LOTS MORE ZOOM-ZOOM
The Mazdaspeed3 defines the term “pocket rocket.” It has a feisty look, awesome power and sports-car-like handling.
The heart of the Mazdaspeed3 is its powerful engine. Mazda equips its little hotrod with a 2.3-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder power plant that cranks out 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The turbo produces a rush of acceleration that comes on strong around 3500 rpm, but the real secret to the engine’s power is its direct fuel injection, which produces a denser charge and more torque, according to Mazda’s engineers.
Transferring power to the front wheels is a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s not as slick as one you’ll find in a BMW, but it gets the job done. The Mazdaspeed3 will hit 60 in second gear in less than six seconds.
Normally, if you pump 280-lb-ft of torque through the front wheels, you are going to get a horrendous a mount of torque-steer—the pulling effect on the front wheels. Mazda has come up with an electronic torque-limiter in first and second gears to alleviate this problem to some degree, but you’ll still feel a tug on the steering wheel when you stomp on the gas.
Out on the road, the Mazdaspeed responds quickly to your right foot. It has great punch when you need to make a quick lane change on the highway, or when you’re zipping down your favorite country road. Although the power is not quite linear—there’s a surge when the turbo spools up.
But the Mazdaspeed is not just about speed—it handles well too. Mazda beefed up the body and fine-tuned the suspension to satisfy the enthusiast driver. The car feels well-planted taking long, sweeping curves, yet, it also does a good job navigating tight corners. A throaty exhaust note adds to the driving pleasure.
As you might expect from a car with 18-inch wheels and a sport suspension, the Mazdaspeed delivers a firm ride, but because this car is so solid, you won’t be uncomfortable until you hit a really rough patch of pavement.
The Mazdaspeed3 looks much like its sibling, the Mazda3 hatchback, but this more potent model gets some distinguishing touches. In addition to the 18-inch alloy wheels, it comes with slightly wider fenders, a more distinctive lower grille and a large rear spoiler.
On the inside, the story is much the same—the Mazda3 look with sporty touches. My test car had the optional Grand Touring package ($715) that included a Bose audio system and leather trim on the sport bucket seats. The Mazdaspeed logo was embroidered on the front seats, and red stitching accented the edges of the seats, the steering wheel and the shifter boot. Aluminum pedals and stainless steel scuff plates complete the picture.
Yet for all its racing cues, the mazdaspeed3 has a practical side. It seats four in reasonable comfort. Legroom in the rear is not overly generous, but passengers sit slightly higher than those in front, and have a good view of the road. The hatchback cargo space will hold 16.5 cu-ft of cargo, and this area can be easily expanded by folding down the rear seats.
The Mazdaspeed3 is a solid competitor in the pocket-rocket category. With a base price of $22,935, it is in the same ballpark as a Volkswagen GTI, and substantially less than a Suburu WRX. This car offers a lot of fun for the money.
Gobs of Power
Some Torque Steer
Base Price: $22,935
Engine: 2.3-ltr, Turbo, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-sp manual
Brakes : disc, ABS
Gas Mileage: 20-28 mpg
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