Let's be upfront. The Mazdaspeed3 doesn't feature AWD architecture. For a car whose indirect rivals include the likes of Subaru's WRX and even Mitsubishi's EVO IX, one would assume this as being a bad thing. While we'd welcome the idea of a Mazdaspeed3 that transmits its 280-estimated lb-ft of torque to all four corners, surprisingly, we just don't miss it here.
There are several reasons for this.
The EngineWe never would have asked Mazda for the keys to their loaner Mazdaspeed3 were it not for its direct-injected, turbocharged engine. Yes, all is based off of the cheaper Mazda3, but almost everything we care about is better when concerning the Mazdaspeed3, like the engine. Its 2.3L, DOHC intercooled four-cylinder puts down a reported 263 hp, establishing itself among the top-echelon of such OEM performers as Subaru's EJ powerplants and Mitsubishi's Mivec 4G63. It only took a couple of sprints around the block for Editor Choo and myself to conclude that the powers at Mazda have had their way with this Mazdaspeed3 in particular. Something was amiss, but in a good way. A re-flashed PCM? Perhaps some boost control trickery? The purported 263 hp simply seemed too low. A visit to Do It Dyno in nearby Signal Hill, Calif., quickly quelled such disbelief, however, as Mazda's claims were confirmed with a measured peak of 241 whp and 255 lb-ft torque. Calculating typical drivetrain losses brings us right back to Mazda's original figure. Go figure. A look at the torque curve reveals as much, delivering near-peak torque at 3,500 rpm and, at the very least, contributing to our initial speculations.
The 2.3-liter's torque management system is really where the Mazdaspeed3 gets away with not being AWD though. A sophisticated boost controller within the PCM, more or less, and internal throttle angle control (drive-by-wire) keeps torque curves linear and helps avoid any sudden traction-inhibiting spikes typical of most other turbocharged FWD cars. It basically lets off the gas and/or turns down the boost without giving the driver any say. But it's less obtrusive than it may sound and is rather forgettable, in a good way. While we normally wouldn't welcome the idea of a computer dictating our gas pedal efforts, it's surprisingly seamless here. The system is controlled electronically throughout first, second and third gears, where torque management is typically needed most. Power output is also limited based on steering angle, diminishing torque as turning radiuses increase and tire slippage is more likely.
The engine platform is based off of an aluminum block and head that's beefed up right from Mazda with a forged crankshaft and connecting rods and a surprisingly higher-than-typical 9.5:1 compression ratio in terms of turbocharged engines. But DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) is really the Mazdaspeed3's most remarkable feature, albeit nothing new, at least not for diesel engines anyways. But this is no diesel. Conventional fuel injectors spray 40+ psi worth of gas into the intake stream to be mixed with air. Direct injection allows for pressure higher than 1,500 psi, spraying fuel right into the combustion chambers, which makes for cooler combustion temperatures, reduced emissions, increased power but also improved gas mileage. How's that for an oxymoron? We averaged just over 28mpg - about what Mazda claims - but that figure includes our dyno time and plenty of stoplight-to-stoplight driving.