First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives
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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Monterey, California – It’s the oldest go-fast trick in the book: put a powerful engine into a lightweight vehicle, and watch it fly.

Mazdaspeed, Mazda’s performance division, has already had its way with the Protegé, Miata and Mazda6. It’s now applied its magic touch to the Mazda3, turning out one very sweet little road rocket.

Fortunately, none were aboard the Cougar Ace, the ship that keeled over with a hold full of Mazda CX-7s and Mazda3s, so expect the first wave of 250 Mazdaspeed3s to start hitting dealerships right about now.

The new model is based on the Mazda3 Sport four-door hatchback, but borrows a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine from the Mazdaspeed6 and CX-7. In this version, it creates 263 hp at 5500 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm; it’s mated exclusively to a short-throw, six-speed manual gearbox with compact three-shaft design, packing six gears into the same overall length as the Mazda3′s five-speed version.

It’s a DSI engine, for Direct Injection Spark Ignition. Gasoline is sprayed directly into the cylinders under high pressure where it rapidly cools from the pressure drop as it enters the cylinder and this, along with a dense air-and-fuel mixture near the spark plug, increases torque, reduces turbo lag and improves fuel mileage and emissions.

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives
Click image to enlarge

The turbocharger kicks in around 2500 rpm, and feels more like a V6 than a pumped-up four. Both on the track at Laguna Seca and negotiating around the crazy drivers on California’s highways, there was no need for constant up- and downshifting, thanks to the fat powerband. The result is a car that’ll make zero to 100 km/hr in 6.1 seconds, with an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h, but is comfortable enough for everyday driving.

Unlike the all-wheel-drive Mazdaspeed6, the ‘Speed3 is front-wheel drive, which presented a particular problem for the engineers: getting all that power to the ground. So there’s an electronic torque management system that reduces torque in first and second gear and monitors the vehicle speed and steering angle for maximum traction, along with a limited-slip differential. “There’s an absurd amount of torque in first,” says Mazda Group Manager Ruben Archilla. “This system doesn’t make it easier to drive – it makes it possible to drive. It’ll still spin the wheels, but without it, it would spin even more.”

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives
Click image to enlarge

The Mazdaspeed package is more than just an engine, of course. The standard hatchback body is reinforced with gussets at the strut tower tops and rear wheel wells, with a brace across the cowl, a thicker front crossmember and an underbody plate; all of that adds only about seven kilograms, but contributes to a 60 percent gain in roll stiffness, and prevents body deformation in hard cornering. The ride height is 10 mm lower, and spring rates are stiffer by 43 percent in front and 30 percent in back over the stock version; the rotors are larger, and the standard 18-inch wheels are clad in the same 215-series performance tires as the Mazdaspeed6, which you’ll need to swap for winter rubber come fall. The whole package weighs in at 1432 kg (3157 lbs), or 123 kg (271 lbs) more than a stock, 156-hp Mazda3 Sport.

The extra stiffness is immediately evident, but you won’t need a kidney belt for it. The ride is firmer than the stock version, of course, but it’s surprisingly comfortable, even on rough pavement. The Mazda3 is already one of the better-handling cars out there, and it continues here, even with this much power pushing through the front wheels; the rigid body corners almost flat.

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives
American buyers have colour choices, including silver, but the first wave of Canadian models will be all red. Click image to enlarge

As if 263 hp isn’t enough, Mazda’s aftermarket department has already had its measuring tape out, and on hand at the track was one outfitted with a cold air intake and performance exhaust – an extra 30 horses for about US$900. As gnarly as a 300-horse compact sounds, it feels even more nimble than the regular version, and Mazda claims the add-ons don’t affect the factory warranty; expect to see a few of these at the local tuner event.

Finishing it all off is the exhaust, which has half the Mazda3′s silencer volume and is about 10 decibels louder; it’s deliciously throaty and finds an even more aggressive note around 4000 rpm. Who needs a stereo?

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives
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Well, some people still will, and for that, there’s a premium six-CD Bose in the dash, because we only get the Mazdaspeed3 in top-end trim. U.S. buyers can opt for a plainer-Jane version, but we get only their GT, which includes self-levelling Xenon headlamps, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers and stereo not found on the regular model, which is surprising given that we’re supposed to be the frugal ones. And we pay $30,995 for it, while American buyers shell out a mere $23,995 Bush-bucks for the GT (US$22,240 for the base model), even though the exchange rate hasn’t been 29 percent for quite a while. The only thing we can’t get is the optional navigation system, which Mazda’s product manager said would translate around the $3,000 range and couldn’t be justified. (It’s a pretty slick one, too, popping up out of the dash when you push a button.) These cars won’t ever be big volume sellers, but a lower-priced model would probably move out the door faster.

First Drive: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 mazda first drives
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We’re also restricted on colour, at least for now; Americans get black, silver, red or a spiffy ‘Speed3-specific blue, while we get red and red only. White (ho hum) will be added here at a later date.

What impresses me most about the Mazdaspeed3 is its versatility: I hit 160 km/hr pretty quickly on the straightaway and curled it around Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew, but when I got stuck in commuter traffic driving back to the airport it was as docile as a regular Mazda3, and I emerged without the shaky-leg syndrome from mixing a performance car’s clutch with stop-and-go driving. And once you’re done racing, the rear seats fold so there’s plenty of room to pick up groceries on the way home.


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