Tango, Rumba, Mazda?
One look at the Mazda Speed3's alloy pedal covers and you'll want to learn its motoring mambo. Lead with your left foot (tickling a snap-engage clutch), release brake, and apply right foot to the go control. This summons the lively 263-hp, turbocharged, four-cylinder mill. Braking is effective though middle pedal feel is occasionally mushy (a byproduct of its brake force distribution system, says Mazda).
Besides stepping on it, you can grab its six-speed shifter and embrace its three-spoke steering wheel. Either is eager to please reminding you of your first capable dance partner. Mine was Terri, who held me reassuringly close so that I didn't go AWOL as we tangoed. Like the Mazda, she was a good sport.
Speed requires wrestling, however. That's because its front-drive turbo kick will yank the steering wheel where this hatchback would rather go. Nonetheless, it cuts the rug through heavy traffic, as though other cars were pylons. Body roll is minimal and ride compliance better then expected. My tester, shod with winter 45-series rubber and snowflake wheels (rotary cutouts), squirmed when pushed and the electric power steering didn't communicate eminent tire slide. During one wintry trek, the electric power steering and stability control systems malfunctioned; they reset after shutting off the ignition and restarting.
Mazda adds its own agreeable percussive, ear-happy, mechanical beat. Your body, however, might find the front-seat contours lumpy with insufficient legroom. Its trim, gauges and controls range from studious to adolescent with exuberant cut lines. Driving gloves impede operating the tiny steering wheel switches, the nav screen (no bigger than a shipping label) taxes some eyes, and the padded center armrest snags elbows.
Offsetting this is blue-mood lighting that aids entrance and egress, an ideally situated tuning knob and a rear seat with modest cargo hold behind.
It's EPA-rated 18 city mpg and 25 highway. The computer indicated 25.7 mpg overall; I tallied 22 mpg.
In sum, the Speed3 dances with the automotive stars. MSRP with Mazdaspeed Tech Package: $26,000.