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Buying Used: Fun little Speedster still has room for groceries

2010 MazdaSpeed3

Ted Laturnus/The Globe and Mail

Not to be confused with the garden-variety Mazda3, the Speed3 version of this popular econobox was the fastest car costing less than $35,000 sold in 2010 and, behind the wheel, was a different automobile entirely.

With 263 horsepower in hand, it could rocket from 0 to 100 km/h in less than six seconds and had an electronically governed top speed of 250 km/h. It was a thrill a minute through the turns and, theoretically, you could take this one from showroom to racetrack and be competitive.

On the other hand, torque steer was an issue; hit the throttle, and it wanted to go straight ahead as fast as possible. A firm hand was required when navigating high-speed turns under throttle. The Speed3 wasn't a high-strung, temperamental sports car, but neither was it one to be taken lightly. If you planned to drive it with enthusiasm, you had better pay attention.

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The Speed3 was available in hatchback configuration only, and power was provided by a turbocharged and intercooled version of Mazda's 2.3-litre four-cylinder. This engine featured direct fuel injection, a re-profiled cylinder head, strengthened crankshaft, and various internal modifications. It was much the same powerplant found in the CX-7 sport-ute, but with a larger turbocharger. Although it was a force to be reckoned with under throttle, it was actually responsive, refined, quiet and, on the scale of things, reasonably thrifty.

Other highlights of the Speed3 included four-wheel disc brakes taken from the MazdaSpeed6 sedan, ABS, body reinforcing throughout – including gussets welded on to the rear fender-wells and body, a beefed-up firewall, strengthened floorpan and stronger front shock towers. It also had a lower road stance and bigger 18-inch wheels and tires.

Transmission was a six-speed manual transmission only and it featured a limited-slip differential and traction control system. These latter two features were definitely good ideas, because the Speed3 really wanted to spin those front wheels and, if ever there was a candidate for all-wheel-drive, this was it. Didn't happen though.

Appropriately styled carbon-fibre inserts and red-patterned half-leather seats distinguished the Speed3 from the regular Mazda3, as well as aluminum pedals and various interior trimmings. A small but handy turbo-boost gauge let you know what the engine was doing.

And while it may have been a pocket rocket, the Speed3 still had the bones of a practical hatchback, with seating for five and a cargo capacity of 1,213 litres. There were no options, aside from paint choice.

In short, this was that rarest of creatures: an affordable hot rod, accessible to just about everybody. You could take it racing on the weekend and still be able to drive to work on Monday. And if the engine output of the stock Speed3 wasn't enough, you could get an aftermarket performance chip that would bump the power up to almost 300 hp. Install that little bit of technology and you'd have one of the classic sleepers.

No recalls or technical service bulletins here – either with Transport Canada or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This latter organization does have one complaint on file, however. It concerns a broken driver's-side seat rail that was not covered by warranty – nor was it repaired by the dealer.

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Consumer Reports likes this Mazda and gives the regular model its "good bet" recommendation. Although C.R. doesn't specifically deal with the Speed3, the regular version gets top marks in every department. Squeaks and rattles are a bit of an issue, but it's a "much better than average" grade for this year of the Mazda3. For potential buyers of a Speed3, it should be kept in mind that this is a performance car, and the previous owner may have run it harder than usual. It also required premium gas, and the higher the octane rating, the better.

Comments from owners: "This is the car for any driving enthusiast," "Has no equal on the road for this price range" and "Everything is easy to locate and use while driving."

No surprise that the Speed3 has held its value well. Prices for a three-year-old model range from the high teens to the low $20,000 range.

Tech specs

2010 MazdaSpeed3

Original Base Price: $32,995; Black Book: $21,575; Red Book: $17,825

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Engine: 2.3-litre, turbocharged intercooled, four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 263 hp 280 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/8.0 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mini Cooper S, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru Impreza STi, Hyundai Genesis Coupe

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