The combination of a large capacity engine in a relatively small car is
nothing new. And there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about this engineering
approach but, nonetheless, it’s the route Mazda has taken with the go-fast SP23
version of its popular Mazda3.
You won’t find a turbo or rotary engine here!
While lesser Mazda3 models use a 2-litre in-line four, the SP23 is equipped
with the larger 2.3-litre engine as fitted to the Mazda6. The 2.3-litre engine
boasts Sequential Valve Timing (SVT) on the inlet camshaft, 16-valve breathing
and a 9.7:1 compression ratio. In SP23 guise, the 2.3 litre engine is tuned to
deliver 115kW and 203Nm at 6500 and 4500 rpm respectively – 7kW and 4Nm less
than the Mazda6 version.
With a 2.3-litre engine pumping between the front wheels, the Mazda3 SP23
offers sharp throttle response (at least in manual guise), excellent
tractability and smooth torque delivery. But it’s not the outright speed machine
that it’s hyped up to be. With 1232kg to shift, the 2.3-litre engine delivers
spritely performance – but nothing more. We recorded 9.0 seconds 0 – 100 km/h,
which is slightly slower than Mazda’s claim of "about" 8.5 seconds.
The SP23’s 2.3 litre engine is tuned to run on normal unleaded fuel and we
recorded 9.8 litres per 100km average consumption during our test. This is pretty
typical for a 2.3-litre engine in a car of this size. Interestingly, Mazda states that using premium unleaded fuel will increase power beyond
the quoted 115kW output - but we didn’t notice (or measure) any on-road
difference between ULP and PULP.
The standard gearbox for the SP23 is a 5-speed manual –
there’s no 6-speed, which you might expect given the car’s sporty appeal.
Fortunately, the 5-speed ‘box has a good selection of ratios and a sporty
So how capably does this smallish hatchback manage the grunt of a big cube
Well, not badly.
With drive to the front wheels (without an LSD), the SP23 has slight torque
steer when accelerating hard from low speed and you can provoke a considerable
amount of inside front wheelspin in tight cornering. It’s also possible to
induce axle tramp – especially when driving on a wet road. Traction control
would certainly be a welcome addition.
But aside from these power-down issues, the Mazda3 SP23 is a rewarding car to
The electro-hydraulic steering is very direct and well weighted, which helps
give the car a wonderfully precise feel. The suspension is also well tuned to
deliver sharp turn-in and very neutral handling balance – it’s biased slightly
towards understeer but it isn’t a pig-understeerer. Grip levels are high thanks
to 205/50 17 Bridgestone Potenzas.
With MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link IRS (based on the design
of the Mazda6), the SP23 has a firm but acceptable ride. Unfortunately, those
grippy Bridgestone tyres are very noisy on coarse bitumen.
The brakes of the SP23 are also upgraded over lesser models.
At the front are 300mm ventilated discs while the rear uses 280mm solid discs.
ABS, EBD and Brake Assist come standard but it is still possible to generate a
yaw moment under heavy braking.
The SP23’s sporty feel combines well with its up-to-the-minute interior and
The SP23 cabin feels very much like an Alfa Romeo – there are plenty of
curves, different surface textures and a bold layout. But it does go a bit too
far. The otherwise clear instruments are difficult to see when wearing
sunglasses, the centre console controls aren’t intuitive and some of the
‘whiz-bang’ interior lighting techniques had us rolling our eyes. The lack of
vanity mirror illumination and a remote hatch release are also strange.
The Mazda3 has seating for five occupants but it performs much better as a
four seater. Rear passengers enjoy plenty of headroom while foot and knee room
is fine when the front seats aren't fully slid back. The rear cargo area is big
enough to fit a sizeable load without resorting to folding the 60/40 split rear
backrests. Folding the rear backrests is an easy operation, except the rear
seatbelts can get tangled during the process. Beneath the cargo area floor is a
handy plastic tray and beneath the tray you’ll find the space saver spare wheel.
The SP23 is reasonably well equipped with goodies such as stainless steel
scuff plates, climate control, a leather steering wheel and gear knob, ambient
temperature display, carbon-look trim, 6-disc in-dash CD stacker (with steering
wheel controls) and six airbags as standard. You’ll need to pay an extra AUD$572
for cruise control, while electric seats and a trip computer are not
Our test car was fitted with Mazda’s optional leather pack, which adds
leather seats and door trims together with a punchy 220W Bose speaker system,
high-gloss 17 inch wheels and door handles. This pack adds AUD$2760 to
the SP23’s base price.
Like the cabin, the Mazda3 body is styled for maximum contemporary appeal.
Each panel of the five-door hatch is heavily sculpted and the SP23 comes with a
body kit, front fog lights, unique LED taillights (which aren’t easily seen in
some light conditions) and 17 inch alloys. A conservative looking SP23 sedan is
also available at the same price as the hatch.
The build quality of our test car was good in most areas, but there was a
horrible thumping noise when operating the driver’s electric window and an
occasional high rpm whine from the engine’s balance shaft. Aside from this, the
panel gaps were tight and consistent and the paint was well finished. A 3
year/100,000km warranty is provided.
The base SP23 5-speed retails at AUD$29,220 but, as tested (with the optional
leather pack), you’re looking at AUD$31,980. Thirty-plus grand is a lot to pay
for a four-cylinder Japanese hatchback, but it does compare well with its
nearest rivals - the Toyota Corolla Sportivo, Volkswagen Golf FSI and Pug 307
The Mazda3 SP23 isn’t a car that’ll knock your socks off in terms of sheer
performance, but its responsiveness, handling balance, steering precision and
styling will make it very attractive to hot hatch buyers.