI Sedan and the Subaru Impreza WRX Hatchback. Those willing to give up some power and interior space in favor of rear-wheel-drive and truly precise handling should also check out the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ.