A cohort in the car-reviewing field once suggested to me that, in addition to not maliciously destroying our "test vehicles" or maiming civilians during the course of my "observations," I should also defer from bitching about tires-as the cars we get to drive in snowy Colorado aren't always necessarily prepped for use outside of California or Texas.
Sadly, the latter advice can't quite be followed to the letter if I'd like to offer you, the reading and online public, a true picture of my automotive experience, or what you might expect if a stock-equipped version of a certain vehicle arrives off the truck and you opt not to properly fit it (as many morons in Denver do) with good winter rubber.
The new winner in the "oh my God, I can't even get this car out of my parking lot with these tires, in one-tenth of an inch of snow" contest goes to the 2010 Mazdaspeed3, which made its way to me with very aggressive 18-inch, 225-width, low-profile Y-rated Dunlop SP Sport 2050 tires.
Mid-summer, I would be laughing my tail off at the pure feats of automotive magic this impressive set of rubber would impart to the amazingly powerful and poised speed machine. Here in snowy, mid-winter Colorado, not so much.
This is quite a shame as the vastly improved, $25,000 Mazdaspeed3 has the potential and definitely totes the stats to be the auto industry's high-performance bargain of the century, provided it was riding on high-speed-rated Blizzaks or something.
As it is, I can only vaguely report to you the potential attributes, as I spent most of my time careening, sliding and fishtailing like a shopping cart in an oil slick.
Further advancements, such as a new air intake, provide even more ease in plowing a ridiculous 263 horsepower out of the tiny, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder, resulting in what has been dubbed the industry's most heinous case of torque steer.
When I was able to find dry pavement and put it to the floor, flowing through that six-speed manual, the Mazdaspeed3 does indeed haul serious butt. You do have to hang on for dear life to keep the whole machine from veering off into the oncoming lanes as that impressive boost (now indicated by a small LED gauge) spools up, but with extremely well-developed arm muscles, you'll be beating or matching Civic Si's, GTIs, WRXes and Evos 'til the cows come home.
The accompanying, enhanced rigidity which allows the teeny five-door hatch to, in better conditions, ride up to 155-plus MPH, scoot through canyons and turn on a dime does, as well, make itself screamingly known to your rear as you nauseatingly bounce over concrete, frost heaves or rutted pavement.
In terms of overall cabin comfort, I found it a more pleasant experience than the new VW Golf TDi-by comparison, Mazdaspeed3 is easy to get in and out of, its still-sporty, heavily bolstered and partially leather-trimmed seats are genuinely comfortable and the four doors and a hatch mean up to 43 cubic feet of storage space.
The 2010 makeover has also produced some odd exterior aesthetics-that cartoonish permagrin on the Speed's grille doesn't exactly scream "mean speed machine," though the hood scoop, angular light clusters, an integrated flow-through wing on the back and huge exhaust pipes do pump up the volume.
Inside, it's also a more compelling package, with red latticework coloring on the seats, doors and console trim and an all-new micro navigation and information screen (about the size of a Garmin) that can be completely controlled buttons on the steering wheel. That brings the total of buttons on the wheel to 18, by the way. A new push-button start has also been added to the package.
The lack of heated seats also says "California-specific automobile," though the simple, three-knob air system did keep me from freezing entirely.
Come May, the Speed3 would be hard to beat. About now, an old Saab with studded Gislaveds was looking like a better prospect. So it goes.
Price as tested: $25,650
Powertrain: 263-HP 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission
Includes: 18-inch alloy wheels, standard high-performance summer tires, rear spoiler/wing, keyless entry and pushbutton start, Bose Centerpoint sound system, compact navigation system, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, unique Mazdaspeed interior.
EPA figures: 18 city, 25 highway