Burnout Super Test: 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 vs. 2010 Volkswagen GTI

Can Front-Drivers Lay Down Long Stripes?

The first time it was about muscle-bound glory. The second time it was all about sports car supremacy. This time it's about defiance! For the third Burnout Super Test® we spit in the eyes of physics! We tempt fate with little directional stability! That's right, this time we fry the front-drive baloneys.

Yummmmm, fried baloney...

Anyhow, one afternoon in a moment of brilliant, overwhelming collective insight, the Inside Line brain trust noticed that there was both a 263-horsepower 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 and a 200-hp 2010 Volkswagen GTI in the current long-term fleet. Clearly, doing a burnout contest with these turbocharged front-drivers was a natural. Well, not really that "natural" since front-drivers really don't like doing burnouts.

Front-Drive Follies
It's a simple matter of physics — in particular, the change in the center of gravity location during acceleration. When you lay into the gas, the sprung mass rotates around the geometric axis and effectively shifts the weight rearward. So under acceleration, more of a car's weight transfers onto the rear wheels and off the front wheels. Therefore, the front wheels get less traction and the rear wheels get more.

What that means, burnout-wise, is that with less traction a powerful front-driver's front wheels will spin, but won't produce the friction against the pavement necessary to produce the billowy clouds of magnificent smoke that are what burnouts are all about.

More importantly, since Inside Line's scientifically somewhat precise method of judging a burnout is to measure the visible rubber stripe left by a car on the pavement during a burnout, the stripes left by a front-driver are fainter than a rear-driver's and therefore more difficult to measure. So there's more subjective evaluation in this still-stupendous contest than there was in our previous two.

If you can't handle a little ambivalence, go read the phone book.

The Rules. One. More. Time.
Since the Burnout Super Test® has a time-honored heritage stretching back three whole months, the rules are steadfast and well established.

Each car was allowed three runs with Master of Disaster Josh Jacquot piloting. A piece of tape with the car's name written on it with a Sharpie was laid down on the drag strip's painted centerline where the burnout started, and another piece of tape was placed on the centerline where the tire marks faded away. Determining where the marks started and ended was left up to me, the writer, using my decades of experience and judgelike sobriety to make the call.

Each stripe was measured along the track centerline using an advanced tape measure marked to feature both "feet" and the far more precise "inches." All the measurements were then recorded on a little yellow legal pad that I had been lucky to find sitting under the right front seat of my personal Honda Civic Si. I used a borrowed pen to write down the numbers.

With front-drivers this test sets new standards for pointlessness and stupidity. But, hey, it's a good way to make a living. So here are the results. We almost stuck to all our rules.

2nd Place: 2010 Volkswagen GTI
First Run: 68 feet, 0.5 inch
Second Run: 69 feet, 2.0 inches
Third Run: 68 feet, 4.5 inches
Fourth Run: 94 feet, 9.0 inches

Going in, it seemed obvious that the VW was likely to finish 2nd in this competition based solely on its 63-hp disadvantage. And, no surprise, it finished 2nd.

VW famously saddles its cars with various antifun electronic devices to keep owners from doing exactly what we were doing. So we were initially convinced that we'd have to disconnect the wheel speed sensor in order to perform any sort of burnout whatsoever in our six-speed manual-equipped GTI. But no, the car actually did somewhat wispy burnouts fine right out of the box.

However, VW's electronic nannies will not allow the GTI's turbocharged, 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve engine over 4,000 rpm when the parking brake is engaged. Since revving the engine to redline with the parking brake on and the clutch engaged was part of Jacquot's preferred launch method, this was a problem. But creative abuser of machinery that he is, Jacquot came up with a workaround at the last moment, inspiring us to make a fourth run in the GTI.

Using his right foot to cover both the brake and accelerator pedals, and with his left foot on the clutch, Jacquot was able to get the VW to rev up beyond its redline and creep forward slightly. Then he put on the parking brake and the engine kept revving. He was then able to perform his preferred clutch dump with simultaneous brake release.

The result is that the last run was, by far, the Vee Dub's best: a 94 foot, 9-inch shocker. More than 25 feet farther than any other run the GTI made.

1st Place: 2010 Mazdaspeed 3
First Run: 111 feet, 9.0 inches
Second Run: 70 feet, 9.0 inches
Third Run: 57 feet, 9.0 inches
Fourth Run: 61 feet, 11.0 inches

With a robust 263 hp from its turbocharged, 2.3-liter direct-injection four, the consensus here was that if any front-drive car could shred its front tires in an action-packed burnout, it was the Mazdaspeed 3. And it did better than the VW.

The technique for the best smoky launch from the Mazdaspeed 3 was to simply rev to its 6,700-rpm redline, dump the clutch and go. And on cold tires during its first launch it laid down an impressive (for a front-driver) 111-foot, 9-inch stripe. But after that, performance deteriorated drastically. The second run had the stripe a full 41 feet shorter. Then on the third it shortened another 13 feet. There was a slight recovery on the fourth run (added to keep up with the VW), but that first run was by far the best.

Theories ranging from track conditions to alien space probes and measuring error were thrown out to explain the Mazdaspeed 3's bizarro-world performance. The most plausible explanation to our ears is that the 225/40R18 tires simply left better marks when cold than after they had had a chance to get hot and gooey. We invite alternative explanations or ludicrous speculations.

Remember, however, as impressive as that 111-foot, 9-inch stripe may seem by itself, it's still almost a full 100 feet shorter than the asphalt slaughtering, 210-foot, 1.5-inch mega-stripe laid down by the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS in our earlier competition.

Conclusively Concluded
The GTI and the Mazdaspeed 3 are two cars Inside Line loves. But for laying down lines of rubberized splendor, they're pretty weak players.

High school parking lot glory will remain the domain of the rear-drive muscle cars. And that's likely to last forever.