MONTEREY, Calif. -- Boy racers who want a compact sporty car can choose, say, the Honda Civic Si, which offers a moderate performance upgrade at a relatively low price. Or they can buy wallet-stretching street-legal rally cars, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Mazda is trying to split the difference with the MazdaSpeed3.
The basics: The MazdaSpeed3 uses the same 2.3-liter turbocharged engine as the MazdaSpeed6 and CX-7.
But putting 263 hp into a front-drive car usually results in gobs of torque steer, in which the front wheels pull to one side during hard acceleration. Mazda channeled all that power to the road with a limited-slip differential. Also, the engine's software was programmed to retard turbo boost in first and second gears, and when the wheels are turned.
So how fast is it? Zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds, says Mazda. That's more than a second faster than the Civic Si. Then again, it's a second slower than the Evo.
Notable features: Standard features on the car include 18-inch wheels, aluminum pedals, automatic climate control, fog lights, intermittent wipers, six-speed manual transmission, CD stereo with six speakers, keyless door locks, and power windows and mirrors.
The MazdaSpeed accessory catalog allows buyers to add even more performance. Those include a cold-air induction system, which adds 35 more horsepower.
What Mazda says: "MazdaSpeed is not about T-shirts and valve-stem caps. We are about items that make you go fast," said Robert Davis, Mazda senior vice president of product development and quality.
At the media introduction here, program manager Tetsuo Maeda added, "We wanted to build the fastest front-wheel-drive car in the world."
Compromises and shortcomings: The car's exhaust booms in the cabin at 3,000 rpm, which is particularly annoying when feathering the throttle at freeway speeds. There's a lot of wind noise in the back seat.
The market: Mazda's advertising tag line: "Rip the road a new pothole." Mazda hopes to sell 5,000 units annually in the United States, out of a total global tally of 12,000. Its target market is college-educated boy-racers in their late 20s, half of whom are married, who make about $80,000 a year. It goes on sale mid-month.
The skinny: This pocket rocket is freaky fast, yet never feels frantic at the limit. Acceleration from 35 to 85 mph zips smoothly by in the time it takes to say, "License and registration, please." The Mazda3 already is popular. This pocket rocket version should sell even more quickly.
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]