- Attractive and sporty styling.
- Good handling for a front-driven platform.
- Tons of turbo power.
- Supercar braking performance.
- Striking front seats.
- Hard to launch due to excessive wheelspin.
- Extra styling might be a little too subtle.
- Notchy shifter causes misshifts.
- Not much difference inside besides seats.
- Rear legroom shortage.
Press Coverage :
The 2007 Mazdaspeed3 is one of the fastest and quickest front-wheel drive cars in the world. With a zero-to-60 time under six-seconds and an electronically limited top-speed of 155 mph, Mazdaspeed3 is the class of the sport-compact “pocket-rocket” crowd.
The Mazdaspeed3 features a compact, lightweight five-door body paired with a 263-horsepower 2.3-liter DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) Turbo engine, giving it a best-in-class power-to-weight ratio and making it one of the highest performing front-wheel drive cars in the world.
Under the hood of the Mazdaspeed3 is a version of the turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine that powers the highly regarded Mazdaspeed6 sport sedan and the CX-7 crossover SUV. Engineered to deliver high performance at all speeds, along with low exhaust emissions and excellent fuel economy, Mazda’s MZR 2.3 DISI turbocharged engine produces 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 lb-ft torque at 3,000 rpm in the Mazdaspeed3.
Key engine components include aluminum block and head construction with forged steel internal components — crankshaft and connecting rods — for long-lasting durability, while balance shafts help eliminate noise and vibration. A large air-to-air intercooler and direct fuel injection cool temperature inside the cylinder.
To increase drivability and minimize torque steer and wheel spin in what is a very powerful front-wheel drive car, a sophisticated torque-management system combines with equal-length hardened driveshafts and a cone-type Super LSD limited slip differential.
Like the 2007 Mazda 3, the new Mazdaspeed3 features a body with increased rigidity. The Mazdaspeed version is based on the Mazda 3 5-Door hatchback, with local reinforcements added to produce a body sufficiently stiff to stand up to the demands of 263 horsepower. Suspension and brakes have also been specially tuned.
Body rigidity has been increased through several measures, including a reinforced front cowl that is joined directly to the top section of the front damper mount, assuring the same rigidity as a car fitted with a strut tower bar (which would not have been possible because of the placement of the intercooler above the engine). This prevents deformation of the front suspension towers under cornering load and maintains correct suspension geometry.
Mazdaspeed3 's styling pursues a look of strength and solidity in a design that conveys the car's dynamic performance. Its form is characterized by boldly flared front fenders and effective use of strong edges on the hood. These combine with the functional forms of the bumpers, spoilers and other parts developed for aerodynamic performance. Overall, Mazdaspeed3's design is sporty and strong, befitting a high-performance model, without exaggerated styling cues.
Mazdaspeed 3 ’s cockpit is a harmonious synthesis of functional sportiness and stylish comfort. A high-quality black finish sets the tone of the interior, accented by red stitching on the seats, steering wheel, and the shift boot to create a sporty yet refined look. The instrument panel includes a matte black decorative insert panel finished with a hairline treatment to underscore the vehicle’s personality. A leather-wrapped shift knob, aluminum pedals and stainless steel scuff plates further contribute to the sporty, high quality feel that distinguishes Mazdaspeed models, while front sport seats with the Mazdaspeed logo – developed specifically for the Mazdaspeed3 – on the seatbacks provide firm support and comfort.
Inside there are deeply bolstered front seats that fully look the part. Editors were split on the seats' lateral support, some feeling the seat bottom was too wide and others finding them perfectly supportive. Our Grand Touring trim level test car had leather bolsters — a touch that shows someone at Mazda realizes that leather in the seat bottoms is a bad idea for performance driving. The same thick-rimmed steering wheel from the standard 3 is in place with buttons for the audio system and cruise control. Aluminum pedals dress things up a bit.
At the track our tester racked up some impressive performance numbers — both in a straight line and through our handling tests. Probably the most outstanding number is the 60-0 braking distance of 116 feet. This often overlooked bit of data proves how thorough Mazda's overhaul of the 3 actually is. And even though this is a single-stop number, our abuse of the brakes during aggressive street and track driving proves them worthy of contending with excessive heat.
At the drag strip, we recorded a 0-60 time 0.4 second slower than the last Subaru WRX we tested, but a staggering 1.3 seconds quicker to that speed than a Honda Civic Si. Plus, the Mazda is at an obvious launch disadvantage in the sprint to 60 against the WRX given the Subaru's all-wheel drive. By the end of the quarter-mile the Mazda's added power makes the contest a dead heat against the WRX and blows the Honda out of the water by almost a full second.
Pin it down on a ribbon of road filled with sweeping bends and you'll find the 3 carrying almost as much speed as an Evo or STI — provided that ribbon is racetrack smooth. Mazda insists it doesn't compete with those cars, but we can't help but make the comparison. It's quick enough to require the same heightened awareness needed to drive those cars quickly and, on the right road, will get you there almost as effortlessly. In fact, with a little more grip, it would be hard for any Evo to escape a well-driven Mazdaspeed 3.
The 3's steering is exceptionally responsive just off-center, which makes dispatching transitions as easy as it is quick. It utilizes a 14.7:1 steering ratio — almost identical to the standard car. Sixty percent more roll stiffness than a conventional 3 doesn't hurt here either.
Damping feels adequate on smooth roads, but falls apart a bit on uneven surfaces — probably thanks to the 3's rather portly 3,163 pounds. Body motions aren't as well controlled as we'd like over bumps which affect the whole car. Oddly, this occurred mostly during normal driving over large undulations like frost heaves or railroad track risers rather than at the ragged edge of the car's limits. It's also clear that the 3 is better suited to smooth roads with sweeping corners rather than rough roads with tight switchbacks. It wasn't uncontrollable out of its element, but it loses some of its otherwise excellent poise.
We do, however, love the engine. You won't find more punch for this kind of money in any other car, and that goes a long way in a class filled with capable contenders. Serious grunt starts well below 3000 rpm but ends the party early with a power peak of 5500 rpm. We found upshifting at 6000 was the quickest in most cases, reserving redline only to save ourselves the hassle of shifting twice before a corner. The shifter, which doesn't like to be rushed, has effort appropriate for the job, but feels a bit disconnected compared to some of its competitors.
As for the torque steer, Mazda knew it would be Oscar winning. So it wrote the engine-control software with a nuance that links the engine’s output with steering-wheel angle. Boot it with the front wheels centered, and you get the whole can of Spam. If the helm is turned a few degrees left or right, the computer backs off the throttle a couple of percentage points to relax the sideways tug on the nose. This car also comes with Super LSD, which we were dismayed to learn is perfectly legal. It’s the GKN-supplied mechanical limited-slip differential borrowed from the RX-8.
The Mazdaspeed 3 is only a bit less tricky to launch than a space shuttle. Most of the runs up the drag strip vanished in excessive tire smoke. Or they deflated when the driver, trying to stanch the wheelspin, inadvertently cued the waste gate. Or grabbed the wrong gear with the spongy shifter. Calls to Mazda yielded tips: Pop the clutch at 2900 rpm, upshift at 6000 — redline is 6700 — and flat-shift through second and third (which means don’t lift at all — the mechanical equivalent of dropping a Steinway on the clutch and half-shafts and violating our test procedure).
Departing the track, we drove the Mazdaspeed 3 over 600 miles through California hill country and down lumpy expressways. Mazda’s commitment to preserving ride quality shows. Even with 45-series tires on 18-inch wheels, hopping is muted over L.A.’s notoriously stubbled freeways. Big thwacks get eaten by the stiff skeleton and excreted as much smaller vibrations. In the Mazdaspeed, the wagon’s cavelike body is stiffened with gussets and brackets at the shock towers and a full-length panel reinforcing the center tunnel. It all helps make a sporty ride you can live with.
A guttural, saber-toothed snarl from the tailpipe means the 2.3-liter is idling. It sounds good there, better than the less-interesting, more-frazzled zoom-zooming closer to redline. Getting the Mazdaspeed 3 to speed requires frequent visits to the shifter. It’s a cable-operated selector with rubbery detents and a counterweight that sends back shivers through the timbers with each lick. It’s stilted, an arcade joystick.
Steering assist is by an electrohydraulic rack. Anything “electro” usually puts a pox on steering feel. As in all Mazda 3s, however, the electric motor simply makes the hydraulic pressure instead of providing steering assist. The Mazdaspeed 3 steers smoothly, reminiscent of a BMW. The wheel’s desire to stay at center is distinct. The effort builds just so, heightening as you turn it and sweep through the corner. Jitters and pulses make their way to your hands, the feel of the front tires at work. The Mazdaspeed 3 will eventually understeer, like all cars with 63.5 percent of their weight on the nose, but at sane velocities the Mazda hides its imbalance with grace.
The Mazdaspeed 3 charges hard in third, the go-to gear for any street race. In fourth it becomes a GT. Just leave it there for an entire mountain road, and let the turbo chew on the heavy gas flow. Mazda calls the engine the MZR DISI. The MZR means Mazda’s four-cylinder engine family, with DISI standing for “direct-injection spark ignition,” a flashdance of chemistry that produces power in all the right places. The midrange torque is impressive, pushing the tach needle inexorably higher as you climb hills and scamper out of corners. Hit a pavement seam under acceleration and the car will snick sideways with a torque-induced tug. Otherwise, Mazda’s software wrinkle tames the front-end wander and lets you relax and pick your line with certainty.
Car and Driver
2003-2004 Mazda MazdaSpeed Protege
1,991 cc / 170 hp / 155 lb-ft / 2844 lbs / 0-60 mph 6.9 sec.