The greatest moment in the history of the automobile did not come with Da Vinci's first design, or the internal combustion three-wheeler of Karl Benz. No, for the automobile, its greatest moment came when that first guy (yes, that guy) gave it some stick and wanted more. This is one of the most basic man laws, that more equals better, and for the automobile, better in its purest form is defined by horsepower.
A prime example of such rapaciousness was the musclecar movement of those domestic abusers of yore. The recent power struggle between the European houses of AMG, M and S/RS is yet another expression of this want, something that is also exemplified by our little compact corner of the aftermarket. We started innocently enough with bolt-on power-adders, but it wasn't long before our Supra taillight conversions gave way to complete Supra engine swaps.
This quest for more power is not lost on Mazdaspeed as Mazda's in-house performance division followed the same evolutionary path as the aftermarket. The '03 Mazdaspeed Protege and later the Mazdaspeed Miata were the first US-market vehicles to wear the prestigious Mazdaspeed badge. Both of these rides were vastly improved over their base model brethren, but that Mazdaspeed magic was limited to the bolt-on variety. Because these "port installations" came from the factory as base models, they didn't become Mazdaspeedsters until the stateside engineers set to work on them, prohibiting any major performance improvements such as structural enhancements, stouter internals or engine swaps.
All of this changed with the Mazdaspeed6-the first truly-engineered model of its kind from Mazda. The turbo four in the MS6 was smooth like butter but slightly overworked (like a Super Street editor) with some 3,600 lb of car to pull around. This is about the time the animated bulb above the heads of Mazda's pocket-protector posse began flickering at seizure-inducing intervals. And thus was born the '07 Mazdaspeed3.
With a MS6 powerplant crammed into its bay, the Mazdaspeed3 proves that more equals better when compared to the standard Mazda3. The slightly rotund 3,153lb curb weight and 263hp puts the MS3 at the best power and power-to-wieght ratio in its class. But it ain't easy transferring this much power to a FWD chassis in a manageable fashion, and it wasn't as simple as merely dropping the engine in and hooking it up.
Somewhat surprisingly, that's exactly what the Mazdaspeed folks tried at first, as early development mules were equipped with straight-outta-the-box MS6 mills. By now, astute Mazdaspeed maniacs have noticed that the 2.3L DISI engine (yo, peep the sidebar) makes 274hp in the MS6-this 11hp drop was necessary to reduce the violent wheelspin and torque steer the prototypes were making. But this is only one ingredient of the MS3's sophisticated torque management system.
Most of this torque management takes place in the MS3's ECU. First, the wastegate vents any excessive boost that may cause performance-robbing wheelspin in First and Second gear. The maximum boost of 15.6 psi doesn't come on until Third through Sixth gears. Second, equal-length hardened driveshafts and a limited-slip differential help the MS3 gain more traction, which correlates to more acceleration and less wheelspin. Finally, the conical design of the LSD, in addition to the six-speed's compact three-shaft arrangement combine to keep the drivetrain compact enough to fit between the fenders of the MS3. With 280 lb-ft of torque available at 3000 rpm, those MS3 fenders could twist right off without sufficient structural reinforcements.
Mazdaspeed engineers started with a Mazda3 body and added numerous reinforcements. Increased rigidity is provided through gussets that connect the front cowl and strut towers, including one at the bottom of the rear suspension towers (combating deformation under cornering loads). Also, a closed-section brace along the floor tunnel improves torsional rigidity. The additional bracing only adds 15 lb to the weight of the car. The compression and rebound of the dampers was also increased, as were the spring rates and sway bar diameters. When everything is put together, roll stiffness is improved by 60 percent compared to the standard 3.
Outside, the MS3 features wider fenders to contain the 18's. The power bulge on the hood includes ducting to the top-mount intercooler. The front bumper, lower grille and side skirts are also distinctive to the MS3.
I had the chance to sample the Mazdaspeed3 at Laguna Seca as well as the windy roads of surrounding Monterey. Off the line clutch take up is smoother than the MS6 and the triple-cone synchros for the first three gears made shifts feel positively silky. I could easily feel every single one of the 263 ponies, and while there was some torque steer it was not offensive in the least (unlike Jonny's refusal to wear deodorant). Mazda's obsession with torque management really shows through here. The Mazda folks claim the MS3 will do 0-60 in under six ticks and keep on going until 155mph and I tend to believe them. When it was time to slow heavily for the fabled Corkscrew, the brakes (with larger front rotors and more aggressive pads) were more than up to the task. Even with all of this rigidity and the 215/45R18 rubber, the MS3 was composed and compliant on the street.
The Mazdaspeed3 will already be on sale by the time you read this and you can opt for two flavors: the Sport at $22,240 or for another $1715 you can step up to the Grand Touring. The GT offers auto on/off HID headlights, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, Bose 200-watt seven-speaker surround system with six-disc changer, and leather bolsters on the seats. If you're too proud to ask for directions like me, navi can be had for another $1750.
People are already talking about a royal rumble between the Mazdaspeed3 and the upcoming Caliber SRT4 that will arrive in early '07 with a rumored 300hp. Even with its power advantage, the Dodge will have a tough time matching the composed balanced package of the MS3. If you're in the market for a competitively-priced compact this is one to get. The only thing we don't like about the MS3 is that Mazda is only importing 5,000 of them for the first model year. If you want it and can't have it, that really sucks.
WE'RE FEELING DISI
First, Mazda gave us the Wankel, and now the DISI. The MZR 2.3-liter DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) is available in the Mazdaspeed3 (263hp), Mazdaspeed6 (274hp) and CX-7 SUV (244hp). The intercooled turbo MZR gets all the bells and whistles including DOHC and four valves per cylinder, but the star of the show is the direct injection system.
A standard fuel injector sprays about 40psi of atomized fuel droplets into the intake manifold, but the DISI cranks that up to 1,600psi and directly injects the fuel into the cylinders. This cools the intake charge, raises its density, and reduces detonation. Direct injection also enables a higher compression ratio and allows more boost for the turbo. Another benefit is a faster cat light-off which reduces emissions.
Are we done yet? Not even remotely! The DISI in conjunction with its drive-by-wire throttle allows for precise control of the engine's speed and load, improving fuel mileage. Years from now, will we speak of the DISI in the same reverential tone reserved for the Wankel? Our Magic Eight-Ball says yes!
THAT NEW CAR SMELL'07 Mazdaspeed3
THE STICKER $22,240 (Sport); $23,955 (Grand Touring)
UNDER THE HOOD 2.3L DOHC 16v four cylinder turbo
THE POWER 263 hp @ 5500 rpm, 280 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
SCALE TIPPING 3,153 lb
LAYOUT front-engine FWD
GEARBOX six-speed manual transmission
STIFF STUFF front: Independent MacPherson strut; rear: Independent, multi-link E-type; telescopic double-acting shocks, coil springs and stabilizer bars
ROLLERS 18x7.0 wheels; 215/45R18 Bridgestone RE050A tires
STOPPERS Power-assist ABS with EBD; 12.6-inch ventilated front and 11.0-inch solid rear discs
AT THE PUMP EPA 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
THE PACK Audi A3 3.2, Chevy Cobalt SS, Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen GTI
DEEP THOUGHTS This car has no competition right now. It could stand to lose a few pounds and it will be interesting to see if the aftermarket can coax more power from the DISI while still retaining the torque management system.