A car that’s as useful and versatile as it is thrilling and fast.
“I want, like, a fun car that I can drive all-year-round, but we have a kid and stuff. What should I buy?”
It’s a regular question, and one your writer commonly responds to with a simple answer. The vehicle required in this situation is a hot hatch. A three- or five-door with a big engine. A car that’s as useful and versatile as it is thrilling and fast.
Numerous hot hatch models exist – including the Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper S, Ford Focus ST, and Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Today, we’ll look at Mazda’s most recent entry to the used hot hatch scene: the second-generation 2010-2013 Mazdaspeed3.
Remember these words: “Yea honey – I think we should get a wagon, too,” and, “That vent on the hood? No, that’s not to make the car go fast; it’s a safety feature, to keep Junior safe.”
All units offer up over 1,200 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded flat, too.
Standard were features like rain-sensing wipers, automatic xenon headlights, heated leather seats, a 10-speaker Bose stereo and dual-zone climate control. A Tech package added things like satellite radio, a compact Multi-Information Display (MID) screen with navigation, intelligent key, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive lights.
You can have your Mazdaspeed3 with any engine you like, as long as it’s the 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder, good for a GTI-nuking 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. All models are front-wheel drive, and all have a six-speed manual transmission.
What Owners Like
Owners love the discreet, under-the-radar looks of the Mazdaspeed3, as well as the upscale feature content, usable and flexible cabin, great lighting system, and of course, the performance. Most say this is a very easy car to use on all drives, every day of the week, despite being ready for weekend track days, right off of the showroom floor.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints include limited rear-seat legroom for adults, a dull exhaust note, and a clutch and shifter combination that takes some getting used to, and may prove tiring for some drivers in stop-and-go traffic.
The Test Drive
Arrive to test drive a used Mazdaspeed3 candidate assuming it’s been thrashed on the daily by an aspiring teenaged parking-lot race car driver, and that it’ll need new tires, brake pads, brake rotors, and a clutch, until you, or your mechanic confirm otherwise. Many sellers aren’t trying to stick you with the bill for pricey replacement parts, but some are.
Remember that sporty driving probably won’t hurt the Mazdaspeed3, but that neglect of its maintenance requirements will. As a performance car, fluid changes, spark plug changes, and regular tune-ups and inspections are important, and likely need to be carried out more frequently than in something more mainstream, like a Corolla. Be sure to confirm that no maintenance requirements have been skipped, and remember that the Mazdaspeed3 is a performance car with maintenance and running costs that reflect this. Tires, fluids, brakes, oil changes and the like will all be pricier in a vehicle like this one. Ditto insurance, and fuel. You’ll need to feed your MS3 premium gasoline, by the way.
Get the used Mazdaspeed3 onto a mechanic’s hoist before you buy. While the car is in the air, it can quickly be inspected for leaks, damage, worn-out suspension components, corroded lines, and plenty more. If the former owner has ever remodeled his oil-pan on a rock, smashed the floor in over a curb, or has a transmission that’s dribbling more vigorously than a toddler discovering mashed bananas, now’s the best time to know about it.
Check the idle. If the MS3 seems to have trouble deciding on what speed to idle at, or if the idle is lumpy or rough, have the unit inspected for bad engine sensors via a computer system scan, or for vacuum leaks, possibly caused by loose, damaged or cracked rubber vacuum lines. Here’s some more reading.
Test drivers are advised to check and confirm proper operation of the numerous steering-wheel mounted controls, the air conditioner, all keyfobs and remotes, the consistency of the push-button start system, and the stereo. Further, confirm that the model you’re looking at isn’t suffering from a burned-out xenon headlight, as these can be pricey to replace. Be on the lookout for warning lights or error messages in the instrument cluster area, too.
Shoppers will want to check the used Mazdaspeed3 for common signs of turbocharger trouble, too. With the engine running at operating temperature, walk around back and check for any signs of oily smelling, white-coloured smoke coming from the tailpipe. Among other things, this could indicate a variety of problems with the turbocharger or PCV system. White oily smoke doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem with the engine itself, though it may mean oil is leaking past internal seals within the turbo and being burned in the exhaust stream.
If you’re mechanically inclined, remove the pipes and couplers between the turbocharger, intercooler and engine, checking within for a buildup of oil. Typically, a thin film of oil is normal – though thick oil buildup or pooling within the turbocharger plumbing could also indicate internal turbo seal problems. Note that heavy oil buildup in the intake and intercooler plumbing could also indicate excessive wear of piston rings. A mechanic can help you with this inspection if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself.
Next up, and this is the big one, beware of modified MS3 units – especially those with chips, tunes, or non-factory turbocharger system provisions designed to increase power output. Many, many used copies of this car will have (or will have had) modifications like these. (Here’s an entire discussion forum dedicated specifically to MS3 engine tuning if you don’t believe me.)
Many owners tune their MS3’s and enjoy them on the daily with no trouble – even if doing so may or may not negatively affect fuel mileage, durability, the lifespan of certain components, and even void any remaining warranty.
Still, most shoppers should avoid a modified model and stick to stock where possible. Reason? In several in-depth sessions spent prowling owner forums for common issues with this machine, the overwhelming majority of posts depicted issues caused by the modifications themselves. In fact, your writer found virtually no discussion threads related to problems and troubleshooting that weren’t related to a vehicle modification. The nutshell? Virtually no problems were apparent in models that weren’t modified.
With a quick check-over before your purchase, possibly with the help of a mechanic, a non-modified and properly maintained Mazdaspeed 3 looks like one of the most reliable hot-hatch models in the used market today.
Crash Test Ratings