Not that long ago, Mazda’s 3 MPS was the hot hatch king – well, with 256bhp it was the most powerful front-wheel drive hatch you could buy, if not the best to drive or look at. Now it’s back with an aggressive restyle, plus a whopping extra…sorry, old habits and all that. No, it’s back with exactly the same 256bhp and 280lb ft torque, the same 155mph top speed and the same 6.1sec 0-62mph dash.
The same power? With a Focus RS prowling the streets?
Yes indeed, but the old car always struggled to transmit its ample power to pavement, so Mazda has instead focused on finessing everything else. There’s revised power steering, sportier shocks and springs, a beefier bodyshell that ups torsional stiffness by 41%, while torque steer is better-quelled by clever electronics to modulate torque delivery, plus a limited slip diff and taller gearing.
And the looks?
Watching the old MPS whizz past was much like watching wallpaper paste dry on a wet winter Sunday – it was drab with a capital Zzz. The new car is far more eye-catching with pronounced bumpers, a chunky rear spoiler and sideskirts plus an Impreza-style bonnet scoop. In fact, it looks quite a lot like an Impreza – elegantly brutal from some angles, plain old gawky from others.
How does it drive?
The 2.3-litre turbo four is tractable from very low revs, but the real thrust is delayed to 2600rpm, at which point you get a proper kick in the back. Post-5000rpm it’s a little breathless, but generally the ratios are well judged to land you back in the powerband.
The ride’s firm and road noise is high (but both are better than the Civic Type R), the brakes are strong, the steering accurate and light.
On dry major roads you won’t be unduly troubled by torque steer, even if you do notice it’s there. But take to the back roads and the curse of powerful front drivers is ever-present as the MPS weaves and locks onto camber changes. It’s frenetic like the first Focus RS, and mildly alarming at times. What will it be like on wet roads with half-munched tyres, we wonder?
What’s the Mazda 3 MPS interior like?
Fairly perfunctory. It’s spacious, comfortable and extremely well equipped as standard (Bose stereo, keyless go, sat-nav, a car-in-your-blind-spot warning system), if lacking in charm or class.
There are also a few ergonomic fumbles. The sat-nav is operated only by steering wheel-mounted controls, which means passengers can’t tweak it on the go. The electric window switches are positioned so that you’re more likely to open the rears than the fronts. The reach-and-rake adjustable wheel can obscure most of the dash and speedo.
Were it not for its competitive price and huge standard spec list, the MPS would be dead in the water. The Golf GTI and Focus ST offer a better take on the five-door hot hatch theme, the Astra VXR and Focus RS are more convincingly loony front drivers.
However, the MPS is cleverly positioned – wisely priced, massively equipped. Factor in that it’s actually quite a decent drive and practical too and it starts to make a lot of sense.
A head not heart kind of buy, then, but still worth a look.