When I swapped cars last week from the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo to the Mazda Mazdaspeed3, one of my tweeps asked which I liked better. The answer, hands down, is Mazdaspeed3. And while there were surface things such as the miserably uncomfortable Recaro seats in the Evo, that pointed me to the instantaneous answer, I had to think there was a little more to it than that.
And, there is.
First, let's look at the pricing.
The Mazdaspeed3 came really well-equipped with high-end features such as keyless entry, navigation, blind spot monitoring, Bluetooth phone connectivity, Bluetooth streaming audio, phenomenal Pandora integration and Sirius Satellite Radio. The interior was simple yet sleek, and the exterior sported beefy 18-inch wheels, high-performance tires and rear spoiler. The as-tested price was $27,955.
The Evo, on the other hand, was pretty bare bones with a , basic audio system, Bluetooth phone connectivity and plain interior. All the up-level anything was poured into the performance and handling aspects of the vehicle, including Recaro seats, Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks, aluminum hood with heat extractor vents and 18-inch light-weight alloy wheels. The as-tested price was $38,960.
So, while both are performance-oriented vehicles, it's clear that Mitsubishi is taking things a little more seriously with Brembo this and Recaro that. So, is it worth the $11K premium?
My short answer is no.
While I did like the handling of the Evo just a little bit better than the Mazdaspeed3, when you take in the whole picture, I'd much rather live with the Mazdaspeed3 on a day-to-day basis.
The Evo comes equipped with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine that delivers a heart-pounding 291 horsepower. Combine that with the Super All Wheel Control, and you have both the power and the body equipped to handle it. This car was a blast to merge on the highway, and those cloverleaf on-ramps were made for this car. It was fast, grippy and fun, and brought a smile to my face every time. I liked the twin clutch sportronic shift transmission and paddle shifters, but I couldn't help wishing for a manual transmission during aggressive maneuvers.
The Mazdaspeed3 is equipped with a 2.3-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine that delivers a really nice 263 horsepower. Certainly not as heart-stoppingly fast or fun as the Evo, but really, really nice. Especially since the Mazdaspeed3 also came equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. However, the biggest handling problem with the front-wheel drive Mazdaspeed3: torque steer. And lots of it. That was my least favorite thing about this car, and I had to be mindful during hard acceleration so that I didn't get the wheel jerked out of my hand.
So, if you're looking purely at the performance and handling aspects of both cars, Evo wins. But if you're looking for a daily driver that's also a heck of a lot of fun, it's Mazdaspeed3 all the way.
Let's start with the Recaro seats in the Evo. I have no idea who they are made for, but it's not a 4'11'' female. Nor is it a 5'9'' male who lifts weights. While the seats were wide enough for me, I wasn't thick enough to be able to maneuver around the winged side bolsters easily. My passenger said the seat wasn't wide enough for him and he wiggled around a lot in discomfort. Then there's the fact that the Recaro seats are not height adjustable. I felt like I was sitting on the floor, and there were a ton of blind spots out the side windows because of this. Four-way stops, parallel parking and even changing lanes on the highway were all a challenge.
Though the seats on the Mazdaspeed3 were all manual, they were very adjustable. I had a great driving position and blind spots were minimal. And, with the optional blind-spot monitoring, the blind spots melted away to nothing.
Then there's the cargo volume. The Evo has a wimpy 6.9 cubic-feet of cargo volume. And the seats don't fold flat. While the Mazdaspeed3 has 17 cubic-feet of cargo volume with the seats down, and a really usable 42.8 cubic-feet of cargo volume with the seats folded flat.
Or, for the fuel conscious among us, how about the fuel economy? Evo estimates combined mileage of 19 mpg with 17 in the city and 22 on the highway. I ended up getting between 19 and 20 mpg during my test period. Mazdaspeed3 estimates combined mileage of 21 mpg with 18 in the city and 25 on the highway. I got about 24 mpg during my test period. Both test weeks consisted of city and highway driving and plenty of spirited driving and quick off-the-line starts.
Generally, I just found the Mazdaspeed3 to be more comfortable and easier to drive (and park!) in the city. I take most of my test cars down pockmarked Wells Street between North and Chicago, and while the Mazda didn't float over the potholes, it didn't completely jar me like the Mitsubishi did.
While every car has that perfect driver, I have to say that the Mazdaspeed3 is just the right amount of practical mixed with a lot of fun. The Evo is all fun and no utility. So, it depends on what you want in a car, but the Evo fits a much smaller niche and makes a very bad city car. The Mazdaspeed3 has a lot more bang for the buck with up-level features and easy parkability. The clear winner in my book.