New squeaks were springing from the dash, the 2-3 shift was as finicky as ever, and the clutch take-up still took getting used to, but the consensus at year's end was unwavering: The Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 is simply one of the best cars for the money that an enthusiast can buy.
We found the car a joy to drive no matter the weather (a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks LM-60s helped), the state of the roads (true, the stiff suspension could be punishing) or the task at hand (the cargo hold could swallow just about anything). The lively chassis and eager turbocharged engine erased whatever quibbles we otherwise found with the car. As one particularly effusive staffer said: “This car is a hell of a hot-hatchback deal. Its power, handling composure and versatility are hard to argue with. I'll say it again: worth every penny.”
That said, the quibbles should not be overlooked. By the end of the year, the squeaks had started erupting from several places, from across the dash, around the windshield and a couple hard-to-pinpoint places in the rear of the vehicle. At one point, someone jammed a small wedge of paper between two dash-panel pieces. That eliminated one squeak, only to have it return a few weeks later, slowly to be joined by a chorus of others.
We also never fully resolved our relationship with the clutch pedal. Even the most skilled on staff would have to reacclimate themselves to the pedal's springy feel, high take-up and on/off engagement every time they climbed behind the wheel. The same went for the mediocre shifter, which would often punish those aggressively working the gears by hanging up between 2 and 3. “Maybe a short shifter would help, or some stiffer transmission mounts?” one editor suggested.
Despite our minor protests, the Mazdaspeed also proved to be a most reliable ride, not requiring any unscheduled maintenance until 10 months into its stay, when the idle started behaving oddly. In neutral or at low loads, the idle would surge and jump around a bit before smoothing. It turned out that a service technician had sprayed some carbon cleaner into the intake manifold during the car's scheduled service stop a week earlier. Diagnosing and fixing the problem kept the Mazdaspeed out of our hands for three sad days.
Our little red car cost us $1,561.15 to keep on the road during the fourth quarter, with fuel costs, routine maintenance and minor repairs. For the as-tested price of $25,840—despite that less-than-precise shifter, those squeaks and that touchy clutch pedal—every person on staff considered the Mazdaspeed 3 well worth it.
2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 Sport
Miles driven (quarter/year): 5,678.1/19,099.9
Fuel economy (quarter/year): 22.8/22.5 mpg
Fuel cost (quarter/year): $781.89/$2,569.03
Days out of service (quarter/year): three/three
Maintenance: 5,000-mile scheduled service, including oil change, top off fluids, rotate tires, general inspection ($55.42); reinstall summer tires ($54); 15,000-mile service, including oil change, replace air filter, lubricate latches and hinges, top off fluids, tire rotation, general inspection ($310.62); unscheduled service visit to investigate jumpy idle (warranty); repair windshield chip ($19.15); install winter tires ($54); replace windshield ($332.49); 20,000-mile service, including oil change, tire rotation, general inspection ($63)
Original sticker price: $25,840
Trade-in value: $22,000 (www.kbb.com)
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