Mazda can spend all its advertising budget touting how green their “SkyActiv Technology” is, but what this company really does best is go fast. More drivers race more Mazdas in more US races than any other make of car. This relatively small company has dedicated itself to building a racing ladder here that starts with showroom stock MX-5 (Miata) competition and works its way through ever more committed levels of production and formula racing. If you too want fast, the Mazdaspeed3 is definitely your speeding ticket.
What’s the formula here? Take an unprepossessing Mazda3 sedan and swap its anemic 148hp engine for a 263hp turbocharged and intercooled MZR motor that loves to run hard. Next, junk the stock 3’s wimpy wheels and tires for a set of gunmetal alloy rims mounting ultra sticky Dunlop SP Sport 225/40R18 rubber. Recalibrate the steering rack so it’s uber responsive, stiffen the suspension to formula car levels of precision, scoop the front seats out for better body retention under g-loads, and add a new two-tone rear lift gate spoiler for 2013 that adds downforce. The sum of these tweaks is a sizzling hot hatchback that will roll your eyeballs into your skull when you light the throttle, and challenge your equilibrium when you pitch it into a corner.
But you don’t have to behave like a delinquent when driving the ‘Speed3, because it’s happy to putter along at sub-warp speeds if you are. That superb 2.3 liter, direct-injection power plant spools up so fast and produces so much torque down low in its rpm range (280 lb.-ft.) you almost never need to swap gears with the 6-speed manual transmission. So feel free to dawdle along in 3rd or 4th gear around town because the long stroke/small bore architecture of this engine (87.5mm bore x 94mm stroke) favors torque over high rpm operation. That’s just as well, because it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the redline on the tachometer face since ALL the numbers on the gauge are inexplicably backed by a continuous crimson band.
So how does the Mazdaspeed3 behave as a daily driver? With unexpected composure. When you nail the throttle in a front-wheel-drive car with this much torque, you’d expect to fight the steering wheel in order to overcome torque steer. But Mazda has succeeded in all but eliminating the problem by incorporating a standard torque-sensing conical limited slip differential in the driveline that keeps the front wheels pointed where you command regardless of how much throttle you apply. This freedom from torque steer is unexpected and very welcome.
In respect to occupant comfort, the 5-door behaves just as benignly as it does in eliminating torque steer. Because everyone has their own door, access to the back seat is never a problem. Carrying a full passenger load is practicable because the 103.9 inch wheelbase and tall rear roofline encourage adult use of the aft compartment. The 60/40 seat fold factor combined with the utilitarian hatch door make this Mazda perfect for a bulk goods runs to Lowe’s or the Home Depot.
You will not buy more driving fun for the money than this Mazdaspeed3. The base price here is just $24,200. If you add the Technology Package ($2,485), you’ll enjoy such niceties as a 5.8 inch full color touchscreen nav unit, HD, Sirius XM and Pandora Radio, SMS Text Message deliver and reply, adaptive Bi-Xenon front lighting, rain sensing wipers and keyless entry with push button start. Even with all these features, the delivered price of $27,955 marks this Mazda as the performance bargain of the new year.
2013 MAZDASPEED3 TOURING
ENGINE: 2.3 liter inline 4, DISI, DOHC, 16 Valves, Turbocharged and Intercooled
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 18 City MPG/25 Highway MPG
PRICE AS TESTED: $27,955
HYPES: Precise and Responsive Steering, Handling, Throttle
GRIPES: Redline on Tach Indistinguishable
STAR RATING: 10 Stars Out Of 10