Last weekend, Ky and I went to the MazdaSpeed challenge, where, much like the Lexus Taste of Luxury, officials let you drive select cars around cone-designated tracks. However, Lexus and Mazda cater to different demographics — Lexus to the rich, middle-to-upper class, and Mazda to a younger low-to-middle class.
To my surprise, Mazda encouraged “controlled” driving — meaning a little drift here and there, rubber-chewing turns, or even turning the traction control off was definitely allowed. Uncontrolled driving was demonstrated by idiots with more horsepower than brains, who generally wound up facing the wrong way after a nasty hairpin, and was discouraged to the point of disallowing those people to drive again.
The cars constituted pretty much the entire Mazda lineup: MazdaSpeed6, Mazda6, Mazda3, MX-5 (Miata), CX-7, RX-8, and the occasional Mazda5. Different types of tracks were designated to different types of vehicles and their strengths and abilities. MazdaSpeed6 and Mazda6 had a timed autocross track, CX-7 had a “target hunt”, RX-8 and MX-5 had a trial course, and the rest had a mild “Time Match” course.
We tested the Autocross waters with the MazdaSpeed 6, which is only available with manual transmission. The car has a 274-horsepower, Inline 4-cylinder, 2.3-liter, turbocharged engine. Traction is achieved through an All Wheel Drive system that does not impress, especially not under extreme driving circumstances — but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The interior is everything I expect from a Mazda, and very similar to the Mazda3, which is neither good nor bad, but average.
Unlike the Mazda3, however, the clutch was extremely sensitive and had a very short depth, causing me to (embarrassingly) bunny-hop the car for the first two times I eased off the clutch. Rolling through the start gate, I couldn’t help but notice the underwhelming low-end power, undoubtedly caused by turbo lag. Fortunately, once the turbo spooled up (somewhere after the 3,500 rpm mark, I think), the car produced gobs of power on demand, complete with the distant and distinct sound of an unmodified turbo “whoosh” in the background.
Going around the first bend, it became apparent that this was a mid-size sedan. The amount of body-roll the car produced in the right-hander was almost equivalent to that of my (late) ’99 Wolfsburg Jetta — which, if you know the car, is just short of the car being propped up on two wheels. Ok, so I exaggerated a little, but the fact remains: the MazdaSpeed6 could definitely use a stiffer suspension and some anti-roll bars. Understeer was also definitely noticeable due to the car’s AWD and the traction control (you’re probably thinking I should have turned it off, but I only had 2 laps in it, and didn’t want to lose control and my driving privileges). To be fair, these are racing conditions, but even then a car that bills itself as the sport-sedan in the sub-$30K range should definitely sport better handling.
The brakes, on the other hand, had decent response and never faded. It’s also worth noting that by the end of the day (we did the first run in the morning, and the second run in the afternoon), the clutch was worn out to the point of gripping really high up — a sign of a) torture exhibited upon the car by the masses of people gathered to practice the “drive-it-like-you-stole-it” methodology, and b) a sportier clutch, sacrificing durability for performance — which, for this car, is fine by me.
All in all, I am not overly impressed by this car. It seems like the Mazda engineers wanted to create a sport version of the Mazda6 sedan for the parent on-the-go, but had to stop short in order to meet the budget, unfortunately sacrificing suspension (the most crucial part, in my book). I am interested in how the MazdaSpeed6 compares to the MazdaSpeed3 and a Subaru STi on an autocross track.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Pictures and more review to come. Stay tuned.