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2007 MazdaSpeed3

Big Power In Mazda’s Little Hatch

     The evidence against turbo-haters is growing rapidly. In the past few years we’ve seen automakers turbocharge tiny engines to make far more power than anyone would have dreamed even 10 years ago. And still more impressive than the mighty dyno figures is the civility of the power. Turbo lag is far from the enthusiast slayer that it once was.
     Volkswagen and Audi’s awesome 2.0-liter four cylinder feels much stronger than its 200 hp rating suggests thanks to forced induction, and GM’s gotten into the action with the potent 2.0-liter direct injection turbo in the Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky. And then we have the 2.3-liter powerhouse that slings the little MazdaSpeed3 down the road like an F-22 on full afterburner. We’re not exaggerating when we say this car feels like every one of its 263 hp and then some.
     Like any good performance car, it’s the engine that people talk about and the Speed3 certainly comes with a conversation-worthy mill. A forged crankshaft and connecting rods sit inside an aluminum block and head and Mazda says the Direct Injection Spark Ignition system and air-to-air intercooler allow a high 9.5:1 compression ratio, which is good for a 10 percent bump in low and mid-range torque compared to regular turbo engines. The single-scroll turbo blows up to 16 psi, which pegs the 263 hp peak at 5,500 rpm and the phenomenal 280 lb-ft of torque at only 3,000 rpm.
     The horsepower number may be impressive on its own, but it’s the wave of torque coming from this I4 that seals the deal. We’ve never felt that downshifts were optional in a four cylinder before, but there is so much torque in every gear that just rolling into the throttle sends the speedometer swinging. Between 3,000 and 5,500 rpm the Speed3 feels faster than any four cylinder we’ve ever driven. Our 0-60 mph sprint of just less than 6 seconds isn’t phenomenal, but it’s the explosive midrange power that makes this car so much fun in the curves.
     Mazda has done a pretty good job of keeping 280 lb-ft of torque under control in this front-wheel drive hatch. The combination of a torque-sensing limited slip differential and engine control software that factors in things such as steering angle, throttle position and gear selection kept steering wheel tug surprisingly manageable. Don’t get us wrong, there is still noticeable torque steer in first and second gears, but quick corrections keep it manageable and far better than it would have been without the trick electronics.
     MazdaSpeed uses the same 6-speed manual they install in the MazdaSpeed6 sports sedan, so it’s no surprise that shifts are smooth, if a little vague. A little more mechanical feel through the shifter wouldn’t hurt. Upgraded brakes include Electronic Brake Force Distribution and a larger master cylinder keeps pedal feel constant and firm under all scenarios. We pulled up from 60 mph in 120 feet. Not bad at all for this class of car. Of course the standard 215/45R 18” high performance tires play a part in this car’s performance too.
     Engineers added some beef to the chassis by reinforcing the front strut towers, the lateral links and the center tunnel. With the foundation strengthened engineers were free to add stiffer springs, performance shocks, and thicker antiroll bars for 60 percent less roll than the standard 3 five-door. You’ll notice this after the first set of corners. The Speed3 corners flat and composed in every situation and high speed running is confidence inspiring the same way it is in German cars. Like most Mazdas, turn-in is sharp and steering feel is above average.
     We think the same of the interior. We’ve raved about the 3 before and its nice to see the same high-quality fabrics and low-gloss plastics used in the MazdaSpeed version. Our Grand Touring tester had standard leather and cloth seats that were aggressively bolstered and offered superb support, especially for the shoulders. Editors raved about the clear gauges, attractive steering wheel, deep cupholders, Xenon headlights, great deadpedal, and easy to use climate controls. We also liked how the engine quieted down at cruising speeds, but noticed wind noise coming off the A-pillars. It wasn’t horrible, but it was there. A few other items showed up in the Needs Improvement column. The sunvisors looked like dollar store specials and the satellite radio was slow to change channels. Plus, if you opt for satellite radio the auxiliary audio input doesn’t work without a special switcher box. Give us a break.
     Outside MazdaSpeed does what they have always done: keep modifications tasteful and appropriate. The front clip is heavily modified with a large lower air opening and foglights while the rear receives clear lens LED taillights, a liftgate spoiler and a large chrome exhaust tip. The 18” wheels are far from an original design, but the whole look does come off sporty and not at all boy racer.
     The MazdaSpeed3’s spec sheet impresses, it’s road manners impress and it’s window sticker impresses. It’s there that you’ll find nice details like a 5-year or 60,000-mile powertrain warranty and an as-tested price of $24,980. If you can live without satellite radio and a few techno goodies like Xenon headlights and LED taillights you can pass on the Grand Touring model and save another couple thousand bucks. That’s a lot of performance in a comfortable and useable five-door car. And it’s all thanks to the turbocharger.

The Good:
Smooth turbo power provides lots of torque, supportive seats, great handling, great brakes, room for five.
The Bad:
Wind noise, slow satellite radio, slightly vague shifter, no auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The Verdict:
Mazda provides big power in a fun and affordable little hatch.
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