Mazda used to build performance cars, so what happened to them?
It seems like eons ago, but Mazda was once a safe haven for enthusiasts who loved to shift gears manually while turbo boost kicked in yo. Mazda still offers good looking cars with manual transmissions, all of which drive very nicely. But we've been begging the company to bring back sportier MazdaSpeed models. Like AMG is to Mercedes, MazdaSpeed was the company's in-house tuner. It's been silent for years now, which is probably why old MazdaSpeed models are now very affordable.
The MazdaSpeed3 was the last model from Mazda's sport division. The Speed3 was sold from 2007 to 2009, and was given a facelift in 2010 to coincide with the then-new Mazda3. Mazda sold the Speed3 until 2013, when it was eventually killed off. This marked the end of MazdaSpeed as we knew it. The Speed3 used a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Power wasn't changed during the 2010 redesign, but the torque curve was changed to make it more usable during everyday driving. By 2013, the Speed3 could hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and complete the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds.
We never loved the smiley face styling of the second generation Speed3, but the original was one of our favorite designs when it was new. The Speed3 was more powerful than the Volkswagen GTI at the time, but suffered from massive FWD torque steer even with a limited-slip differential as standard. In 2006 and 2007, Mazda also offered the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the MazdaSpeed6 sedan. The car was also sold in other markets as the Mazda6 MPS and the MazdaSpeed Atenza. The North American version produced more power than the Speed3 (274 hp) and the same amount of torque. The biggest advantage of the Speed6 was the addition of an AWD system.
The AWD system could send up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels, meaning the Speed6 was less of a handful when drivers tried to launch it hard. Like the Speed3, the Speed6 was only offered with a six-speed manual transmission. There was no automatic option. In fact, none of the MazdaSpeed models in the US were ever offered with an automatic option. The Speed3 and Speed6 make great daily drivers that can each be found for well under $20,000. In fact, we ran a search for used MazdaSpeed models and we found that all of the US models can be purchased between $5,000 to $20,000. Even our favorite Speed model, the Miata, is still very affordable.
We think that the MazdaSpeed Miata is an undervalued car and a future collectible; especially considering that a pristine one can be purchased for less than $15,000. To this day, the Speed Miata is still the most powerful MX-5 ever produced. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine produced 178 hp (36 more than the standard NB generation Miata). The car could hit 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is still quick today. A modern Fiat 124 Abarth costs almost $30,000 and still doesn't produce as much power as this hidden gem. Mazda only produced 5,428 examples of the Speed Miata. The company may have built more, but a fire at the factory in 2005 shortened the production run.
MazdaSpeed lasted for around 10 years from 2003 to 2013. The brand's first model was a fast version of the Protege. The MazdaSpeed Protege was only sold in the North American market back in 2003 and produced 170 hp (compared to the standard car's 140 hp) thanks to a T25 Callaway-Garrett turbocharger with an intercooler. Like later MazdaSpeed models, the Protege only came with a manual. The MazdaSpeed Protege may not be special by today's standards, but nice examples can now be picked up for less than $5,000, making it a great first car for enthusiasts. We hope that Mazda brings back the MazdaSpeed models, but we are happy that used examples are such a bargain.