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2007 Mazdaspeed3 Grand Touring Review

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2007 Mazdaspeed3 Grand Touring

I don't usually give test cars nicknames. But it took all of 15 minutes for me to start calling the 2007 Mazdaspeed3 "the Speed Triple". That's a bit of a pun, but quite fitting, as "Speed Triple" is the name of a very fast Triumph motorcycle that has a reputation as a "hooligan bike" that can goad its rider into socially-dubious behavior because of its character and acceleration, braking, and maneuverability. The Mazdaspeed3 has a very similar personality, albeit with two more wheels.

"Mazdaspeed" is Mazda's high-performance line, and the Mazdaspeed3 is pure high performance. It starts with the already very capable Mazda3 four-door hatchback and adds all the tuner tricks and then some to the drivetrain and suspension. Then come modifications to the Mazda3's already-sporty bodywork and interior. With 156 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, the standard Mazda3 is neither slow nor a slouch in the handling department. With turbocharged 263 horses and a walloping 280 lb-ft of torque, the Mazdaspeed3 pushes the envelope in the sport-compact class. If it's a "pocket rocket", the rocket packs the punch of a space shuttle booster.

Yet for all its power and roadholding prowess, the Mazdaspeed3 is as utilitarian as the Mazda3 hatchback on which it is based, which is to say very. Two trim levels are offered, Sport and Grand Touring, with the Grand Touring having more comfort and convenience features. With four passenger doors, comfortable seating for four, or occasionally five, and a split-folding rear seat and large hatch for cargo duty, it's as commodious and utilitarian as many a micro-SUV, with far more sport. The suspension provides remarkable ride comfort at sedate speeds as well as first-rate handling when pushed harder. As powerful and capable as it is, the Mazdaspeed3 is as good a car for everyday use as it is on the track.

And the track was where I first became acquainted with the Mazdaspeed3. After a twenty-minute stint in the car during the street ride-and-drive portion of my local automotive journalist association's annual track day - where I noticed that it seemed rather soft compared to some other cars in its class - I was able to drive it at a harder pace on the track. There, it was near-perfect, with its wide spread of power and torque making shifting less necessary. And the suspension seemed dialed-in to the track. Hmmm... maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. The track was Mazda Raceway At Laguna Seca, and as part of the sponsorship deal Mazda does testing and development at the track. With a variety of corners and no real straights, plus massive elevation changes, Laguna is demanding on suspension and brakes, and rewards smooth mid-range power more than a screaming top end.

Back home in the everyday world, the dialed-in suspension, fine brakes, and fat power band made the Mazdaspeed3 a very pleasant car to drive. Despite the massive power output, it's not high-strung at all, and with any reasonable degree of caution and responsibility, your driver's license may even stay intact. The Grand Touring spec of the test/track car adds automatic HID headlights and rainsense wipers, a Bose audio system, and other interior conveniences, with no negative effect on its sporting ability. The utilitarian nature of the four-door hatchback body makes it almost a two-for-one deal, serious sports car plus small people and cargo carrier. It takes the Mazda3 to the next level.

APPEARANCE: Stealth not spoken here. The Mazda3 hatchback has the Japanese sport-compact look down cold, and the Mazdaspeed3 just adds more, without getting too lurid. Underbody air management not only adds looks, it works to reduce drag and increase stability. Wider front fenders fit over larger 18-inch alloy wheels with 215/45 performance tires. The "aero kit" - lower bumpers, side sills, and roof-mounted spoiler - is a little more aggressive than on the Mazda3, but is not overdone. Twin cutlines in the hood, as on the Mazdaspeed6, establish the Mazdaspeed identity.

COMFORT: Inside, the Mazdaspeed3 is pure sport-compact by way of SoCal and Japan, in basic black synthetics offset by red stitching, including "Mazdaspeed" embroidered on the backs of the well-bolstered, manually-adjustable front seats. Leather is found only on the steering wheel, which is adjustable for both tilt and reach. (Grand Touring models do have leather bolster inserts.) The range of seat and wheel adjustment, and the heel-and-toe-friendly position of the metal-and-rubber pedals, makes for a great office from which to conduct an exercise in fast, precise driving. The instruments are shielded from glare and well-lit at night. As in other Mazda3 models, the glovebox is a locking compartment large enough to swallow a small laptop. The Grand Touring's Bose audio system with 6-CD changer provides very good sound. The rear seat holds two adults easily, with room for a third person in the center for shorter periods. There is a useful cargo space behind it, with a cover, and it folds 60/40 for cargo duty, with excellent access through the large rear hatch.

SAFETY: For active safety, the Mazdaspeed3 boasts excellent acceleration, braking, and maneuverability, aided by antilock brakes and dynamic stability control. Passive safety features include Mazda Advanced Impact-energy Distribution and Absorption System body construction for a strong safety cell around the passenger area, three-point safety belts for all occupants, anti-whiplash front seats, and front, seat-mounted side, and side curtain airbags.

RIDE AND HANDLING: To the Mazda3's already rigid unibody, the Mazdaspeed version adds reinforcement to the front cowl to strengthen the front shock mounts, to the floor tunnel for overall torsional rigidity, and to the rear suspension towers. Compared to the Mazda3, the MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspensions have stiffer springs and larger-diameter stabilizer bars. Ride height is dropped 10mm. The reason for it feeling soft when I first drove it, and then firmer on the track? Compression and rebound damping rates of the shocks vary with bump speed, for compliance and comfort in moderate driving and firm control at speed. There is no doubt that this is a front-wheel drive machine with plenty of power - even with engine management tweaks, there is plenty of kick through the steering wheel under hard acceleration in lower gears. The laws of physics will be obeyed, and this is a car with character, anyway. It's also one of the best-handling front-wheel drive cars ever made.

PERFORMANCE: To the Mazda 2.3-liter aluminum alloy twincam four-cylinder engine, add direct fuel injection, turbocharging and intercooling, and forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods. Tune for 263 horsepower at 5500 rpm, with 280 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm and match to a six-speed manual gearbox with an excellent section of ratios and quick shift linkage. Result? A wide useable spread of power that makes shifting optional in everyday driving, low emissions, and good fuel economy if the loud pedal is not played with unduly. Like that's gonna happen.... The powertrain control module bleeds boost through the wastegate earlier in first and second gears to reduce maximum torque and improve driveability, and equal-length halfshafts and a limited-slip differential further reduce torque effect through the steering, and the steering bushings are civilized, but there's no doubt as to which wheels are getting the power under acceleration. And the Mazdaspeed3 has acceleration and speed to keep up with the big boys - 0-60 is in the six-second bracket, with top end limited at 155 just like the expensive Germans. Sixth gear in the US is best seen as a economy cruise gear. To scrub speed, the Mazdaspeed3's brake discs are larger than those of the Mazda3.

CONCLUSIONS: With the performance of a German sports sedan costing twice its price, and suspension and brakes to match, the Mazdaspeed3 is the king of the hot hatchbacks.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2007 Mazdaspeed3 Grand Touring

Base Price			$ 24,650
Price As Tested			$ 24,650
Engine Type			turbocharged and intercooled direct
				 fuel-injected dual overhead cam
				 16-valve aluminum alloy inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 138 cu. in.
Horsepower			263 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			280 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 176.8 in.
Curb Weight			3153 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.0
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91-octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				P215/45YR18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, BA, DSC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				 independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 28 / 21
0 to 60 mph				6.0  sec

none, destination included in MSRP