Bad news: Mazda says it won’t build a GTI-rivalling hot ‘MPS’ version of the fine new 3. That means that this 163bhp-tune 2.0-litre model (notably free of forced induction) is the performance flagship. Is it enough to make the most of the new 3’s entertaining dynamics?
How does the fastest Mazda 3 compare to its stablemates on paper?
Behind the ‘Kodo design’ grille lives ostensibly the same 2.0-litre ‘SkyActiv’ four-pot that the predicted best-seller, the 118bhp (named 120PS) Mazda 3 uses. A simple ECU fiddle knocks power up by 45bhp, taking the nag count to 163bhp.
Mazda claims that power bump is enough to shave a useful 0.7sec from the lower-powered model’s 8.9sec 0-62mph time. So, this 3 will arrive at 62mph only 8.2sec after setting off, on its way to a top speed of 130mph. That ties it for equal first place as the fastest new Mazda 3 hatchback, with the impressive twin-turbo diesel derivative.
Interestingly, the slightly slipperier shape of the notchback Mazda 3 Fastback means it’ll cruise to a slightly higher 132mph v-max.
Does that extra slug of power make the 3 even more fun to drive?
In a word, no. The problem is that while the horsepower count has jumped up, the torque figure – already on the feeble side because of Mazda’s reservations about turbocharging – hasn’t gone up by a single foot-pound. You get the same 155lb ft, at the same 4000rpm peak twist point as you do in the lower-powered 3.
And the result is?
The fact that this car doesn’t use a turbocharger for its extra shove gives it a much crisper throttle response than its downsized force-induction rivals. Nevertheless, the 3 suffers a lack of mid-range urge, thwarting opportunistic overtakes that a TSI-powered Golf or Ecoboost Focus would gobble up. And more horses haven’t improved the engine’s singing voice either, which is as uninspiring here as it is in the lower-powered version. In short, this most powerful of Mazda 3s just doesn’t feel as nippy as we’d hoped.
Has the extra power hurt the fuel consumption?
Afraid so. The 118bhp model that won acclaim from the CAR team in 2013 managed more than 40mpg. The best we saw from the brawnier 3 was 38.3mpg. Both cars claim an identical 55.3mpg average.
So the less powerful Mazda 3 is actually the smarter buy?
Indeed. It’s quick enough to exploit the interactive, playful chassis, and not as thirsty as the range-topper. Plus, you save a bundle on the purchase price. In top-dog Sport Nav spec, there’s a £1725 gulf between the two models, with £1000 offset by the faster car getting leather seats as standard with your 163bhp – they remain an option on every other Mazda 3.
It’d be remiss to not give a nod to the 3’s dynamics – the Mazda may have lost out overall to its Peugeot 308 rival in the final 2014 European Car of the Year reckoning, but there’s no doubt that the Japanese car is the driver’s choice. It’s pleasing to see Mazda fighting back against the maelstrom of German talent with such gusto.
Go for the 118bhp Mazda 3, unless massive mileages mean the 69mpg 2.2-litre diesel is your only option. The mid-spec petrol car has the Goldilocks balance of just enough performance, economy and value to make it the best of the bunch – and less weight over the nose sharpens the handling versus the diesel-drinker. And while you’re enjoying driving that, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a change of heart among Mazda’s top brass on an MPS version – the new 3 deserves a hot hatch halo, on the double.