If you think Mitsubishi and Subaru make the only hot sport compacts, you’ve forgotten about Mazda. Mazda understands the enthusiasts so well that they get compared to BMW without the German prices. The Mazdaspeed brand is very much like the Bavarian automaker’s M marque, a limited-edition driver-oriented sub-brand. The Mazdaspeed 3 is based on the Mazda 3 five-door, but with a lot more juice under the hood.
If you are buying a Mazdaspeed 3, all you really care about is performance — and the MS3 delivers. Mazda is really proud of this car and insists that it’s a serious performance machine. On paper at least, the Mazdaspeed 3 has the right credentials. While the base model makes do with a 2.0-liter 4 cylinder that puts out 148 hp, the Mazdaspeed 3 version dials it up a few notches. The Mazdaspeed 3 cranks out a solid 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm out of its 2.3-liter four-cylinder.
The L3T engine uses direct injection along with variable valve timing and a 16 valve head along with the turbocharger to extract as much as possible power from the small engine. The all aluminum engine uses forged internal components such as crankshaft and connecting rods for long lasting durability. A large air-to-air intercooler and direct fuel injection cool the temperature inside the cylinder contributing to the power output. The low charge temperature permits use of a high 9.5:1 compression ratio which boosts low- and mid-range torque by approximately 10-percent over conventional turbo engines.
Standard equipment includes a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, aggressive leather-and-cloth sport seats, torque-sensing limited-slip differential, 10-speaker 260-watt stereo system, and Bluetooth.
Our car had the optional Technology package that included blind-spot monitoring, a navigation system, HD radio with Pandora, text message delivery, bi-xenon adaptive headlights, and LED tail lights. The entire Technology package will cost you $2,500 — a bargain for everything you get. One nice item to note is that the navigation system is by TomTom; one of the new features for 2013, which also includes push button start and special body pieces and wheels.
To increase drivability in what is a very powerful front-wheel drive car, intake volume and boost pressure-control suppress sudden torque peaks, assuring smooth, linear torque delivery. Additionally, Mazda Advanced Torque Management System is used to reduce torque steer by reducing power in first through third gears. A newly-developed limited slip differential also minimizes wheel-spin on the inner wheel during hard cornering for more predictable power delivery. The power is routed to the front wheels through a 6 speed manual transmission with close gear ratios and a 4.187 final drive ratio.
With that kind of power, the Mazdaspeed 3 can beat many V8 cars in a drag race. The 3 can post 0-60 times of around 5.4 seconds and can hit 14 second quarter mile times at over 100 mph. In the real world the MS3 feels and drives like a hot rod. At lower engine speeds, there is very little power but once you hit about 2500 rpm, all hell breaks loose and you are on your way to warp speed. Unfortunately, the horsepower peak is at 5500 rpm and as soon as you hit that rpm it is like hitting a brick wall.
So if you are trying to go fast you really need to keep a close eye on the tachometer and you have to shift at 5,500 rpm. The shift linkage is a little tight and not perfectly precise, but the ratios are well placed. You do have to keep both hands on the wheel because, despite Mazda’s best efforts, there’s still plenty of torque steer present, so if you are not careful the car will want to change lanes on you. This is especially true at lower gears where the car seems to have a mind of its own.
The Mazdaspeed engineers worked very hard on the rest of the car as well. They added stiffer springs, bigger sway bars and stiffer shocks. Damping force on both compression and rebound of the shocks is raised approximately six-times at low piston speed, and about 1.3-times at moderate piston speed. In combination with the reinforced springs and stabilizer bars, this produces 60-percent more roll stiffness than the standard Mazda 3.
Body rigidity has been increased by several features, including a reinforced front cowl member that is joined directly to a plate in the top section of the front shock mount, assuring the same rigidity as a car fitted with strut tower bars. This prevents deformation of the front suspension towers and maintains correct suspension geometry. In the lower body, a large closed section member is employed to reinforce the floor tunnel which improves the torsional rigidity of the whole body. At the rear, the gusset introduced at the bottom end of the rear suspension towers restrains the tendency of the towers to displace inwards which maintains the correct suspension geometry under all cornering loads.
The Mazdaspeed 3 is not just about acceleration. When it comes to stopping, Mazda uses large 12.6 inch ventilated front brake rotors and 11 inch solid rear rotors to bring the MS3 to a stop. The big brakes along with the 225/40-18 sticky tires bring the car to a stop with ease but what is really amazing is how it can do this time after time. The Dunlop summer performance tires are also terrific and help make the car a blast to drive around corners.
Those sticky tires and the limited slip differential really work well. The MS3 has razor sharp turn-in and is free from the typical heavy front-wheel-drive understeer. While there is still some understeer at the limit, it is very manageable with the throttle. It allows the driver to pick up the throttle early, well before the apex, and should you make a mistake a small lift of the throttle helps dial in a small amount of oversteer to balance the car. The terrific steering and the general good feel of the car relays every ounce of the information to the driver so the driver can be in control.
Prices of the Mazdaspeed 3 start out at $24,200. The car comes pretty much fully equipped so the great news is that there are not that many options. The only worthwhile option is the aforementioned Technology package for $2500. That is a great bargain. And what’s more, this thing actually gets decent gas mileage as well. EPA rates the car at 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway which are great for a car of this power level. The only downside is that the high power turbo engine requires premium fuel.
The Mazdaspeed 3 is a true driver’s car. Mazda has made sure that the important performance goodies are all included. It is a bargain and thanks to the limited production numbers it is a car that you won’t see on every block.