I’ve taken a bit of a break from daydreaming about new cars, at least until recently. Driving home one day last week, I was intrigued by one of these:
The 2007-current Mazdaspeed 3 is the souped-up version of the company’s small wagon, which is a car I’ve liked since it was originally introduced as the 2001 Protege5. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned something that could be described as “nimble,” and adding a useful wagon shape, a 263 HP turbocharged engine and a six-speed manual transmission only sweetens the pot. The main problem, however, is in my own head.
I’ve been a lifelong defender of the domestic auto industry, even as it’s become harder to square that admittedly silly and jingoistic position with my increasingly cosmopolitan automotive interests – if you had told 19-year-old me that I would one day admire vintage BMWs and contemplate buying a Mazda as a daily driver, I would have have laughed in your face. I managed to keep my wife from looking too hard at the Japanese and Korean options when we bought her current vehicle, although to be fair that was during the worst of the Big 3’s troubles and it felt like some sort of patriotic duty to buy an American car. As I’ve mentioned before, the idea of an “American” car is murky, but I would still feel like a hypocrite if I ran out and bought one of these after giving her such a hard time.
Having said that, there are a few reasons that I’m using to try to get past my anti-import bias:
- I’m buying used. Any money I spend on this car goes toward the local dealer (or private owner), not the manufacturer.
- Mazda isn’t the soul-crushing corporate behemoth that Toyota and VW have become (a personal assertion that might be biased and ridiculous, but I stand by it).
- There isn’t a domestic option in this segment – very few manufacturers offer sporty wagons. Really, the only thing close is the Subaru WRX wagon, and those are a little too “boy-racer” for my tastes.
- Rather than make a belabored argument that Mazda of the past decade is analogous the Pontiac of the 1960s, in that it is a brand that caters to a younger, more enthusiast-minded buyer and seems willing to take risks that few automakers would, I’ll just say this – between the subject of this post, the Miata (the best pseudo track car you can buy), the curvaciously beautiful RX-7 (quite possibly the prettiest car of the 90’s), the illogical RX-8 (the last gasp of the fuel-thirsty yet lightweight and free-revving Wankel rotary engine in a suicide-doored slotcar), and the 5 (the closest thing to a cool minivan), Mazda offers by far the most driver-friendly lineup of cars out there.
Anyway, on to the car. Besides my own pathos, there are a few legitimate issues with these cars:
- Since the cars are turbocharged and aggressively tuned from the factory, the gas mileage isn’t great for a car this size (18/26), but my short commute means that’s not much of an issue, and it would still be a increase over my current mileage in the Caddy.
- The bigger issue with regard to gas is the premium fuel requirement. I’m kind of cheap, so having to push that “91” button would twist the knife every time.
- Mazda provided very short-sidewall performance tires, so I’d likely want to buy winter tires.
- As much as I think I want a small car, I’d have to see how well a stroller and a set of golf clubs fit in the back.
- I’d be limited to the 2007-09 models, since Mazda has decided to attach a gaudy hood scoop and inflict a Chelsea smile on the newer cars:
At the end of the day, I find myself as excited by the prospect of one of these cars as I do the G8 and CTS-V, both of which are still out of my price range at this point. Outdated notions of patriotism be damned, I just might end up a Mazda owner.