Ooooh, that feels better!

22 Feb

Our 2011 Mazdaspeed 3 is an impressive car to drive, even in stock form.  That said, there are areas that could be improved… The stock shifter action is smooth and comfortable, albeit vague.  Interestingly, this is at odds with the lovely chassis/suspension which offer lots of good feedback.  The shift throws could be a bit shorter and more precise.  If I could set the bar for comparison, the Honda S2000 has probably the best shifter I’ve ever…ummm…shifted?

Thankfully, there are a number of products on the market that can help improve the situation.  I chose Corksport’s adjustable short shift plate and solid shifter base bushings.  Together, they should shorten the gap between gear engagements and limit the side-to-side movement of the shifter.

Installation is pretty simple, even for someone like me with no mechanical ability and fat, stubby fingers.  Still, I managed to get my hands cut up a bit!  The Corksport shift plate mounts on TOP of the factory piece so installation is simply a matter of popping off the shift cable under the hood and unbolting the stock shift-counterweight.  Corksport also supplies a lighter counterweight with their short shift plate, which should give the shift action a more mechanical feel.  The plate and counterweight fit perfectly and are made from sturdy CNC’d steel with a black powder coating.  The plate is adjustable from a 20%-40% reduction in throw.  I started at 20%…

Corksport short shift plate packaging, with free candy.  Cool.

Corksport short shift plate packaging, with free candy. Cool.

The Corksport shift plate and counterweight installed.  Easy!

The Corksport shift plate and counterweight installed. Easy!

Those with mechanical ability will come out unscathed...

Those with mechanical ability will come out unscathed…

The next step was to move on to the interior to install the shifter base bushings.  One look at the stock bushings will show you how the shifter base can rock from side to side.  The Corksport bushings and washers are made from solid billet aluminum with an anodized finish, so they should help tighten things up and eliminate some free play.  This installation is still simple, but there is the potential for aggravation if you aren’t careful.  The stock rubber bushings go through the shifter base while the Corksport bushings go UNDER the base.  Once the shift knob is removed and the shifter/ebrake console pulled up, you will see the shifter base.  The base is bolted in four locations so removal of the factory bushings is a simple matter of unbolting with a deep 10mm socket and a long extension, then pulling the bushings out with some needle nose pliers (it can take some effort).  The tricky part is sliding the bushings under the base, lining them up and bolting them in without having them slide down the underside of the carpet (which would be a chore to retrieve).  I put each bushing in one-by-one, carefully lining them up and lightly threading them by hand . This way, the base has some wiggle room without worrying about losing one bushing while aligning another one.  Once they are all in place, they get snugged down and the interior panels are popped back in.  Good to go!

Nice embossed tin case for the solid shifter base bushings.

Nice embossed tin case for the solid shifter base bushings.

Stock Squishy bushings out!

Stock Squishy bushings out!

New solid billet bushings ready to go!

New solid billet bushings ready to go!

So, all done right?  Nope.  I took the car out for a quick spin and things weren’t perfect.  The shift action was defintely shorter and more defined, but a bit too notchy for my taste.  Even worse, gears 1, 3 and 5 didn’t shift the same way as 4 and 6…as if they were just barely engaging.  Fortunately, the gear-select cable is adjustable (yay Mazdaspeedforums!)  You can unlock the factory position by pulling the set spring toward you while lifting the orange lock.  Once unlocked, you can move the select-cable up or down the shaft (hehe shaft)  and lock in a new position.  This changes the neutral position of the shifter a bit and how the gears engage.  After a little trial and error, I found the perfect position and locked it in.  So, now that all of the gears shift accurately, things are feeling pretty good…but not perfect.

The gear select cable adjuster.

The gear select cable adjuster.

So, the shift throw is shorter (20% position feels nice) and more precise but with perhaps a bit too much mechanical feeling which means “notchiness” requiring excessing shifting effort.  The MS3 is my daily driver so I’m not banging gears on the way to the grocery store…things still have to be comfortable!  I re-installed the heavy shift counterweight and everything was smooth…too smooth.  Oy.  So, it seems to me that the key is the amount of weight in the system and where the weight is.  I have Corksport’s light counterweight and a heavy OEM counterweight and neither feel perfect with the OEM shift knob.  See where I’m going with this?  So, I ordered a couple of shift knobs.  The first one I tried is the Carbing high grip knob made out of “duracon” (like delrin).  It’s super, super light and has a nice grippy, knurled center section which is cool.  With the heavy OEM counterweight, the shift-feel is just about perfect.  Shifting is quick, crisp and fun!  Unfortunately, the Carbing knob isn’t very pretty.  So, I also have a knob being custom-made from brushed stainless steel with a leather wrapped center section and an engraved shift pattern.  It will be a bit thicker than the Carbing knob, but height is the same and the threads of each one are countersunk.  I plan to try the new heavy knob with the lightweight Corksport counterweight to see which setup I prefer.  Hopefully I can achieve the same feel that I have now and retain an OEM quality look inside the car.

I will report back when the custom heavy knob arrives!  For now, I’ll live with the way it looks and concentrate on how it feels…crisp and tight!

The super-light duracon knob made by Carbing.

The super-light duracon knob made by Carbing.

The Carbing knob includes a few shift patterns if you can deal with a sticker inside your car.

The Carbing knob includes a few shift patterns if you can deal with a sticker inside your car.

Shift feel = great!  Shift look = eh.

Shift feel = great! Shift look = eh.

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