Mazda 3 MPS
The Mazda 3 MPS has taken the lead in the sporty hatch power stakes
By Marc Mustard
Suspension is stiffer than on standard car, and thereâ€™s much more grip
Hot hatch enthusiasts have never had it so good. Pocket rockets offering blistering performance at affordÂ*able prices have rarely been so popular... or powerful. But the latest car to join the club is promising to rewrite the rules on bangs for bucks with a 2.3-litre turbocharged engine that devÂ*elops a staggering 256bhp.
The Mazda 3 MPS has taken the lead in the sporty hatch power stakes, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Vauxhall Astra VXR and Fordâ€™s Focus ST are trailing in its wake. The 18-inch alloy wheels, bulging bodykit and rear spoiler leave no doubt as to its sporting credentials, while a rear diffuser and large chrome tailpipe complete the racy design.
Yet while the striking exterior looks as though itâ€™s worth every penny of the modelâ€™s expected ÂŁ20,000 asking price, the interior certainly doesnâ€™t.
Itâ€™s virtually identical to the stanÂ*dard versionâ€™s, and MPS-branded half-leather seats, along with alloy pedals, fail to compensate for the swathe of cheap-looking plastic. All the controls are logically laid out, however, and the instrument dials â€“ backlit in a funky blue shade â€“ are a nice touch.
Fire up the feisty 2.3-litre turbo-charged engine and the sporty note from the big exhaust hints at what lies ahead. When the turbo kicks in at around 2,500rpm, the Mazdaâ€™s surging performance is very impressive. Power delivery is even, too, so buyers should rarely find themselves in the wrong gear. Unsurprisingly, the front-wheel-drive machine can suffer a little from torque steer under heavy acceleration, but not as much as the Astra VXR.
However, itâ€™s fair to say much of the 3â€™s ride comfort has been sacrificed for improved grip. The suspension has been stiffened so much that Mazda claims 60 per cent less body roll than on stanÂ*dard cars, and although this can mean some jarring over rough surfaces, the benefit is obvious when cornering. The MPS is extremely composed and generÂ*ally feels highly capable.
Much like the 6 MPS, the 3 ticks nearly every box on the enthusiastic driverâ€™s list. However, at ÂŁ20,000 itâ€™s in Golf GTI territory â€“ and with hot hatch buyers being among the most image-conscious in the market, this could cause Mazda a few problems.
The MPS offers more power than the German car and is nearly as entertaining to drive, but its badge fails to set the pulse racing in the same way. Where Mazda will score is in the exclusivity stakes; it is bringing only 1,000 examples of the hot 3 to the UK.
Mazda's 3 MPS is extremely quick, very competitively priced and looks the part. Yet while the VW Golf GTI offers buyers a great deal of kudos and the Focus ST benefits from Fordâ€™s hot hatch heritage, the Japanese badge doesnâ€™t command quite the same respect. Still, itâ€™s as fast off the line as a 2.7-litre Porsche Cayman, so fans probably wonâ€™t care what anyone else thinks.
AT A GLANCE
The 2.3-litre engine delivers a huge amount of torque at low revs â€“ about 85 per cent of the unitâ€™s 380Nm kicks in at 3,000rpm. It also returns a surprisingly frugal 30mpg.
Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl, 256bhp
0-60mph: 6.1 seconds
Price: ÂŁ20,000 (est)
Half-leather seats and drilled pedals are only upgrade over normal cabin
Low spoiler hints at 3â€™s potential
Model wears Mazdaâ€™s racy badge
Turbo engine is hugely powerful