One of Mazda’s fastest and most affordable rides
The Mazdaspeed3 looks like a nice little hatchback, doesn’t it? Well, not quite. Actually this latest offering from Mazda’s go-faster department is a no-holds-barred, fun-filled performance car merely pretending to be a nice little hatchback.
Propulsion is provided by a mildly detuned version of the 2.3-litre, 4-cylinder, direct-injection turbo first seen in the Mazdaspeed version of the current Mazda6 sedan. In this application, it generates 263 horsepower compared with the hotter 6’s 274 hp. But, don’t feel too cheated by the loss of those 11 horses. The 263 that remain, ably assisted by a healthy dose of torque, are plenty enough in a car that tips the scales 209 kg lighter than the Speed6.
Here’s a surprise: the Mazdaspeed3 does not have all-wheel-drive. If the handsome hatchback’s 280 lb-ft of pulling power seems a lot to channel through the front wheels of a light car, you’re right. That’s why the car’s engine management system modulates the power delivery in the lower gears, especially when accelerating in and out of turns.
Another factor in making the available power manageable is tires that stick like bubblegum on a bed sheet. The 215/45 skins mounted on great-looking 18-inch alloy wheels are full-on summer performance rubber. Coupled this with appropriate upgrades to the standard 4-door Mazda3 hatch’s suspension and chassis and the result is terrific grip plus superb road feel and terrific adjustability of the Mazdaspeed3’s attitude in mid-corner.
Straight-line performance is phenomenal. Braking action is swift and sure thanks to bigger-than-standard discs all around while third-gear acceleration is practically in the supercar class. The only reason off-the-line acceleration to 100 km/h isn’t even better than 6.6 seconds is a shifter that protests at quickly-grabbed upshifts (though it’s all right in normal driving).
Interior changes over the standard Mazda3 are not extensive, and mostly restricted to special “identity” bits, like nice, new electroluminescent gauges for the instrument panel, alloy foot pedals, silver finish on the centre stack, red stitching on the wrapped shift knob and tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and comfy, big-bolster bucket seats bearing Mazdaspeed logos.
A Bose 6-speaker stereo with subwoofers, 6-disc CD changer and auxiliary jacks is standard, along with front, side and curtain airbags.
There’s also a host of Mazdaspeed accessories for this hot hatch. We tested a specially prepped unit that was just silly fun. For $1,200 a dealer will bolt on a sport exhaust and other factory-warranted pieces that boosts power into 300-hp territory - that’s Subaru WRX STI levels for twenty grand less.
But, at the end of the day, much of the brilliance behind the Mazdaspeed3 lies in its ability to be an extremely user friendly hatchback, with folding rear seats and room for five. It just so happens it’s one of the fastest and most affordable rides to come from Mazda in recent memory.