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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, May 18, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz

POCKET ROCKSTAR By Harvey Schwartz

Mazda engineers have taken the popular Mazda3 four-door hatchback and infused it with more power, performance and styling for the hot-selling hatch/sport compact segment. While the base price of a new Mazda3 is $14,700.00, the MAZDASPEED3 carries a base price of $24,055.00 and including a long list of standard features. It's well worth it for someone looking for a hot hatchback to take care of a multitude of everyday needs. It also provides you with the ability to drive one the quickest and fastest front-wheel-drive vehicles on the market. The MAZDASPEED3 is a great balance of driving pleasure with everyday functionality and comfort, at a great price.

Under the domed hood of the car is a version of the turbocharged and intercooled 2.3 liter four-cylinder direct-injection engine that powers the MAZDDSPEED6 sport sedan. Engineered to deliver high performance at all speeds, along with low exhaust emissions and excellent fuel economy, Mazda's MZR 2.3 DISI turbo-charged, all-aluminum engine produces 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, and 263 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. Tuning of the exhaust system focused on sounds in the low frequency range, while tuning of engine sound on the mid frequency range produced at high engine speeds deliver a deep, throaty sporty sound. It's music to any enthusiast ears. To increase the drivability in what is a very powerful front-wheel drive car, intake volume and boost pressure-control suppress sudden torque peaks, assuring smooth, linear torque delivery. Also, torque characteristics from first through third gears are electronically controlled to deliver appropriate power delivery, minimizing torque-steer and wheel-spin. Torque control is also linked to the steering angle, and the stiffness of the left and right drive shafts is balanced, also working to minimize torque-steer. A newly developed limited slip differential also minimizes wheel-spin on the inner wheel during hard cornering for smooth, predictable power delivery. I found that at hard launch you will feel the steering wheel pull a little to the left but it is easily managed as you accelerate. If the MAZDASPEED3 utilized an all-wheel-drive system the problem of toque steering would be solved.

The MAZDASPEED3 engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission shared with the MAZDASPEED6 providing you with full control over the vehicle's high power, while contributing to a quiet ride and strong fuel economy. Shifting is quick and smooth up and down the gears. A compact three-shaft design made it possible to keep the overall length the same as the five-speed manual used in the standard Mazda 3. Additionally, the MAZDASPEED3'S six-speed transmission uses wide gear ratios to fully exploit the wide torque band of the direct-injection turbocharged engine. To help manage the higher speed capability and harder cornering ability, the MAZDASPEED3 features a body with increased rigidity. Body rigidity has been increased by several features including a reinforced front cowl member that is joined directly to a plate in the top section of the front shock mount, assuring the same rigidity as a car fitted with a strut tower brace. This prevents deformation of the front suspension towers and maintains correct suspension geometry. In the lower body, a large closed section member is employed to reinforce the floor tunnel which improves the torsional rigidity of the whole body. At the rear, the gusset introduced at the bottom end of the rear suspension towers restrains the tendency of the towers to displace inwards which maintains the correct suspension geometry under all cornering loads. Both the MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension have high spring rates and larger diameter stabilizer bars than the standard Mazda 3. Damping force on both compression and rebound is raised approximately six-times at low piston speed, and about 1.3-times at moderate piston speed. In combination with the reinforced springs and stabilizer bars, this produces 60 percent more roll stiffness than the Mazda 3.

The power-assisted, rack and pinion steering system gives quick reaction to your inputs when you are changing lanes to pass slower moving vehicles, and when challenging curving roads. Helping to quickly and safely slow the MAZDASPEED3 down from speed are larger four-wheel disc brakes. Up front are 12.6-inch vented discs and 11-inch solid discs in the rear. Keeping you in full control during hard braking are standard ABS, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. Helping to keep you on track is dynamic stability control which also comes standard. The MAZDASPEED3 rides on large, 18X7 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels wrapped with Bridgestone 215/45R18 Potenza REO50-A high-performance tires that add grip, traction and help with smoothing out rough road surfaces. The car's styling cues pursue a look of strength and solidity in a design that conveys the car's dynamic performance. Its form is characterized by boldly flared front fenders and effective use of strong edges on the hood. These combine with functional forms of the bumpers, spoilers and other parts developed for aerodynamic performance. The front fenders are widened 20 mm to provide clearance for the larger tires and to evoke a well-planted stance. Strong lines are seen flowing back along the hood from the upper part of the five-point grille used as the air intake for the intercooler, and the aerodynamically shaped front bumper and large lower grille serving as the air intake for the radiator. From the side, you see deep lower side skirts that help with air management. Also enhancing airflow underneath are a wide variety of under-floor parts that were employed to achieve a co-efficient of drag of just 0.32. The rear view is characterized by the design of the rear bumper, clear lens LED tail lamps, a large-diameter exhaust pipe, and a roof spoiler with integrated high-mount LED brake light.

The interior is sporty and comfortable with a high-quality black finish that sets the tone of the interior which is accented by red stitching on the thick-cut, high-back sport bucket seats, steering wheel and the six-speed manual transmission shift knob that creates a sporty yet refined look. The instrument panel includes a matte black decorative insert panel finished with a hairline treatment to underscore the vehicle's personality of fun and function. Aluminum foot pedals, and stainless steel scuff plates further contribute to the sporty, high-quality feel that distinguishes MAZDASPEED models. Standard equipment, not mentioned above, in the MAZDASPEED3 include Xenon headlamps, fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, 60-40-split rear folding seats, Bose audio system with seven-speakers, six-disc CD player, SIRIUS satellite radio, steering wheel audio controls/cruise control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, power windows/door locks, power-remote site mirrors, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, automatic climate control, center armrest with dual storage, dual cupholders, grab handles above each door, thick-pile carpeting and front/rear floor mats. Options include Mazda's Navigation System. No sunroof is available. Standard safety features include anti-whiplash front seat design, LATCH child seat anchors, triple-H body construction, anti-theft engine immobilizer, front/side-impact airbags and curtains, and theft-deterrent security system. The MAZDASPEED3 is a great way to save money and drive an exciting and sporty 5-door compact sedan. The only competition in this segment right now is the Dodge Caliber SRT4 priced about the same. © Words and pictures by Harvey Schwartz

SUMMARY JUDGMENT Rock star performance without the usual rock star bad habits. SIDEBAR COMMENT The MAZDASPEED3 is the current darling of the mid-$20,000 tuner group. The Dodge Caliber SRT4 is only one that can match the MS3 in this group for raw power (actually, exceeds it at a mind-blowing 285 horsepower from a 4 banger!), but can't match it for overall balance. On the other hand, there are the all new AWD Subaru Impreza 5-door WRX, which offers more finesse around corners, and the 5-door Volkswagen GTI, which is just as much fun but feels like a more expensive car. - Roy Nakano For more information about Mazda products, go to www.mazdausa.com More photos from Harvey Schwartz can be found at www.autofotos.com

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: MazdaSpeed 3 Price: Base-$24,055.00; $26,640.00 as tested Engine type: In-line 4-cylinder, DOHC turbo charged Horsepower: 263 at 5,500 rpm Torque: 263lb-ft at 3,000 rpm EPA mileage: 18 mpg/city, 26 mpg/highway Drive configuration: Front engine/front-wheel-drive Transmission: 6-speed manual Front suspension: MacPherson independent struts Rear suspension: Independent multi-link Wheels/tires: 18X7 aluminum wheels 215/45R18 high-performance tires Brakes: f/r-12.6-in. vented discs with dual-piston calipers/11in. solid discs with single-piston calipers Overall length: 176.8 in. Total width: 69.5 in. Total height: 57.7 in. Curb weight: 3,153 lbs.

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