Mazda 3 tuning

"The Amazing Mazda3"

The Mazda 3 replaced the old 323 and was aimed very much as a small family car.

The range of engines and options on the first generation were limited but the larger engined (higher-powered turbo) models give a good basis for tuning and each revision has greatly improved the Mazda3 in just about every way.

So Props go to Mazda for creating such an awesome car.

But can you tune a Mazda3? Yes thankfully there are plenty of options around for it.

How much horsepower can a Mazda3 handle? It depends on the engine but we've seen Turbocharged Skyactive projects reaching 350hp before block strengthening was needed.

Can a Mazda3 be remapped? Yes they can be mapped, and there are a selection of aftermarket ECU's, piggy back ECU's and even DIY flash tunes around.

We would recommend the 2.0 or better still if you can source a 2.3 liter model you have a better basis for your tuning project, but all models have plenty of potential and a growing number of tuning parts available.

Successive generations built on the previous ones with each offering an improvement, and we now have a wide range of really good engines and a fantastic chassis.

The Mazda 3 makes an ideal Sleeper car and will catch out many drivers who try to challenge you.

The 3 chassis is great to work on and the sporty models show just how far you can go with tuning the Mazda 3.

We favor the turbo engines, as these are relatively cheap to add substantial power gains to and have a wide availability of tuning mods and parts.

(The European/Canadian and American market models 2.3 had a  turbocharger and put out around 260bhp as standard which is pretty good for a car of this size.

If you can source a 2.3 turbo engine then this would be the ultimate straight engine swap.)

The Mazda 3 is a stunning package, pretty powerful and agile from the factory. With some tuning mods you can make it even better.

Mazda 3 Engine Tuning.

Mk1 Engine options (Petrol)

There was one diesel model

  • 1.6 L MZ-CD I4

Then in  2008 the models were revised and were generally more powerful and more receptive to tuning.

And 3 diesel options were provided.

  • 1.6 L MZ-CD I4
  • 2.0 L MZR RF I4
  • 2.2 L MZR R2 I4

Third generation came around running from 2013 -2018

With 2 diesel engines

We now have a fourth generation revision from 2019

One diesel engine with a couple of revisions.

This list of the stages and parts are usually fitted by our members, decide how far you want to go before you begin.

Best Mazda 3 mods and upgrades

Getting the correct grade of sports mods for your planned usage of the car is essential. Stage 3 (competition) mods just won't work well on the road and will make the car un-drivable.

Before we begin can we encourage you to see our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your car, it will help our readers avoid most of the common mistakes and problems. Be sure to subscribe and support our new channel.

Best Engine Mods for the Mazda 3

  1. Mapping - provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and remapping are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing.
  3. Intake and exhaust - While they won't add much power on their own, they can help enhance power by removing a constraint.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel.
  5. The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

So we will break these usual recommendations down and see if these 'best mods' are appropriate for your car and we shall look in detail at the mods that will work for you and your needs.
Let's break down these mods and look at each one in detail, discussing their merits and pros and downsides.

First a Tuning table for the Mazda 3 showing the quarter mile times after tuning.

We are assuming a 1400kgs kerb weight, & Manual transmission

Base power Quarter
Mile
Tuned
to
Kerb
Weight
Quarter
Mile
115hp 18.27 120hp 1400kg 18.02
150hp 16.77 170hp 1400kg 16.1
185hp 15.67 225hp 1400kg 14.71
640hp 1400kg 10.98
550hp 1200kg 10.97

Anything over 225hp will require all wheel drive or rear wheel drive due to traction issues, even with a clever setup and differential you'll be hard pressed to get that power down on a FWD Mazda 3. RWD conversions are possible but quite a challenge to pull off.

So on the Mazda3 cutting 200kg in weight would be the equivalent of adding 90hp in this example! To build a 10 second Mazda3 it would take quite a lot, needing around 640hp or 550hp if you do weight reduction.

First steps in your Mazda3 project.

Make sure your engine is in good working order, with a carbon clean and a new set of spark plugs.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your car. Be sure to subscribe and support our new channel.

Best Engine Mods for your Mazda 3

  1. Mapping - remapping provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
  3. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers  - forced induction upgrades on the turbo engines is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. Certainly the most costly upgrade around but does provide the best gains.
  5. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

So we will break these usual recommendations down and see if these 'best mods' are appropriate for your car and we shall look in detail at the mods that will work for you and your needs.
Typical stage 1 mods often include: Alloy wheels, Suspension upgrade (drop 26-36mm), Lighter flywheel, Remap, Panel air filter, Sports exhaust.

When people talk about stage 1, they usually mean that they want to boost the performance of their car as quickly and easily as feasible.

Most are content to do their own work and have basic mechanical expertise. Unfortunately, many stage 1 parts do very little to increase your car's performance, and we wish to highlight the common errors and concerns in this post.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: high flow fuel injector, fuel pump upgrades, Fast road cam, Ported and polished head, Power/Sport clutch.

A stage 2 mod is any modification that requires or necessitates the installation of subsequent parts.

While you may claim that numerous stage 1 mods could be used together, we would dismiss this because each of those mods can be fitted separately and perform very fine in isolation, whereas a stage 2 mods MUST have associate additional mods fitted.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Competition cam, Engine balancing, Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Sports gearbox.

Typically, a stage 3 car will be tuned to operate in the higher third of the RPM range, where most of the power is located. As a result, the car may require a very high tick over to avoid stalling.

Flywheels are typically changed with lighter units, which allows the car engine RPMs to change considerably faster, allowing rev-matching through gear changes and greater acceleration.

Turbo engines respond really well to mods, remapping the ECU will add quite a bit of power, but to fully realize your Mazda3 performance you should do other mods first.

The more your cars base power the greater the increase you'll get, so think of mods as adding a percentage gain to your engine, and remember that gains are exponential rather than cumulative.

Tuning the Mazda 3 to make more power

Getting more advanced you would be looking to start some internal engine mods. In this article, we shall give a limited introduction to the best mods for your car.

But we'd encourage you to spend some time on the site looking into the details of each type of performance modification and explore our engine tuning guides, in the links above in the engine sections.

Deleting the balance shaft is an option for some engines.

One may imagine that the balance shafts would aid in the stability of the spinning assembly. The balancing shafts, on the other hand, are independent of the rotating assembly.

One of the primary issues with balancing shafts is reliability. Because the balance shafts move at twice the engine RPM, their bearings may take a lot of stress. When you start increasing your rev range, it's also pretty easy to exceed what the balancing shaft bearings are up to the task of managing.

Balance shafts also add to the engine's workload. The weighted balance shafts require energy to spin, and oil pressure is required to stiffen the balance shaft chain tensioner and feed the balance shaft bearings.

Worse, the balancing shafts aren't actually installed for any performance-related reason. The balancing shafts' purpose is to keep engine vibrations from reaching the occupant of the automobile.

Peak power is nice in motorsport but for a drivable and fun car, you need a long torque band and perhaps extending the rev range.

Fast road cams for the Mazda3

One of the biggest mechanical upgrades you can do on your NA (naturally aspirated) engine is to fit a fast road cam .

If you can source a set of fast road cams for your Mazda 3 these will add another 10-15bhp. Many cam specialists can offer you a regrind and improve the profile of your standard cams if cams are not available in your region.

So if you can't find a performance cam, then a regrind on your factory camshaft is also a good option. If you have one of the engines used in other models, and there was a popular Ford engine used, you may find suitable performance parts listed for these other models.

We try to cover all aspects of tuning on this site, rather than just mention the popular "street cred" mods that most people do, and a few of our members are building track day cars, so how can we take your Mazda 3 mods to the next level and extract even more power?

Remapping a mazda 3

Thankfully there are quite a few mapping options for your Mazda 3, on those older models which can't be mapped you have the option of an aftermarket ECU or piggyback ECU.

Finally getting a remap done is the best way to tie all of the mods you have done together and will enable you to get the maximum return from it.

Remaps offer massive power gains on all turbocharged cars of around 35% and NA (naturally aspirated) engines will typically see around 20%, primarily thanks to Mazda's optimization of the map for reliability and fuel economy.

However, a chipped ECU on a NA (naturally aspirated) engine will help unleash the potential if you have done a lot of mods. The addition of larger valves with the other head work will add a further 5-10bhp to your engine.

Different fuels and temperatures can also have an impact on how well the fuel burns, necessitating modifications to the amount of fuel utilised and the timing of the spark.

Mazda, like most manufacturers, includes a lot of wiggle room in the parameters of the ignition, air, and fuel tables so that they can deal with a variety of climates and fuel grades.

If a driver is willing to meticulously maintain the vehicle, reducing wear and tear and the impact this has on performance, you can drastically tighten up the MAP in the ECU and extract more power.

Power increases from an Mazda remap are pretty much guaranteed in most engines. Turbo engines produce the most benefits, and remaps are one of the simplest mods to perform.

Comparing remaps

Never look at the headline power statistic; it's typically just a blip at the top. If you can claim a 40hp power increase, you will look better.

In actuality, a competitive map with only a 30hp power increase provides more power throughout the rev range, particularly in the low to mid RPM region where it is most needed.

The only way to make a meaningful comparison is to compare the dyno printouts and see what the power improvements are over the RPM range, as well as which one will fit your driving style best.

The high power tune in red is readily visible in the image above, but it is merely a blip and does not perform as well as the original tune, whereas the green tune provides good power gains over the RPM range.

If you want the maximum power gains then you need to look at the addition of forced induction.

A supercharger on a modest boost level would give a good power gain.

Lowering the engine's compression ratio will allow you to increase the boost further and you can push the NASP 2.3 engine to around 230 bhp. The turbo 2.3 can hit around 290bhp with some careful tuning.

What are the Best Mazda3 Mods?

Fit a sports clutch to avoid power losses through the transmission. This is important when you've added 30% to your power output.

We also recommend decent ties, because these help you put the power down, and Eagle F1's, Pilot sports and Continentals crop up among our Mazda3 owners.

The 3 best mods in our experience for your Mazda3 are suspension upgrades, remaps, sports camshafts and induction & exhaust improvements primarily the head and exhaust headers.

For larger power gains you will need to uprate the fuelling so get a good fuel pump and larger injectors to suit your tuning load.

Handling/Suspension kits & upgrades for the Mazda 3

Handling modifications are high on most people's lists for the Mazda 3. The key is to stiffen up the body roll, so a set of decent coil overs which you can adjust and tweak are a good option.

We would also fit a front strut brace and rear anti-roll bar, to further tighten up the suspension.

The Bilstein and Koni kits are quite popular with our members, but your options will vary depending on where in the world you are located.

On older cars the suspension bushings get quite worn and this can lead to bump, rattle, and just sloppy handling so renewing the rubber bushings or fitting a soft compound polyurethane bush is highly recommended.

If you set the toe out to 1 to 2 degrees on the front, and add a small amount of negative camber then cornering will often be enhanced.

Fully adjustable suspension allows you to fine tune the handling of your Mazda 3 often improving your drive.

We would go to a maximum drop of 25mm - 42 mm. on most models. You risk grounding out if you go lower than this.

Mazda 3 brake mods

Fitting better brake discs and better high friction brake pads will make for radically improved stopping. You can get complete brake upgrade kits, or just swap components for better stopping power.

There are a few drop in disc replacements, with drilled, grooved and slotted options, but the easiest upgrade to braking comes from the pads.

The brake pads, are an important component - the higher the friction, the better, however they can produce noise and dust.

Racing pads are made of a high friction compound that functions at significantly higher temperatures; as a result, they are ineffective when cold.

Motorsports race brake pads will only begin to perform efficiently when very hot, rendering race spec pads unusable for the road, where braking is most typically done on cold pads or in very short bursts.

TorqueCars has discovered that fast road pads, such as those supplied by Pagid and Black Diamond, are an excellent compromise, providing enhanced braking and decent wear attributes.

Please note that some performance friction pads will be noisy and will need to be hot before they are effective - far from ideal on a road car.

On your regular commute to work the brakes are only used rarely, therefore won't stop you as well so source brake pads which don't need to be really hot. If you do track days in your Mazda3 then swap the pads for the event and switch back, this is much easier than a full brake upgrade or compromising your pads for road and track use.

Mazda 3 Intake and Exhaust headers

The next area for modification is the intake and exhaust.  When tuning engines, one of the most essential priorities is the cylinder head. They are commonly ignored for a standalone or exhaust header/manifold, when this is one of the most critical aspects to consider while tuning.

Allowing more air and fuel combination into the cylinder is crucial for the key premise of more air/fuel greater power.

When seeking to start tuning, do not always opt for the the seeming obvious performance components that will just provide you a tiny amount of power and will not be such power vs the price in the grander scheme of things of looking for more power.

Head work including a polish and port and 3 or 5 angle valve job will really help to release the potential of the engine. Your clutch can lose you loads of power if it starts to complain and the standard clutches are only ever good for power gains of up to 45%.

Contrary to popular belief there is often very little if any power gain obtained by fitting an induction kit, they only work well and are recommended after you boost the engines power to the point where the standard air intake box cannot cope!

TorqueCars suggest you use a panel air filter as these are easy to clean and maintain and generally perform better than paper ones.

Turning our attention to the engine you really want to get the 2.3 liter engine performing at its peak efficiency.

If you had the turbo engine and had remapped it then you may well be looking at a restriction in the intake on the Mazda3, so induction kits WITH A COLD AIR FEED make sense at this point.

Mazda3 porting and gas flowing

Many mass produced engine manifolds are improved through aftermarket parts, although a few makers provide fairly well optimized headers.

Fitting big valve kits, carrying out port work and head flowing will also lift power, & more importantly will give you increasing the power increase on other tuning mods.

Adding a Mazda 3 induction kit with a cold air feed pipe will do a lot to improve the cars breathing. Match this with a sports exhaust and sports catalyst and you have a much better breathing engine. Induction kits DO NOT ADD POWER THEY REMOVE A RESTRICTION.

As a result, most DIY port matching is best done on the exhaust ports. It is worth noting that expanding the port size is not always favorable and is only necessary in highly tuned engines when the port size has become a bottleneck.

When channels are slightly smaller and have fewer bends or angles, flow rates are often higher. This reduces power; the goal here should be to have the two port apertures about the same size to avoid turbulence on the exhaust side.

The goal of creating a clear un-turbulent join or connection between the manifold (x) and the engine port (y) in a highly tuned rally car engine is depicted in this figure.

The fuel injector (f) displays the most cleaning that can be done on the intake manifold.

Pushing those gases effectively out of the engine is next up, so we shall look at exhaust options.

Mazda3 Exhaust Mods

The general point of most restrictions is around the catalysts in the Mazda 3 exhausts, so replacing these with a high flow cat can unlock a little extra power.

Replacing the headers and fitting a cat back system will not give you a power gain, and you might actually lose some low end torque, but this depends on the other mods you've done and if you are experiencing a restriction here already.

Most Mazda 3 owners that replace the exhaust are looking to replace the muffled factory sound with something a little more in your face.

Many JDM market cars have pretty quiet exhausts, but the USA and European area drivers like a deep throaty roar, so thankfully many manufacturers have stepped into the breach to supply a suitably sporty sounding exhaust.

Alloy wheel upgrades on the Mazda 3.

Alloy wheels will help the brake cooling and are usually less heavy than steel ones. Pay attention to your choice of tyres (tires) for your car, a good soft compound tire can really enhance your cars handling.

The downside to large alloy wheels on your 3 is that you're altering your final drive ratio and this will have a negative effect on performance and acceleration.

With this in mind, we would advise sticking to a maximum wheel size of 16 inches, although we know some of our members have fitted bigger wheels with no problems.

Second generation models are generally more tolerant of 17 inch wheels but we still wouldn't look to fit 18's due to the harsher ride, and tram-lining you'll get.

The more recent third generation Mazda3 tends to work well with larger wheels than the early models, so bear this in mind, with the 2020 models working well on 18's, but I still prefer the feel of a 17, especially when driving in wet weather.

If you would like to know more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your car please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss 3 options in more detail with our 3 owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased Mazda tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

There are few bodykits and spoilers around for the Mazda 3 so we don't get to see many stylish 3's but join our forum and meet our other Mazda 3 owners and swap tuning and styling tips with them.

Please Check out my YouTube channel, we're regularly adding new content...

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7 Responses to “Tuning the Mazda 3”

  1. Kevin Pagan says:

    I have 2010 Mazda 3 I just how have to get horsepower in this car!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Andrew says:

    ive owned my mazda 3 hatchback for almost a year now and ive benn dooing alot of research on modifications for it, any brands i should look for, for suspension parts and camshafts?????

  3. Melvin luthuli says:

    I have a 1.6 focus , which uses the same engine.z6 …I put a cone filter .which really helps with the throttle response . I put bosche spark plugs which let the engine run faster at higher speeds .and reduce the fuel consumption. I also skimmed the head a few mms. its got the grunt you need . but I’m considering putting higher compression pistons. But considering the costs of kitting up the aluminum block, I might end up getting a duratec 2.0…but if you don’t have a wad of cash laying around you can try the mods I did, consider it as a stage 1mod…The car used to top out at 210 now it goes pass 230km/h I haven’t tried pushing it any further. Please note that I didn’t do anything to ecu.

  4. Suzy says:

    The primary benefit of Cold Air Intakes is to the bank account of the kit manufacturer, the secondary benefit is your car making a nicer noise, if you like the sound of an aftermarket intake. You really think car manufacturers will throw away 3bhp for the sake of a couple of quids worth of foam?

  5. Jose Padilla says:

    For my Mazda3 2006 2.0L?

  6. Scott Johnson says:

    Intrested in seeing benefits of changing the exhaust from stock to 2.25in an 2.5in muffler upgrades an the use of headers…also if adding bigger roller rockers is a benefit

  7. Matodzi Netshidzivhe says:

    Hi I was going through your site I want to know if it’s possible to upgrade Mazda 1.6 dynamic auto which is 4 speed gearbox, I want to know if you can upgrade it how much can you guys take it to in terms of power output and torque.

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