2007 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 Expert Review:Autoblog
click above for high-res images of the 2007 Mazdaspeed3
After the second or third hard right-hander, there was a noticeable lack of conversation in the car. Brad, my intrepid photog friend, grew quiet as I caned the Mazdaspeed3 through corner after corner, increasing the pace each time, braking later and laying into the throttle sooner. With the LSD working overtime, the handling bar continued to move until finally the howl coming from the front tires evolved into understeer. A quick lift off the throttle tucked the nose in without drama and then the quest to find the limits began anew.
I turned to ask my camera-clutching companion if all was right on that side of the car. He nodded in the affirmative and the fun continued. Mile after mile of twists and undulations were dispatched without complaint. When we finally pulled off to take stock, both of us were convinced that Mazda's 'Speed team is one of the best in-house tuners in the biz. Not particularly because of the MS3's prodigious power, but because its creators took the already competent 3 and created a cohesive package that ticks off all the right boxes for the enthusiast on a budget.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
Granted, we're a little late to the game. We've seen enough Mazdaspeed3s on the road to know that the combination of price and performance has landed it on the shortlists of people looking for a competent corner carver with a healthy dose of practicality. But we weren't content to assume that the MS3 was just another valid option for speed merchants with $25k burning a hole in their pocket. We had to see for ourselves, so when our Sunlight Silver Metallic tester found its way to the Autoblog Garage, we almost forgot to lock the door before we made our way to the nearest desolate road.
One of the more appealing aspects of the MS3 is its understated exterior. Only those in the know, or people able to scope out the Mazdaspeed3 badge on the hatch, will be able to tell that this is more than the standard five-door model. Mazda is intent, however, on making its 'Speed models standout from its lesser siblings, albeit in some very subtle ways. The hood is a bit taller, with a steeper rake angling towards the headlamps that accommodates extra cooling ducts for the intercooler and turbo, the front fenders are a bit wider and the front fascia gets a deeper air dam with restyled fog lamps. Making your way out back, passing the ten-spoke 18x7-inch wheels, you'll find a beefier rear spoiler perched above the rear window and a mildly restyled bumper with a larger exhaust tip.
On the inside, Mazdaspeed-emblazoned doorsills tie in nicely with the matching brushed-aluminum pedals, while the chunky steering wheel found on the standard Mazda3 is left intact (with some added red stitching) and fitted with redundant audio system controls. Our tester came in Grand Touring trim, which includes rain-sensing wipers, a Bose premium auto system with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer, LED taillights and Xenon headlights that allow you to adjust the angle of their projection with a dash-mounted scroll-wheel. The fit and finish inside is standard economy car fare; not quite as good as the Honda Civic, but considerably better than the Lancer we tested last year. The heavily bolstered seats specific to the MS3 are perfect in both their dimensions and execution, particularly the optional leather fitted to the sides proving that Mazda's engineers know that slipping and sliding is mutually exclusive to corner-carving fun.
While interior and exterior appointments deserve note, it's the DISI 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four, revised suspension and chassis tweaks that inspired our call to Mazda PR. The MS3's engine seems to get the majority of the press, but it's little more than a slightly revised version of the same mill fitted to the CX-7 CUV and Mazdaspeed6. That means 263 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque routed to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission equipped with a mechanical limited slip differential. We'll get to how that works on the road in a minute, but the chassis improvements were what impressed the most.
It's hard to see under the acres of plastic fitted inside the engine bay, but if you were to strip it all away you'd find that the front strut towers were beefed up and tied into the firewall to boost torsional rigidity, while reinforced lateral links underneath reduce roll and increase steering feel. The combination of new dampers and springs drop the hatch by 10mm, which is relatively insignificant from an appearance standpoint, but when matched with the larger front and rear anti-roll bars and 18-inch rollers, the changes in handling are a revelation compared to the base model.
There's a bit of consternation around the Autoblog offices about how well the Mazdaspeed3 handles the daily rigors of getting from one place to another. A particularly lively debate ensued in the halls of an LA hotel that pitted Führer Neff and yours truly against each other, with the former complaining about his back, while the latter insisted that it was entirely livable with no Chiro work required. Then again, I'm the idiot that drives Project MR2 around on a 6/8 kg spring setup, so my opinion could be somewhat askew. Regardless, jounce and rebound might be a bit much when navigating pothole-strewn roads, but it's firm in all the right ways and when things turn twisty, the MS3 is an absolute masterpiece.
During our time with the 3, we made regular pilgrimages to our favorite roads, and in one case spent time jockeying with a mildly-tuned WRX. The Mazda hung with the Subie in all but the trickiest of bends, easily keeping up on the straights and doing more than holding its own under braking thanks to the upgraded single-piston calipers, 12.6-inch front rotors and Potenza RE050 tires. Fade was non-existent up until a particularly demanding stretch of road where short bursts of acceleration were followed by repeated threshold braking. After a quick cool-down drive that lasted all of a half-mile, everything was back up to snuff and the punishing continued.
Now, onto the hotly contested issue of torque-steer. Mazda's team of engineers did an admirable job of employing some techno tweaks to limit power in first and second gears. Since output is based on the amount of steering dialed in, we made three separate launches on a less than perfect road with the steering wheel pointed dead ahead. With the traction control enabled, the power restrictions set by the ECU were noticeable, but it allowed the Mazda to dart off the line with a minimum of wheel spin and a few twitches in the wheel. With the electronic nannies defeated, it was a smoky mess, providing plenty of forearm exercise. While traveling around bends, laying into the throttle in second and third did little to upset the MS3's composure, but if the tire is in close proximity to anything resembling a rut in the road, it's advised that both hands are on the wheel.
With that out of the way, we can't speak highly enough of the engine. Even with the performance limitations employed to prevent simultaneous tire destruction and unintended hedge trimming, the direct-injected 2.3-liter turbo is an absolute hoot. Power comes on strong down low, with a bit of lag before 2,500 rpm, and then races to the 6,500 rpm redline. The only complaint is that the last 500 rpm are completely devoid of forward momentum, so shifts between 5,500 and 6,000 rpm became the norm. From the feel of it, we're assuming it's the engine outrunning the turbo, something that could be rectified by those brave enough to begin making changes underhood.
Any modifications to the Mazdaspeed3, however, could easily corrupt a vehicle that strikes a perfect balance between lively and livable. In the end, the MS3 is considerabley more than the sum of its impressive parts. It handles the daily rigors without complaint and offers up the type of performance that can only be had with extensive tuning and considerable cash.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Performance and luxury come standard.
The Mazda3 changed the way people thought about compact cars when it was launched as a 2004 model. This is a premium automobile, exciting to drive, styled adventurously, and fully equipped with luxury features. There's nothing austere, basic or cheap about it.
For 2007, Mazda has upgraded the appearance of its s-model sedan and s-model five-door hatchback with a body-color grille, a redesigned front bumper with square foglights, and a new look for both the 16- and 17-inch, cast-aluminum wheels. Detail changes also improve interior appearance, and leather is now optional for all s-models, both sedan and five-door hatchback. An auxiliary audio input with 12-volt power outlet is now standard for all models, making them iPod-friendly.
Upgrades for 2007 also include some changes to improve the driving personality of the Mazda3. Reinforcements to the body shell improve overall chassis rigidity. The front dampers of the MacPherson strut suspension have been retuned to quicken steering response and reduce understeer, while the dampers of the multi-link rear suspension also have been retuned to match. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist are standard equipment for all s-models and optional for the i-model sedan. Traction control and stability control are now available for both the s-model sedan and five-door. All models are front-wheel drive.
The Mazdaspeed3 joins the model lineup for 2007. A true high-performance car featuring a 263-hp, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, the Mazdaspeed3 joins a group of extreme sports sedans that includes the Honda Civic Type S, Mitsubishi Evo MK IX, and Subaru Impreza WRX.
The Mazda3 is built in Japan, yet beneath the skin you'll find evidence of engineering from around the world. Volvo developed the body. Ford contributed the suspension design and sophisticated electronics. And Mazda engineered the four-cylinder engines and then tuned the complete car at its test track in Japan.
As a result, the Mazda3 has the personality of a true world car. It's space-efficient and exciting to drive like a European car. It's practical and economical like a Japanese car. And it's available with a surprising list of comfort and luxury features just like an American car.
The sedan and hatchback versions look quite different. The sedan has the traditional appearance of a four-door, five-passenger car. The five-door hatchback is like the high-fashion station wagons from European manufacturers, offering the practicality of the five-door configuration with an emphasis on a premium driving experience, which means plenty of luxury features plus plenty of driving enjoyment.
The Mazda3 sedan comes with three levels of available equipment: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The entry-level i-model is available with a fuel-efficient, 148-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, while the sporty s-model is equipped with a sophisticated 156-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder.
The Mazda3 five-door hatchback comes standard with the 156-hp 2.3-liter engine. The five-door also comes in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim.
Safety features that come on all Mazda3 models include front airbags and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Side airbags and head-protection curtain airbags are optional. Electronic stability control and traction control are available on uplevel models.
The Mazda3i Sport sedan ($13,895) comes with the 2.0-liter engine with five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. It comes with 195/65HR-15 all-season tires. It does not come with power windows or power door locks, yet it includes audio controls mounted on the steering wheel for the standard AM/FM/CD audio system.
The Mazda 3i Touring sedan ($16,255) adds air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, power-adjustable outside mirrors, an upgraded six-speaker audio system, and 205/55HR-16 all-season tires. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional.
The Mazda3s Sport sedan ($17,190) features the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine plus 205/55HR-15 tires. A five-speed automatic transmission is optional. Air conditioning, power windows and door locks, and an upgraded audio system are standard.
The Mazda3s Touring sedan ($18,425) adds high-performance 205/50VR17 tires on cast-aluminum wheels, electronic stability control and traction control. Side-impact and head-protection airbags are standard. The Mazda3s Grand Touring sedan ($19,895) adds high-intensity headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic climate control, a trip computer, and a theft-deterrent system.
The Mazda3s Sport five-door ($17,680) comes with the 2.3-liter engine and a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. The 205/50VR17 all-season tires on cast-aluminum wheels are standard, as are anti-lock brakes with brake assist. Power mirrors, windows, and door locks are all standard. Side airbags are not available, but head-protection airbags are standard.
The Mazda3s Touring five-door ($18,425) adds stability control and brake assist. Side- and head-protection airbags are standard. The Mazda3s Grand Touring five-door ($19,895) adds automatic climate control, high-intensity headlights and fog lights, an upgraded audio system, a navigation system and theft-deterrence.
The Mazdaspeed3 five-door comes with a 263-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential, stability control and 215/45YR18 tires. Side- and head-protection airbags are standard. There are two versions of the Mazdaspeed3, Sport ($22,340) and Grand Touring ($24,055), which adds rain-sensing windshield wipers, high-intensity headlights, upgraded audio, and an optional navigation system.
The Mazda3 has far more visual presence than you'd expect from a car with a Japanese nameplate. The designers worked hard to give this car the kind of character that will set it apart from other compact cars, and the result is a surprisingly bold look. A broad palette of color choices further distinguishes the Mazda3 from other compacts.
The sedan looks a little clumsy in its stripped-down i-model iteration, but bigger tires give it a more substantial stance.
Meanwhile, the five-door is unique, more like a stretched-out coupe than a five-door hatchback, and it's especially appealing in a radical color choice.
New for 2007 is the use of a body-color grille surround plus a new front bumper with square fog lights for both the s-model sedan and hatchback. Every trim level of the 2007 s-model sedan now has fast-reacting LED taillights, a feature formerly restricted to only up-level models. Meanwhile, the 16- and 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels have a new, brighter, and more substantial style for 2007.
The Mazaspeed3 looks especially tough with its oversized air intake in the front bumper and the mildly flared fenders. The whole front fascia is unique, and the rear taillights and chrome exhaust tips set it apart as well. Big 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels clearly identify this as a high-performance car.
When it comes to compact cars, the game is all about space efficiency. Just how much space can be devoted to the passengers? And is the space useful for all the other tasks that are demanded of a small car?
The Mazda3 sedan measures out to 94.3 cubic feet of passenger space, which compares with the Honda Civic sedan's 90.9 cubic feet. Both the Mazda and the Honda are within fractions in front-seat room, but the Mazda is slightly larger in rear-seat room, notably leg room and shoulder room. The Civic and Mazda3 are virtually identical in trunk volume, with the Mazda rated at 11.4 cubic feet.
The Mazda3 five-door might be compared to a Subaru Impreza Sport Wagon, especially since each is the basis of a high-performance car, the Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru Impreza Wagon WRX respectively. The Mazda3 five-door has 95.3 cubic feet of interior volume, while the Subaru is rated at 90.4 cubic feet. Just as with the sedan, the Mazda's advantage lies in rear seat room, notably leg room and shoulder room. Meanwhile the Subaru's cargo volume behind the second seat is about a cubic-foot larger than the Mazda's 17.1 cubic feet.
The utility of the Mazda3's interior is enhanced by a standard folding 60/40 split back seat, which enables you to increase trunk room for large loads. The back of the rear seat doesn't quite fold flat, but it's close. Thanks to this design, the Mazda3 five-door will accommodate 31.2 cubic feet of cargo behind the front seats when the second seat is folded down.
The Mazda3 seats themselves are supportive without being confining, and the use of high-quality foam in the bolsters makes them very comfortable during long drives. Every version of the Mazda3 except for the entry-level sedan features a height adjuster for the driver's seat, and this works with the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel to enable a wide range of drivers to get a good fit with the controls. Grand Touring editions feature seat warmers. Leather seat upholstery comes standard on Grand Touring models and optional on Touring and Sport editions.
When it's well-equipped with trim and features, the interior of the Mazda3 looks good, although black interiors seem very dark. For s-models, a brushed aluminum surface lends some drama to the dashboard, as does the use of using red-orange electro-luminescent numerals with blue-tinted dials for the instruments. For 2007, Mazda has upgraded the appearance of the i-model sedans with wood trim for the dash and new white-face instrument gauges, and they look very good in light colors.
The Mazda3 affords plenty of practical space, notably a cavernous glovebox. Two built-in cupholders are integrated into the center console, while a small but deep box separates the seats. For 2007, rear-seat armrests with integrated cupholders have been added for both the sedan and five door. Also new for 2007 is an iPod-friendly auxiliary input jack for the audio system including a 12-volt power outlet.
The navigation display screen flips up from the top of the dash, and it offers a bright view, while the software logic for entering destinations and the like is straightforward. The navigation system's controls are located in the center console, however, and they're small and fussy enough (especially the joystick control) to be a chore to operate. The Mazda3 is one of the very few cars in this price class to offer a navigation system.
The Mazdaspeed3's black, leather-trimmed interior has the same overall look as its siblings, but red stitching in the steering wheel, shift knob and seats adds some motorsports style. The thick rim, leather-wrapped rim of the steering wheel feels substantial, while aluminum covers for the control pedals enhance the presentation. The best thing about the Mazdaspeed3's interior is the high-bolstered sports seats, which cradle and support rather than confine. The strategic use of leather and cloth inserts keeps you from inadvertently.
As with so many cars, the character of the Mazda3 is determined by its engine.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine will produce 148 horsepower if you roar it to 6500 rpm, but it requires some intensity to wring out everything it has to give. We think this engine is really designed to offer great fuel economy, as its EPA rating of 28 mpg City/35 mpg Highway on regular-grade gasoline suggests. High-tech variable valve-timing helps improves torque low in the rpm range.
The 2.0-liter engine costs less and is a good choice if you're concerned largely about fuel economy. The engine itself is great, but the Mazda3 itself is a little heavy, so you need all the power you can get. If you're looking for a combination to crawl in commuter traffic, the wide-ratio four-speed automatic is an acceptable choice, but you'll be have to use the transmission's manu-matic shifting feature to have any fun.
The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine uses all of Mazda's latest technology to deliver substantial power over a wide range of rpm. Its tractable mid-range power helps deliver good throttle response without the need to shift gears frequently. This character sets the Mazda 2.3-liter apart from its competition, and it's more like an engine from an Accord or Camry (larger, more powerful sedans) than its competition in the compact class.
Variable valve-timing and variable intake system improve low-rpm power, while electronic throttle control improves response. Counter-rotating balancers substantially reduce vibration, making this a particularly smooth-running powerplant. At the same time, the engine really does its best work above the torque peak of 150 pound-feet at 4000 rpm as it pulls to its power peak of 156 hp at 6500 rpm, so it needs a little help from the driver's shifting skills to stay in the fat part of the powerband. At the same time, the engine's fuel-economy ratings indicate there's also good things to be had when you drive at a relaxed pace, as it delivers and EPA-rated 26 mpg City/33 mpg Highway on regular grade gasoline.
Both the sedan and the five-door are set up to take advantage of the strong personality afforded by Mazda's MZR-generation engines. The steering with its electro-hydraulic power assist responds crisply and accurately to your command, and the tires afford plenty of grip in the corners. The brakes are up to the task as well. Electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are standard for S-models and optional for i-models. For 2007, traction control and stability control are available for s-models. As a fun-to-drive package, the Mazda3 has better credentials than its competition.
It might not be entirely correct to put the Mazdaspeed3 in this group of Mazda3 models, as its turbocharged engine with direct fuel-injection delivers 263 hp at 5580 rpm. This front-wheel-drive car also has all the hardware to keep up with so much power, notably a six-speed manual transmission that rips off quick, clean shifts in a way that no other front-wheel drive car can match.
The Mazdaspeed3 is a legitimate 155-mph automobile, yet it's really in its element in the corners. The chassis stays balanced and predictable right to the limit of tire adhesion, and there seem to be no surprises in the way it handles. The limited-slip differential helps keep both front tires delivering optimal power right to the limit, and it carves through the corners in a way that's distinct from its all-wheel-drive competitors like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo. Meanwhile, the Mazdaspeed3 also has a quieter, calmer personality on the freeway than its competition.
Rarely does an entry in the compact class attempt to deliver so much to the driver as does the Mazda3. Mazda has worked hard to make this car useful, space-efficient, economical and pleasant across a broad range of driving situations. At the same time, it has also given the car the style, comfort, features, and personality to transform any driving experience into a sporting proposition. Compared to the competition, the Mazda3 is a driver's car, meant for people who enjoy their time in an automobile. It's slightly less refined than its competition from Honda and Toyota, but you seem to get more car for your money, and that means personality as well as features.
Mazda3i Sport sedan ($13,895); Mazda3i Touring sedan ($16,255); Mazda3s Sport sedan ($17,190); Mazda3s Touring sedan ($18,425); Mazda3s Grand Touring sedan ($19,895); Mazda3s Sport 5-door hatchback ($17,680); Mazda3s Touring 5-door hatchback ($18,425); Mazda3s Grand Touring 5-door hatchback ($19,895); Mazdaspeed3 Sport ($22,340); Mazdaspeed3 Grand Touring ($24,055).
Options As Tested
leather seats ($590); power moonroof and in-dash 6-CD changer ($890); front air dam ($550).
Mazda 3s Touring 5-Door ($18,425).
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