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Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review

Published:12 October 2006

Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

So this is the most powerful hot hatch on the market? Doesn’t look like it.

Maybe not, but the Millennium Falcon didn’t look like much either and look how that went. Deep beneath the exterior of what looks a fairly standard cardigan-wearing 3 lurks a 255bhp blown four which endows the Mazda with a 155mph top speed and the ability to reach 62mph in six seconds. Only some 18 inch alloys, a small rear spoiler, big bore exhaust and deeper bumpers are there are to warn spotty malnourished Saxo drivers that they're about to get left for dead.

Other carmakers are going all brash with their hot hatches? Does Mazda’s different approach work?

While stealth mode succeeds with the 6 MPS – mainly because it’s a much better-looking car to start with - it doesn’t with the frumpy 3. Mazda’s European designers wanted to give it full treatment to seek attention like the Focus ST, Astra VXR and Golf GTI, but their designs didn’t get the green light over Japan’s conservative effort. There will be a £500 styling pack with bigger spoiler, lowered suspension and RX8 PZ wing mirrors to try and sex it up a bit.

So this has the same engine as the four-wheel drive Mazda6 MPS?

The very same four cylinder 2.3-litre engine, making this the fastest accelerating car Mazda makes: the zoomiest Zoom-Zoomer. Power is fed to the front wheels only but the steering is revised, there are stiffer springs, larger anti-roll bars and higher performance dampers, as well as underbody aero bits for high speed stability.

Front wheel drive? Does every take-off result in a tickertape parade of shredded rubber?

Surprisingly not. Mazda has done a good job of limiting torque steer and getting traction by using a valve that releases pressure in the turbo when the front tyres start to struggle as well as a limited slip differential and DSC. It’s also ‘limited’ to 155mph, which is a cunning spot of marketing. Get it on an autobahn and the MPS has done most of its business at that speed anyway. There might just be 5mph more to come without a limiter. But doesn’t it sound good to tell your mates your car needs one?

So it’s got the most power and it’s useable. Is it the hottest hot hatch?

Sadly not. There’s just no sense of occasion and doesn’t feel a complete package like, say, the Focus ST. The engine sounds whiny and stressed, which it doesn’t in the 6 MPS, and it drowns the woofly exhaust out. It would seem the NVH guys have had a hard time getting the balance right. The bigger brakes are strong, but the gearbox is obstructive. Steering response is instant and – to your eyes anyway – the MPS corners flat and hard. But wide, high, soft part-bucket seats send the opposite message to your brain , giving the uncomfortable impression the car is rolling in corners. Somebody should have made a shopping trip to Recaro…

Ah, but Mazda is going to drag it back with a price and spec the competition can’t match

It’s got lots as standard, including sat nav and BOSE sound system. The only option is paint colour and finish. But to get a car that is less conspicuous than a VXR, doesn’t drive as well as an ST and doesn’t have the sophistication of a GTI you’re going to have to pay at least £19,000. Not quiet the bargain we first thought.

Verdict

If all you want to do is brag about numbers, the Mazda’s 255bhp/155mph/6sec combo is a winner. But tell someone you’ve got an MPS and they might ask whether the doctor has given you cream for it – there’s no brand recognition. The vacuous engine note, non-existent image and high price make it hard to recommend over the competition.

Specs

Price when new: £18,995
On sale in the UK: now
Engine: 2261cc 16V turbo four, 255bhp@5500rpm, 280lb ft@3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6sec 0-62mph. 155mph
Weight / material: 1485kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4435/1765/1465

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  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review
  • Mazda 3 MPS (2006) review

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

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