Holding on to the title of Canada’s best selling car is no easy task. How does one really improve upon the nearly perfect formula of the Mazda3? Well, the answer for Mazda was to tweak the styling and bring the interior treatment more upscale and pack it with features found on more expensive cars. Mazda understands that its forte has always been exciting sport compacts, whether they come in the form of roadsters or hatchbacks. So, when Mazda Canada offered us the chance to tear up a race track in the new MazdaSpeed3, we couldn’t say yes fast enough.
The MazdaSpeed lineage of cars has always translated into affordable excitement. Out of the gate, these cars are capable and have plenty of potential for those seeking to tune them. The 2010 MazdaSpeed3 features a substantial redesign, not just a few aesthetic changes. The designers have made the styling more edgy and dynamic, while the engineers have ensured the performance would eclipse everything the previous MazdaSpeed3 had accomplished.
To prove a point, Mazda rented out Mosport’s Driver Development Track (DDT) for journalists to put the new technology to the ultimate test. Laid out in the fastest configuration, DDT had several sweepers, a chicane and a decent straight with which to climb into triple digits. A variety of MazdaSpeed3s were available to drive on the track, the AutoX course, the skidpad and public roads. A few quick drivers were ready to put the new 5-door to the test to see how Mazda has conquered the turbo front-wheel drive market.
The engine is a tweaked version of the already potent MZR 2.3L DISI Turbo 4-cylinder. The direct injection motor is now cranking 263 hp along with 280 lb-ft. of torque, which is delivered at only 3000rpm. The engineers implemented twin-scroll turbo technology which allows for a broader torque curve and focuses on usable power as opposed to peak power. Fire up the 2.3L and it seems eager at virtually any RPM point, in any gear. The improved response is a welcome change from the previous generation as it behaves more like a naturally aspirated vehicle without the turbo lag. A wider ratio 6-speed capitalizes on the broader torque curve, propelling this mighty commuter from 0-60 mph in 6.1-seconds.
With the powerband ironed out, Mazda was bent on being able to properly harness it though its front drive configuration. Purists will argue that a “wrong wheel drive” car is without merit, but Mazda has worked miracles to silence the critics. First, the intake system allows more cool air to be channeled into the intake for a consistency in power delivery often absent in turbo cars. The boost pressure is modulated to eliminate any sudden torque peaks while accelerating and interfaces with the steering angle sensor to reduce understeer. The left and right axles have been tuned for stiffness to minimize torque-steer and come equipped with an improved torque-sensing LSD for loads of traction. The MazdaSpeed3 comes standard with a Traction Control System (TCS) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), both of which were overridden for the majority of the day. The wheel-slip, torque-steer and understeer that plagues front-wheel drive cars was not an issue in the MazdaSpeed3.
The increased stiffness in the chassis (as high as 40-percent) meant the suspension didn’t have to be too harsh. Special spring rates for both the front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear along with tuned dampers translate into an exciting, yet refined ride. The car corners flat and even a slight oversteer condition can be induced while hustling around the apex. The 18x7.5-inch MazdaSpeed alloys wrapped in Dunlop SP Sport 2050 225/40R18s ensure that a direct link to the road is felt at all times. The steering feel is effortless with the electro-hydraulic power assisted system, makes turn-in sharp and precise with only 2.7 revolutions lock-to-lock.
Extensive testing at Germany’s famed Nürburgring ensure that the suspension and braking leaves nothing to be desired at this price point. The MazdaSpeed3 clobbers the slalom faster than pure sports cars such as the Nissan 370Z and Porsche Cayman S at 72.5 mph! We had to keep reminding ourselves that this was a front drive car and probably the most capable performing one that we have seen in a while.
Should the ride be too much to handle, the MazdaSpeed3 brakes bring it to a halt in short order. The front brakes are a 320mm vented disc with a solid 280mm rear rotor clamped on by an improved brake booster, Equipped with ABS, the brake assist technology aids in panic situations bringing the MazdaSpeed3 to a full stop in a scant 113 feet.
The interior and creature comforts of the MazdaSpeed3 are easily the best in class. The single trim level means the MazdaSpeed3 has everything standard. The seats are supportive and luxurious with their black leather trim and striking red stitching. The driver’s seat is powered with a memory for multiple settings.
The other amenities are almost too numerous to list. Firstly, the navigation display is located on a compact LCD screen mounted mid-dash. Also on board is the Bose Centerpoint Surround system featuring a 5-channel surround bumping through 10 noise-canceling speakers complete with a six month Sirius satellite radio subscription. There is a dual-zone climate control in addition to such comforts as: advanced keyless entry, push button start, perimeter alarm and electroluminescent gauges with a prominent boost gauge measured in psi. Bottom line, this is a class-leading cabin that you can truly live with every day.
Outside the cabin, the features list continues to impress. The impressive bi-Xenon headlights are booth auto-leveling and adaptive for cornering in the dark. Rain-sensing wipers, LED tail lamps and a functional floating rear wing are all standard as well. The styling itself may not be for everyone, but it is born of function from the sculpted front end to active front scoop, and boasts a slippery 0.32 coefficient of friction.
At $32,995 there isn’t much left to discuss. The MazdaSpeed3 is affordable performer that exudes comfort, features and luxury that buyers weren’t expecting. At this price-point it is almost as if all of these features were thrown in free of charge.
Add it all up, and the MazdaSpeed3 should be a good seller this year.
2010 MazdaSpeed3Price: $32,995
Options: All equipment standard
Engine: MZR 2.3L DISI Turbo Inline-4
Output: 263hp with 280lb-ft
60-0mph: 113 feet
Tested with: V-Box Performance Meter www.vboxusa.com