So there you are on Craigslist searching for a used WRX. A commendable choice with how popular they have become since its arrival on U.S. shores in the early 2000s. Turbo, AWD, manual; it checks all the boxes for you as a first time buyer of a “tuner” car in this market. Those days of driving your low horsepower shitbox around town are over. You can finally embrace the life of force fed engines. But theres one catch, every WRX you encounter online is either out of budget or in questionable condition. How is this possible? A 15 year old car is still approaching the $8000 mark?

This demand is not uncalled for, afterall the WRX has been the go-to for many people starting out in the tuner scene. Good condition ones are getting harder and harder to find and the market for them is getting fierce. Is it really worth the money? Your bank wont approve a loan for this old of a vehicle, and you dont have the income to dump on a project. Other famous tuners are even more expensive and harder to find. Evos, Supras, even S2000s are on the cusp of being out of reach. What choice do you have?

Unfortunately there are alot of unsung heroes in this market that are overlooked. Entries by Ford, Mazda, VW, and Mini all get overshadowed by the big JDM heroes. No-one wants to be seen in a Mini Cooper S. Noone dares buy a Ford because their friends say they are junk. And the chances of finding a VW with a 1.8T thats NOT on Raceland Primos and china brand wheels are slim. So what about Mazdas? Any vape god knows that Mazdaspeeds are not far behind Subaru regarding the crowd they attract. But you arent buying this car for street cred or claiming the title of best vaper in show. You want an actual performance car. And not just any performance car, something that can provide the rawness and nimbleness of that WRX you’ve been searching for.

So you hesistantly type Mazdaspeed into the search bar and are immediately met with the smiling face of the second generation Mazdaspeed3. You turn away in the horror of the mistake the designers of the car made. But you look back in curiosity. The gaudy smiling front end reminiscent of a clowns face exceeds your tolerance for god awful looking cars. But fret not, the Mazda gods played this sick joke to remove any fears that this car wants to kill you. After time it starts to look cute and innocent. This is the trap. The real story is behind the boy racer hood scoop. A 2.3L Turbocharged Ford and Mazda baby they call the MZR DISI. A 263HP and 280Ft/Lb fire breathing inline 4 mated to a short ratio 6 speed for no reason other than ripping the wheel straight out of your hand. A car you probably never heard of or cared for. But the numbers are enticing. More torque and horsepower than a WRX with less miles and half a decade newer…Within budget. A performance bargain. But it gets better. Before the second generation they had the lighter and more raw first generation MS3. A car with a front end that makes you want to kick puppies less. There it is. The car youve been looking for. A late 2000s MS3 with 100k miles and a price that gives you some extra money to modify. For nights you stay awake anticipating the day you can go test drive it and bring it home. Can you live without AWD? Are they reliable? How do they drive?

Before you know it its that day. The one youve been pondering for a week. You meet the owner, his name is Derek and he still lives at home with his parents smoking weed all day. But you dont care, you are here to see the car. You climb in and immediately notice the seats and the bolstering. It feels like a performance car. The gauges read to 160, the tell tale sign this car is fast. He gives you the keys and tells you to “start her up my man”. You crank her over and bask in the rumble of that turbocharged engine. “the clutch is hard to get used to, so take it easy.” Boy was he right, that clutch is an on and off switch, one you really have to get used to. But you make it out of his moms driveway anyways. Driving down the street is pleasure. Besides the exhaust leak from a botched resonator delete job and the fact theres a Mint. sweatshirt in the back that smells like a rave, you start to feel like this car isnt just a Mazda hatchback but something more. Derek probably doesnt appreciate it as much as you will. And its almost bone stock. Dereks money probably went to other hobbies anyways. The first pull is the hardest hitting. Boost virgins never forget their first time. That late 90s Civic you had could tap your head against the headrest...but this, this can throw your whole body into the seat. Of course its not a 300hp monster like an Evo or STi but it is your first experience and in your mind, its fast. Its a fast acting addiction, or so youve heard. You get used to this power level and always want more. Before you know it you are back at Dereks moms in the MS3. An experience youll never forget. Derek asks if you are interested and you confirm, on the condition he removes the swisher sweet wrappers and HRC apparel in the backseat.

Here we are, months later. You and your Mazdaspeed have been through a decent bit. From the forums and FaceBook pages you’ve learned single handedly the headache triggering acronym “VVT.” You’ve also come to learn how to replace your oil with Brotella, miss third on every pull, and track down problems with your keen sense of “oil burning smell.” The problems that come with this car are all worth it in the end. Every modification actually does something. Unlike the boxes that claim +5hp on your EBay Honda intake. You eventually buy a high pressure fuel pump internal kit to keep up with fueling demand on WOT. And you’ve invested in a rear motor mount to save your wrists from trying to hold the wheel straight (And to not miss 3rd all the time). The mod list grows as does your debt to the credit card company as you find used and new parts for steals. An actual enthusiast building a car they wanted, for the budget they needed.

The car performs as a performance car should. The steering is tight and direct. The ride is just the right amount of harsh but enough for you to feel and react to each pothole and stone you encounter. The engine comes to life under boost. Keeping it around 3000-4000rpm gives you the sensation of almost instant torque and the very crisp shifter allows you to make seamless transitions from acceleration to deceleration. All thanks to that rear motor mount of course. The tires squeal under a sense of understeer. But its manageable, nothing a little lift from the throttle wont fix. The rear end hopping to find traction on hard corners but rotating the car in a seemingly unrealistic way, its a 5 door hatchback and it drives like a sports car. Its not an experience you can explain in one metric, it has to be experienced as a whole. The upshifts, the downshifts, the swing of the shifter, the tender push of the clutch, the directness of the steering, it all comes together in one package. But its a car you have to respect. With the short ratio of the gearbox and the simply brutal way it delivers power you have to be on your toes when punching it. The steering wheel will make you wish you never missed arm day and the gear shifts require precision because if you try to force it in it will kick you right back out. Its a ballet you have to practice; fast clutch, slow shift but even the novice can get it down and pull from naught to skimming 80 without an issue. Its biggest secret is being a front driver. Itll show itself when you stuff its intake manifold with heaps of air but on the twisties or around town you would be none the wiser. It carries itself as though it wants to be something else and that’s its character. The automotive equivalent of dysmorphia. The heart of a Miata or RX in the body of a mid 2000s Mazda hatchback. A playful kid when you want to cruise around but satans spawn when you spool its K04. Even after 10 years of existing, people cannot justify its purpose. Mazda built this car for some lunatics wet dream of a car that is so brash and deadly, that its fun for those of us sadists that own them.

To be honest, Mazda should never build another Mazdaspeed3...They would never be able to replicate the personality of the old one.

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