Mazda 6 MPS
By Sam Hardy
Over the years, Mazda has served up plenty of enthusiast-friendly cars - the RX-8 and MX-5 being fine current examples. But the firm hasn't had its own performance brand with which to spice up its everyday hatchbacks and saloons. Until now.
Under the Mazda Performance Series banner, or MPS, the Japanese company hopes to carve a niche for itself with a host of exciting firebreathers. The first step is the new 6 MPS, and it's set to be joined by the 3 MPS at the Geneva Motor Show next month.
Both are fitted with a 2.3-litre turbocharged engine, but while the 3 remains front-wheel drive, the 6 sends power to all four wheels. Auto Express was first to try out the newcomer...
With a ¬£23,950 price tag, the generously equipped 6 looks great value for money. Offering subtle styling and a refined drive, the car is pitched against Audi's A4 quattro and BMW's 330i - but Ford's Mondeo ST220 and Vauxhall's Vectra VXR are more realistic rivals.
The Mazda certainly ticks the performance box, completing 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and 0-100mph in only 16.4 seconds. With 257bhp, 380Nm of torque and lots of urge across the rev range, the four-cylinder unit feels more like a big V6, happy to pull low down from any of its six gears and accelerating hard into three figures. The engine spins smoothly and creamily to its 7,000rpm red line - seamless power delivery tends to mask its huge pace, but this is a superb powertrain.
To cope with the extra performance, Mazda has fitted a four-wheel-drive system capable of varying power acc-ording to grip levels, along with bigger disc brakes, stiffer suspension all-round and rigidity-enhancing chassis cross braces. It has also fettled the steering system to give a heavier, sportier feel. The result is a car that corners quickly and safely with lots of traction and little drama - even on the soaking wet roads that formed part of our test route.
It proves particularly impressive on sweeping roads, flowing between bends with little body roll, agile direction changes and excellent feedback from the meaty steering. Despite low profile tyres on 18-inch alloy wheels, it also rides comfortably, too.
The 6 MPS isn't as thrilling as a rampant Mitsubishi Evo, or as classy as a 3-Series or A4, but it's a better all-rounder than either the Mondeo ST or Vectra VXR. And, with a limited run of only 800, Mazda should have no problem finding enough enthusiasts willing to cast their vote for this MPS.
It's not very exciting to look at, but the 6 MPS has lots of power and the 4WD chassis offers superb composure. It lacks the aggression of the Vectra VXR, and buyers wanting rally-derived thrills should consider a Subaru or Mitsubishi - however, those in the market for a fast saloon that doesn't shout about its performance are advised to take a look.
At a Glance
* The 6 MPS gets a raised bonnet bulge, deeper air intakes and venturi-style rear tunnels. Sports seats, a three-spoke wheel, and aluminium pedals are the biggest changes inside.
* Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl, 257bhp
* Top speed: 150mph
* Price: ¬£23,950
Ride is smooth despite big alloys.