The 2014 Mazda3 is, without a shadow of a doubt, an impressive compact car. Great looks, great features, great quality, great driving characteristics and a great ownership proposition make Mazda’s bread and butter model more attractive than ever before.
Imagine our surprise then when Mazda Philippines launched a new variant of their still fresh model with a few aesthetic upgrades. It begs the question: why tamper with an already great formula?
Well, after spending a little time with the 2014 Mazda3 Speed, we understand.
First off is the nomenclature. The name “Mazda3 Speed” is not to be confused with the “Mazdaspeed3;” a derivative of the last generation 3 that was offered in other markets; to put that in perspective, most Mazda3 models at the time either had a naturally aspirated small gasoline engines that typically made around 150 horsepower. The Mazdaspeed3 made over 260 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.3 liter; night and day, not shades of gray.
To make the Mazda3 Speed, the designers took a standard Mazda3 2.0R hatchback and bolted on an original bodykit. There’s nothing fancy with the kit, but (as in this case) the black front splitter, the black skirts and the black rear diffuser (non functional though) do wonders to enhance the look. Mazda also blacked out the mirrors and used all black wheels, thereby completing the exterior enhancements to make a sensible but much sportier and more aggressive machine on the road particularly in this shade of white.
Inside there are no significant changes; not that Mazda needed to. The seats are comfortable and wrapped in leather; the upmarket upholstery also goes for the steering wheel, shift knob and door panels. I’m not a fan of the white and black leather, but in the Mazda3 Speed, the combination does work well, echoing the exterior color scheme. There’s not much legroom in the back, but that’s expected of a compact.
The dashboard is a wonder of Japanese efficiency as the car’s engineers, tech wizards and designers worked to condense many of the buttons common in top spec models into a unified knob and button cluster at the center channel. This type of human-machine multimedia interface is nothing new if you were driving a Mercedes (COMAND) or BMW (iDrive), but it is unheard of and groundbreaking in the compact car class. Toys such as the gauge panel, the tablet-style display, Bluetooth, numerous USB slots and other gizmos will surely make the most techie of us swoon, but the neat party trick has to be the fighter jet-style heads up display for speed. They have added a DVD playback function to this model, but since the video cuts off when you’re moving, it’s not something to write home about.
Press a button and the Mazda3’s engine purrs smoothly to life. Mazda’s latest 2.0 liter engine, one that is equipped with plenty of SkyActiv technology to make 155 PS of power smartly and efficiently. The engine is mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddleshifters. Unlike the previous generation Mazdaspeed3, this one does not produce more power than the standard 2.0R.
What the Mazda3 really has up its sleeve is SkyActiv. a system that pursues little gains in efficiency by altering, tweaking or downright revolutionizing the carmaker’s approach to engineering new cars. Think stiffer but thinner steel to make the body lighter and stronger with less mass. Think direct injection, optimized valve timing, high compression ratios and smoother, more efficient shifting. Think systems that energy recapture and auto start/stop in traffic. All these and more comprise SkyActiv; as a result, the Mazda3 Speed can achieve good fuel economy at 8.4 km/l moderate city traffic, 11.7 in light city traffic and 14.5 km/l on the highway.
The Mazda3 Speed is smooth on the highway, but enter a winding road and prepare to get more smiles to the gallon. The 2014 Mazda3 Speed is far better, far more agile and far more engaging than before or possibly any other car in it’s class and price point. We also noticed that the tires have been changed to Dunlop Sport Maxx; a tire that is impressive for its handling characteristics.
Of course there is a premium to be paid on top of the standard Mazda3 to get the “Speed”, but it’s not much. Mazda Philippines has priced this kitted variant reasonably at PhP 1,298,000; unusual given that most other brands tend to charge rather steep fees for original kits.
Sometimes models with kits work, sometimes they don’t. With the 2014 Mazda3 Speed, it doesn’t just work; makes perfect sense.