It makes a continuous low-pitched humming sound as it reaches full speed. It’s really moving while making such a sound. It climbs suddenly and sharply. It moves rapidly and swoops. It is the Mazdaspeed3, and closely matches the definition of Mazda’s marketing mantra “Zoom Zoom.” The Mazdaspeed3 is the definition of zoom.
With the Mazdaspeed3, the Japanese automaker and Ford Motor Company subsidiary, has achieved what it was striving for – a hearty little hatchback with so much crunch that even the big-block engine guys have to give it major props. The front-wheel drive derivative of the Mazda 3 platform has all the stuff that tuner fans clamor for – namely sassy speed and nimble zippy response -inside a boxy body that’s form language captures cool thanks to a refined grill, spoilers and more prominent 18-inch wheels. The 3 joins the family of the Mazdaspeed6, the Mazdaspeed Protégé and the Mazdaspeed Miata after two years as a mere unspoiled compact. Front-wheel drive was chosen instead of the Mazdaspeed6’s four-wheel drive to keep things light in cost and appearance.
Who says it takes a lot of money to be a racecar driver? For a base price of $22,835 the games begin. Belt out 263 hp through the reinforced chassis and let the dogs out on the way to the 155 miles per hour top speed as drivers can easily maneuver its trim 3060 pounds.
On a late August press trip this point was well punctuated at the well-hallowed track of Laguna Seca Raceway, as the press fleet of Mazdaspeed3 pulsed along the bends, curves, and nerve-wrecking final hairpin turn that has made Laguna a favorite for legendary racers. The part aluminum-part steel 2.3 liter turbo-charged engine made it’s point as the car lurched and regained speed with the grace of a basketball player setting a pick. Its precise timing was impressive shifting into second and third gears building speed incrementally as the engine click-clacked its mustard for the straightaway surge. When any vehicle is able to manage grace and agility at quick-witted high speeds, drivers in turn must learn to think fast to keep up with the vehicle’s quick response time. The Mazda Dynamic Stability Control system helps prevent accidents by modulating the car’s response holding the body steady, but the human being driving must still be driving within their own skill set. As one journalist put the envelope, trouble loomed ahead, but the other drivers with the help of Volvo braking technology thanks to the Ford-connect things soon calmed down on the track.
No doubt this car will play a formidable roll in Mazda’s latest partnership as the flagship sponsor of Skip Barber Racing School in the newly announced Skip Barber Driving School Powered by Mazda that will roll out at 20 tracks around the country, replacing a longstanding relationship with Dodge that ends this year.
Of course, on the track or a copless highway, more is always better and an extra-accessorized model with suspension upgrades, snazzy wheels and cold air intake added the extra 30 hp of zing to the delight of journalists that fancy themselves speedsters. While aftermarket customers are often deterred by modifications that negate their warranties, the variety of accessories Mazda offers fall under warranty, meaning there’s room for experimentation beyond the amped-up Sport edition package. For a one-stop shop on a bit of luxury the Grand Touring line features a bigger-sounding Bose stereo, leather accents, rain-sensing wipers, glossier head- and tail lamps, and an anti-theft system. For an extra $1750, a factory-installed navigation system is available.
One word of caution, for a quiet soothing drive through the country, the Mazdaspeed3 is not the best bet; the whir of the engine is omnipresent. That’s how the tuner folks like it, but for the average Joe and Josephine the noise might get a bit tedious if this is an intended commuter car. Put in practical terms, if long rides with bluetooth cell phone calls are in the routine, think first and give it a listen. It’s not a glaring blast, but noticeable after driving an ultra-quiet luxury sedan in the context of 18-inch tires and sport suspension. When it comes to speed, the adage you got to give a little to get a little is part of the equation.
Aesthetically, on the inside, Mazda achieves the Sharper Image cool-tech look with red-stitched seats, and is perhaps what an Apple computer might look like in motion. Another added perk about the Speed 3 are cushy seats – all too-often long drives in compacts create leg cramps, but the contoured seats offer decent lumbar support. With its cache and performance prowess, the competitors in their Volkswagen Golf GTIs, Ford Focus STs and Alfa Romeo 147 GTAs should be a little nervous, whether heading for the checkered flag or the red light up ahead. Zoom Zoom is as Zoom Zoom does.