The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2008 MazdaSpeed3 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Great Fun for André and Me
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

André, a young cousin of mine, was car shopping last year and lusting after a MazdaSpeed3. Like most of us in this family he’s a car guy and appreciates performance, handling and automotive ambiance more than most folks. So, when I found myself with this wild ‘Real Red’ ’08 MazdaSpeed3 as my weekly test car I gave him a call to come down and have a look. He is, after all, right in the sweet spot of the intended market for this little rocket.

As a 20-something single guy with a great sense of adventure but not particularly deep pockets, André spends considerable time paying attention to fun cars. It was not long ago, when he was starting his first real job, still going to school and doing some computer work for me he was driving an amazingly ragged little Japanese sedan. Finally, after drooling for sportier cars, he settled on a few-year-old Toyota Solara with V6. While he’s reasonably happy with that sensible choice, his eyes still lit up once behind the wheel of the MazdaSpeed3. His next car, in all likelihood, will be something like this.

The MazdaSpeed3 is the 5-door little wagon with a 263-horsepower, turbo-charged, intercooled, direct injection version of the trusty 2.3-liter 4-banger - the same engine as the MazdaSpeed6. Making an amazing 280 pound-feet of torque and mated to a slick 6-speed manual transmission it goes like scat. How, you might ask, do they get all that horsepower onto the road in this small - though not particularly light at over 3,100 pounds - front-wheel-drive car? Well, we can thank the torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential they say. I say, “They’ve done a grand job.”

At highway speeds, say 80 or so, we punch it in 6th gear and get a surprising amount of grunt going. We could get to triple digits in no time if we dared. From 3 to about 5,500 on the tach it’s a rocket. As we approach and pass 6-grand, however, it just slowly runs out of breath. I never felt the rev limiter kick in as it just tapered off. Zero-to-60 time is published to be 5.9 seconds, and top speed is a governed 155mph. Though I put it through its paces, I did not verify the top speed, drivers on I-96 will be pleased to know.

The fairly soft clutch, shifter and go-pedal are easy to modulate gracefully, whether we’re running through the gears gently or full tilt. Shift gates accept action easily after we get used to what seems like a bit less than usual spring load from second to third. Down shifting is a breeze and natural as can be. The fun quotient of driving this “pocket-rocket” is right up there with the best in its class, with the possible exception of the VW GTI which has considerably more sophistication and nicer trim in addition to about a 5-grand premium in price. Compared to Chevy’s wonderful new HHR-SS, with similar stats though slightly less torque at about the same price the MazdaSpeed3, is at least as much fun. Both André and I grinned broadly as we put it through its paces. It was all he expected it to be.

In order to sharpen the handling and achieve a 60% increase in roll stiffness the Mazda folks lowered the ride height about 10 millimeters, specified higher spring rates, increased damping and installed stiffer anti-roll bars. They also added a couple of strategically placed braces to stiffen the chassis. Larger brake rotors and upgraded calipers help bring it from 60mph to 0 in an impressive 116 feet. They claim it will pull .88g on the skid pad using the standard 215/45R18 Bridgestone Potenzas. Andre and I thought the ride just about right, but my father-in-law, Herb, thought it much too stiff and jumpy. He prefers his old floaty Buick.

From the outside it is easy to tell, at least for the observant car enthusiast, that this is the performance version of the already attractive Mazda3 5-door. The lower stance, 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, large chrome exhaust tip and xenon headlamps hint at the special personality of this little red ride. A special exhaust system makes some sweet sounds as we find things to echo off of. A nice little spoiler on the back and some special trim on the front make for a modern, competent, sporty appearance.

Inside, the special leather and cloth seats fit this big guy well. The carpeted floor mats and seat backs are emblazoned with the MazdaSpeed3 logo and the red stitching around the seats, steering wheel and shift boot add a touch of cool. Electroluminescent gauges glow brightly or softly depending on your preference. The rubbery dash plastic is nothing special but the rest of the interior materials are quite nice. Style and design are rather conventional but attractive. The only complaint I have is that it is mighty difficult to manage the climate control knobs with gloves on. This week was bitterly cold and I was bundled up most of the time.

The 60/40 rear seats fold nearly flat revealing adequate cargo space in the rear boot. The rear hatch, or 5th door, if you like, opens from the outside with a nicely hidden pinch handle at the bottom and has a nicely positioned grab handle for closing.

Our MazdaSpeed3 Grand Touring edition shows a base price of $24,055. Lots of content is included in that price like: rain sensing front wipers, a Bose audio system with 6-CD changer, ABS, traction control, stability control, clear lens LED tail lights, aluminum pedals (including dead pedal), automatic climate control, active anti-whiplash front head restraints, plus all the stuff we already talked about. The only options shown are the Sirius satellite radio for $430 and the navigation system for $1,750. Bottom line is $26,870 with the $635 destination charge.

The bumper-to-bumper warranty covers the car for 36 month or 36,000 miles and the powertrain is covered for 60 months and 60,000 miles.

Yes, Andre loves the MazdaSpeed3 but fears he might drive one so enthusiastically that his license might be in jeopardy. I was fortunate to avoid the Gestapo this week.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.