By David Colman
Hypes: Precise and Responsive Steering, Handling, Throttle
Gripes: Redline on Tach Indistinguishable
The Mazdaspeed3 is Weapons Grade Technology. Mazda can spend all its advertising budget touting how green 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. So Mazda knows fast better than anyone. In fact, they’re so dedicated to the concept of speed that they run Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. 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 ultra 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 liftgate 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 powerplant 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 its 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.