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Old 10-20-2006, 06:39   #1 (permalink)
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UK:Mazda 3 MPS

Mazda 3 MPS

The Mazda 3 MPS has taken the lead in the sporty hatch power stakes

By Marc Mustard
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Suspension is stiffer than on standard car, and there’s much more grip

Hot hatch enthusiasts have never had it so good. Pocket rockets offering blistering performance at afford*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 dev*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 Ford’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 it’s worth every penny of the model’s expected £20,000 asking price, the interior certainly doesn’t.

It’s virtually identical to the stan*dard version’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 – backlit in a funky blue shade – 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 Mazda’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, it’s fair to say much of the 3’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 stan*dard cars, and although this can mean some jarring over rough surfaces, the benefit is obvious when cornering. The MPS is extremely composed and gener*ally feels highly capable.

Much like the 6 MPS, the 3 ticks nearly every box on the enthusiastic driver’s list. However, at £20,000 it’s in Golf GTI territory – 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.

FIRST OPINION
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 Ford’s hot hatch heritage, the Japanese badge doesn’t command quite the same respect. Still, it’s as fast off the line as a 2.7-litre Porsche Cayman, so fans probably won’t care what anyone else thinks.

AT A GLANCE
The 2.3-litre engine delivers a huge amount of torque at low revs – about 85 per cent of the unit’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: £20,000 (est)


Half-leather seats and drilled pedals are only upgrade over normal cabin


Low spoiler hints at 3’s potential


Model wears Mazda’s racy badge


Turbo engine is hugely powerful
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