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2007 Mazdaspeed 3 Test Drive

The econobox of dreams

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 3 Star Rating (2 Reviews)

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2007 Mazdaspeed 3

2007 Mazdaspeed 3

Photo © Jason Fogelson
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Mazda's internal tuner car division, Mazdaspeed, has done it again. The 2007 Mazdaspeed3 delivered the most fun I've had in a front-wheel drive vehicle since I first drove the original VW GTI. Like the GTI, the 2007 Mazdaspeed3 is a hatchback with performance refinements that raise it way above the car that it is based on, in this case the Mazda3. The Mazdaspeed3 carries Mazda's standard 3 year/36,000 mile warranty, and base prices will start at just $22,240. EPA MPG estimates 20/28.

First glance: Stealth speed

I drove the Mazdaspeed3 on public roads in Monterey, California, and on the track at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Full disclosure: Mazda treated the assembled group of journalists like kings during our visit, wining and dining us and letting us drive. If the car wasn't so great, I might have been suspicious, they were all so nice. I think the Mazda team is just really excited about their new baby.

There have been just a few Mazdaspeed models over the years: The 2003 Protégé (photo), the 2004 Miata (review) and the 2006 Mazdaspeed6 (photo/review). Mazdaspeed models are based on standard Mazda editions, equipped with some minor body modifications and some substantial performance enhancements. They're designed to be street-legal daily drivers with enthusiast credentials.

The Mazdaspeed3 looks just like the five-door Mazda3 with a few minor variations: Some subtle flat black trim pieces, slightly lower stance, 18" alloy wheels and a bigger rear spoiler. Unlike some of the other factory tuner cars (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru WRX STi, for instance), the Mazdaspeed3 is stealthy. If you didn't notice the "Mazdaspeed" badge on the rear gate, you might not realize you were chasing after a very special car.

Continued below…

In the Driver's Seat: All business, but couldn't we have a boost gauge?

2007 Mazdaspeed 3 interior

Multi-adjustable seat and steering wheel make it easy to find the perfect driving position, but sport seats are a bit tight for those with broader backs

Photo © Mazda
Slip into the cockpit of the Mazdaspeed3 and you'll find a surprising level of refinement and comfort. The black cloth seats are firm and supportive, maybe a little narrow for the wide-bodied among us. With six-way manual adjustments and a tilt/telescope adjustable steering wheel, it's easy to find the perfect driving position. Standard amenities include heated front seats and cruise control -- other than that, it's pretty much standard Mazda3, which is a good thing. Big round analog gauges in the right configuration above the steering wheel, easy to use climate and audio controls on the center stack.

One thing I missed was a turbo boost gauge. The Mazdaspeed folk informed me that there was no need for one -- the turbo is completely controlled by the engine's computers, and there's nothing that a driver needs to worry about. Bummer -- it's so much fun to watch the turbo needle zoom around the dial.

The Grand Touring edition of the Mazdaspeed3 starts at $24,550 ($2,310 more than the Sport edition), and includes a tilt-up screen DVD Nav, Bose audio and an in-dash 6-CD changer. The navigation system actually sent me to the owner's manual to figure out a few functions -- the outrage! -- but performed well in an unfamiliar setting.

On the Road: Yeah, baby, yeah!

Let the fun begin! Under the Mazdaspeed3's hood lurks a turbocharged 2.3 liter inline four-cylinder motor that produces 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque to drive the front wheels. It's the same motor that powers the 2006 Mazdaspeed6, here mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission with a perfectly balanced clutch. The gearing is spaced closely from one through four, giving you lots of driving options. If you want out and out performance, you can run the revs up higher before shifting and shift through the gears like a drag racer. During relaxed daily driving or in traffic, sufficient torque is available in second and third to keep shifting to a minimum.

It's not hard to get lots of power into a front-wheel drive platform, but it is difficult to manage it. Mazdaspeed has done a great job of controlling torque-steer, which is the tendency of front-wheel drive vehicles to pull to the side under hard acceleration. The 3 isn't totally immune to the effect, but it is very minor -- a real compliment to the chassis and suspension enhancements in the Mazdaspeed package. Braking is also excellent. After repeated laps on the track, I didn't feel any fade or diminishment in braking, just great brake feel. And did I mention fun?

Journey's end: Everything I love about the 3, turned up to 11

2007 Mazda Mazdaspeed3 rear view

A keen eye will detect the unique rear spoiler on the Mazdaspeed3's upper back and the special badge on the tailgate; other than that, it's pretty much standard Mazda3

Photo © Jason Fogelson
I really love this car. I'm a big fan of the Mazda3 five-door to begin with -- it's a lot of car for the money, with great cargo capacity, wonderful driving feel and unique looks. The Mazdaspeed version just amplifies everything that I like about the standard edition -- more power, hotter looks, better handling, but still totally drivable on a daily basis. And the price is still very reasonable -- under $5,000 above the price of the Mazda3 Grand Touring five-door. Five grand is not chump change, but the Mazdaspeed3 is still a bargain.

Mazda says that the competition for the Mazdaspeed3 includes the Honda Civic Si, the Volkswagen GTI, Chevrolet Cobalt SS and Saturn Ion Red Line. The Mazdaspeed3 has more power (and more doors) than all of them. The big boys of factory tuner cars, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru WRX STi, each start at over $29,000, with all-wheel drive. They don't make great daily drivers and they stick out like a sore thumb come speeding ticket time. Personally, I prefer the Mazdaspeed3: It's the most driving fun you can get for your money that is still practical enough to be your only vehicle.
-- Jason Fogelson

Next page: Pros, cons, details and specs

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 1 out of 5
, Member Gauge33

Ha! Of course the WRX STI is priced more. Try to compare the Mazdaspeed3 to its actual Subaru competitor, WRX, and see how it makes out. The WRX walks all over it.

3 out of 47 people found this helpful.

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