I have finally got some time to polish the washer behind the steering wheel on the 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 and I can without a doubt say it is an unbelievably fun car. I come from a world of cars that have an immense amount of what I like to call ‘Soul.’ Meaning they’re rickety and loud and generally belch mass quantities of fuel out the tailpipe on tipping into the throttle after 7500rpm decel because the 45mm Weber DCOE’s are washing the cylinder walls down like a firehose. So for me to drive a refined car is usually an exercise in complaining about how quiet it is or that it doesn’t have enough of this so called ‘Soul.’ Meaning I feel out of place because I’m actually in a nice car that behaves like it should and also accelerates and handles like a monster. It’s my exercise in self justification that my 70’s and 80’s cars have something that replaces the refinement that I am so dearly missing.
During the product validation phase for our Power Series Intake System we found that the 2010 Speed3 has a very low tolerance for improved intake designs – the window for fuel trim on the 2010 seems to be far narrower than it was with the 2007-2009. And the car runs pig-rich at wide open throttle from the factory, and from what we can tell Mazda wants to keep it that way. Which is ridiculous – maximum best torque isn’t made at 10:1 AFR. We have managed to design a system that pushes the envelope for power and also resides at the upper end of the safe zone as it relates to ECU Long Term Fuel Trims (LTFTs). This required us to spend a lot of time behind the wheel with an OBD2 datalogger to gather data off the 2nd Gen. ECU. We’d then head back to the lab to crunch some numbers and improve our understanding of what the ECU wants to see, what factors effect that and how to manipulate them for safe running and excellent power while simultaneously avoiding the dreaded CEL/MIL light. And no, the first step of the install instructions aren’t ‘Remove Gauge Cluster and cut traces on Tachometer circuit board that lead to check engine LED.’
But wait, this technical background story is nothing compared to the best part – all those hours behind the wheel!! After countless hours of punching up and down the freeway at various levels of cruise, I switched gears and took the 2010 out on one of my favorite loops… Until this point, I hadn’t had a good opportunity to really see what the car was capable of, as most of my time in it was on commutes and around town driving.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with where we’re located, CorkSport is in Vancouver, Washington – right across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Vancouver is in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens, the cascade range volcano that blew 2000′ off its top in 1980. I live about halfway between Mt. St. Helens and Vancouver and the North Clark County area has an amazing array of roads snaking over the landscape. Banked 180 degree curves abound and just when you’re ready to pull over and lean your head out to paint the tarmac with your lunch, the road opens up to 1-2 mile straights that give your inner ear the slightest respite prior to wrapping right back into beautiful Nurburgring-esque sweepers among gorgeous green foliage and narrow cliff-lined lakes.
The Speed3 performed phenomenally. There were plenty of areas for improvement, what with it having stock suspension, no strut braces, factory tires, etc. For the most part, however, it was a blast to drive. The factory brakes are surprisingly capable and the transmission gearing is perfectly matched for putting lots of power down through the curves and even more as the straights open up. The engine management provides a very crisp deceleration with its overrun (deceleration) fuel cut algorithm. There were a number of times when I had to remind myself that I was simply going waay too fast and back off in areas where sight distance was limited, but the car is so smooth to accelerate through 2nd, 3rd and 4th that it’s hard to realize you’re doing 90-100mph.
Coming from a predominantly rear wheel and all wheel drive background, the Speed takes some getting used to when hammering it around corners laying down 300lb-ft of torque. In sharp turns under acceleration, the massive torque-steer requires some elbow grease to reorient the treads to follow the road, but the benefit gained on big sweepers is well worth the tradeoff provided in the FWD drivetrain configuration. This is a wonderful car and if you can get past the torque steer and not be bothered by it (which takes very little time from what I’ve found), the benefits had from the power that causes it far outweigh the initial surprise of how heavy handed the car can be under certain conditions. But for me, the torquesteer is an excellent addition – I think I have slowly identified that what I see to be the feeling of ‘Soul’ in a car is really just elements of a visceral experience – and the torquesteer is the only unrefined and live thing about the car that reminds you that you’re not driving your girlfriend’s Jetta. As automotive enthusiasts we long for these elements in our cars which is why we love to modify them – a throaty exhaust system and an intake / turbo inlet that allow you to hear the turbo spool up both go a long way to bringing your Mazda’s Soul out of its cage and to the surface.