- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Manufacturers often develop vehicles by mixing together existing ingredients. Add power train A to platform B, dress with interior component package C, the broil under R&D; (research and development) and finally serve hot to the public. Sometimes the resulting flavor is perfect and other times it’s bland.

The 2007 Mazdaspeed 3 is this Ford subsidiary’s hot-‘n-spicy version of the five-door Mazda 3 hatchback, and there’s nothing bland about it. Since its debut in the spring of 2003, Mazda’s compact 3 has grown to become the company’s best-selling vehicle in North America. It’s also quite popular worldwide, and Mazda could probably sell more if this company with a product tagline of “zoom, zoom” only had the production capacity to build them.

However, there has never been a serious performance variant of the 3, until now. The all-new Mazdaspeed 3 is powered by the renowned direct injection spark ignition (DISI, say “dizzy”) turbocharged engine also found in the larger Mazdaspeed 6 sedan and the all-new CX-7 midsize SUV.

Fitting this 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine inside the lightweight 3 model makes not only a great power-to-weight ratio but it also does justice to this magnificent engine. Impressive output figures of 263 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque send the front-wheel-drive Mazdaspeed 3 flying.

Those hearty 280 foot-pounds of twist occur at a low 3,000 revolutions per minute, so torque is always on tap. With a 6,750-rpm redline and maximum horsepower occurring at 5,500 revs, this engine is by no means a peaky performer.

Because the high-output four-cylinder engine only displaces 2.3 liters, Mazda built the unit using steel connecting rods, full floating pistons and heavier connecting rod pins. Applied to the 3, the engine makes 11 fewer horses than it does in the 6 because of slightly revised exhaust characteristics.

The other difference is revised engine mapping, yielding faster throttle response.

Mazda worked extensively to eliminate torque steer, a pesky attribute of powerful front-wheel-drive vehicles. A six-speed manual transmission directs torque to a limited-slip front differential. For balance, heavy-duty driveshafts of equal length connect to the differential

Even with all this hardware, however, major torque pulses can cause the steering to snap unexpectedly. Two additional steps were taken. First, a drive-by-wire system modulates throttle response if the driver applied the accelerator too erratically. Second, the turbocharger includes a waste gate that blows off some boost in first and second gears, or if the front wheels are turning. Maximum boost is available in gears three trough six.

Power requires structural support, and Mazda has bolstered the 3’s platform accordingly. Steel reinforcements in the floor, center tunnel, cowl area and rear shock towers stiffen the chassis, while a front strut bar tightens up the nose. Thicker anti-sway bars and harder springs eliminate body roll and lower the Mazdaspeed edition slightly when compared with a standard 3 model. Larger brakes derived from Volvo’s S60 sedan combine 12.6-inch front and 11-inch rear rotors with standard ABS, causing the 215/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires to bite hard when it is applied.

Slight Mazdaspeed external modifications include a hood bump, swollen front fenders, more aggressive front air dam, rear hatch spoiler and special bumper covers. Aluminum pedal covers, heavily bolstered seats and red stitching distinguish the performance model.

Mazda will sell you two blends of the race-tuned 3. Starting at $22,835, Sport models include 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, special black cloth seats with six-way manual driver’s adjustment, front-seat heaters, a 60/40 split rear seat with adjustable headrests, automatic climate control, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/ locks/mirrors, keyless entry, a CD player, dual frontal air bags, front-seat side-impact air bags, front and rear curtain air bags and tire-pressure monitoring.

Plunking down $24,550 lands you in Grand Touring territory, adding automatic high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED taillights, leather seat bolsters, a Bose audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer, driving information system and security system.

The six-disc changer is available optionally on Sport models, while Grand Tourers may be equipped with DVD-based navigation. Although a hatchback, Mazda certainly didn’t skimp on the luxury, safety and convenience equipment.

For those drivers who can resist the urge not to bury the accelerator, fuel economy is expected at 20 city and 28 highway miles per gallon. Not too bad for a five-passenger vehicle that hits 60 mph well under six seconds and reaches a top speed of 155 mph.

Competitors to the Mazdaspeed 3 include Volkswagen’s GTI, Honda Civic Si and Dodge’s new Caliber SRT4. Getting these competing performance recipes to measure up to Mazda’s gourmet dish is the task of each model’s respective corporate executive chef.


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