Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

The Mazdaspeed3 occupies an awkward – even unenviable – place in Mazda Motor Corp.’s North American product lineup.

The 5-door sporty car shares most of its underpinnings with the entry-level, front-wheel-drive Mazda3 subcompact, which is all new for the ’10 model year.

But the Mazdaspeed3 must deliver something more for enthusiast buyers who like a taut ride, plenty of thrust and edgy styling.

The 263-hp 2.3L turbocharged 4-cyl. helps get the job done, but it’s the Mazdaspeed3’s interior that seals the deal by reflecting the niche car’s overall spirit. For this, the Mazdaspeed3 receives the 2010 Ward’s Interior of the Year award for Brand Expression.

Interior fabrics and leather bolsters are topnotch, with plenty of soft surfaces and a quality feel. Mazda went with a straightforward black-and-gray motif throughout but sprinkled in just the right amount of red accents to convey a bold, confident feel that echoes the car’s performance.

“We loved the iridescent fire-engine red on the seats and door panels. It makes the interior look too hot to touch,” says Ward’s AutoWorld Executive Editor Tom Murphy.

The flashes of color “definitely lend a sporty feel,” echoes Ward’s Associate Editor Christie Schweinsberg. “Very nicely done, Mazda.”

The accents can be found in the seatbacks, on door trim and on the dash, where a flowing piece of molded plastic sits atop the glove box, breaking up the expanse of black material on the passenger side. Glowing backlit gauges round out the red-on-black scheme.

But perhaps the most effective use of the accents is the red stitching on the seats, middle console, armrests and shifter boot. The stitching helps break up the monotony of the black and gray materials and differentiate the Mazdaspeed3 from the non-turbo Mazda3.

A smattering of faux-chrome also makes for nice accents. Mazda wisely used bright-work sparingly, as some vehicles in this year’s competition went overboard with the material.

Adding to the aesthetic appeal of the interior is a clean, uncluttered instrument panel and intuitive controls easily within reach.

Another attractive touch is the chrome door sill plate embossed with the Mazdaspeed logo, a feature not always found in this segment, let alone on a vehicle with a $25,840 sticker.

Of course, there’s always room for improvement. For instance, two different color displays atop the instrument panel tend to break up the design harmony, and a middle head restraint in the back seat would improve safety.

But overall, judges were smitten with the interior.

“The Mazdaspeed3 wins the Interior of the Year Awardfor brand expression and with good reason,” Murphy says. “Nothing says zoom-zoom like the Mazdaspeed3, inside and out.”

bpope@wardsauto.com