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Headline:FastHatchbacks.com Road Test of the Mazda 3 MPSDate:06/11/2006
Source:FastHatchbacks.com   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests
   
Review:FastHatchbacks.com Road Test of the Mazda 3 MPS

 
 

FastHatchbacks.com
Review

 

Mazda 3 MPS



Our Thoughts
Mazda heats up the hot-hatch market with the moderatley styled but monsterously quick MPS
 
   
 

Background

It’s the early 1980’s and in Thatcher’s Britain, three of the most must-have motors on the UK roads are the Volkswagen Golf GTi, Peugeot 205 GTi, & Ford Escort XR3i. Whilst the posters on the bedroom walls of every schoolboy depict images of the Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari 308 GTS and Porsche 911. It is the smaller front wheel drive road-rockets that we see from time to time in the flesh and look longingly at as they blast by.

Some of us were lucky enough to experience these cars, at the time, as a passenger, to an older brother or cousin. Some of us may have even been old enough to have owned one new at the time – but if not, most of us have owned a used example of at least one of these iconic cars since.

Those three models literally defined the ‘hot-hatch’ buzzword.

But as the police were calming riots in Toxteth and Brixton, Darren and Trev and their Essex mates were waking up each morning to find their motors had been stolen or broken into and as the decade neared an end, the insurance companies had priced these sporty hatches out of the equation for most under 30’s.

The nineties saw most manufacturers abandon the idea of the ‘hot-hatch’ as increasing premiums led to falling sales and whilst Ford had a final fling with their Escort Cosworth, the Golf GTi got old, put on weight and became a mere warmed-over version of the model that came before.

For a while it looked like the insurance companies had had their way and killed off the dreams of teenage boys everywhere.

The new millennium has seen new life breathed into the old formula as carmakers put ever more powerful engines into their smaller bodied productions. The Honda Civic Type R and its adversaries have woken the car makers up to the fact that we still yearn for powerful hatchbacks. This despite the rapid rise in speed camera numbers and other speed calming initiatives and even if we do have to pay through the nose to get these racy models insured and on the road

Today, the choice of hot-hatches available is unending. The Golf has been on a crash diet and had a makeover and once again the GTi is a desirable option. Vauxhall’s Astra VXR and Ford’s ST Focus are aggressive street machines, which appeal to the younger petrol head, with their loud brash body colours and aggressive fins and spoilers. Brands like Seat & Skoda have capitalised from their VW parents by offering tweaked versions of hatchback models based on the Golf’s floorpan and with the launch of the new Civic type R due in showrooms any day, you’d be forgiven for thinking that with so much choice on the market, any car maker not yet selling a hot-hatch would be unwise to attempt to enter this already crowded & niche market.



Exterior Styling

Based on the award winning Mazda3, this new MPS (Mazda Performance Series) model is Mazda’s answer to the GTI badge and with performance claimed to be amongst the highest in it’s class, it’s sure to get some attention when it goes on sale in the UK in February.

 


Simple yet sporty good looks - a true wolf in sheeps clothing.
It is the second offering to come from the MPS stable and follows close on the heels of the impressive Mazda6 MPS, which was launched in Europe earlier this year. Fitted with the same 2.3-litre DISI turbo MZR petrol engine as its big brother, but ditches the 6’s AWD chassis in favour of the more traditional front wheel drive setup.

When we tested the Mazda6 last year, at its launch in Marbella, we were very impressed with the overall handling, balance and of course the performance. So unsurprisingly we were keen on getting behind the wheel of this smaller and lighter sibling, to see if the transplant into the smaller body had worked as successfully as we hoped it would.

Mazda have steered clear of the more obvious aggressive looks of its Vauxhall and Ford competitors. Instead the MPS is a more refined low-key character. Although when you look more closely, all the pointers to the sporty intentions are there.

The lowered suspension rides on stylish 18” 10-spoke alloy wheels, which neatly fill the flared wheel arches. A re-worked, contoured rear valance incorporates a huge 102mm diameter tailpipe and the top of the rear screen is accented with a discreet roof spoiler. At the business end there’s a revised bonnet profile and a more purposeful lower front air dam with mesh centre section and colour coded fog light enclosures.

For those of you who think these styling cues are a little too subtle to impress your mates, there will be an optional sports/styling package available when the MPS comes to showrooms in the spring, these will include teardrop wing mirrors, as seen on the new RX8 PZ, a more prominent roof spoiler and revised suspension set-up offering a further drop in ride height.

The MPS will be available in 4 body colours: Black, Silver, Red and Cosmic Blue.

 

Interior Styling

  As with the exterior, the MPS interior is a well-balanced blend of functionality and style with just enough sporty cues to capture the mood. Rather than being a cliché of electronic displays and LED’s as we’ve seen lately in some of its competitors the Mazda interior is a much more grown up place to be.

 



Subdued but stylish, sporty interior.
The semi-bucket sports seats are finished in black half leather and cloth with red stitching and carry the MPS logo also stitched in red onto the seat backs.

The red stitching is carried onto the small chunky multi-function steering wheel and also the leather gaiter around the shortened 6-speed gear stick. The racing-style aluminium pedals and stainless steel scuff plates finish-off the sporty makeover.

The rest of the interior is very much standard Mazda3, although there’s certainly no shortage of features and gadgets in this single specification model. DVD Satellite Navigation, BOSE® 7 speaker audio system with 6 disc CD changer, xenon headlights, electric windows all round and digital climate control are among just some of the features that are standard on this model.

Unlike some models the sport seats are supportive yet not uncomfortable and not overly narrow for even my wider frame and there’s plenty of legroom both in the front and the rear.

There’s no shortage of storage space either, in the cabin with a twin compartment centre armrest and deep door pockets and not forgetting the essential cup holders in the centre console.



 
 

Ride, Handling & Steering

  As we headed slowly onto the rush hour filled autobahns of southern Germany, somewhat disappointingly the MPS didn’t feel like the venom filled beast the stat sheets had promised. In fact it didn’t feel very different to any other hatchback at these everyday mundane speeds. Initially we were a little cynical that perhaps all of the electronic gadgetry required to put this much power through the front wheels had chocked any promise of spirit from the car, thankfully as we found out later in the day, this is not case.

No, put simply, at around-town speeds the MPS settles down and goes about its business, just as you’d want from an everyday car. The ride was firm but not harsh and the steering responsive and not too sensitive that it takes the wheel from your hands at the slightest imperfection in road surface. Around town this is a very well-balanced car.

 


18" alloys and uprated suspension makes for great handling.
As we left the rush hour traffic behind and headed into the foothills of the German Alps the sporty character of the MPS starts to reveal itself, through the narrow, winding roads the car performed admirably and despite being one of the larger cars in it’s sector, it demonstrated minimal body roll even at higher cornering speeds.

Because of the additional power put out by the 2.3-litre turbo unit, the Mazda3 MPS chassis has received some substantial reinforcement at 3 key points on the floor and this greatly reduces unwanted flex and movement. This combined with a reworked suspension set up, consisting of high performance dampers and springs and larger front and rear stabilizer bars, gives the car a real positive feel, especially when pushing on through the corners.

Mazda have also increased the braking systems over the 2.0 sport model in light of the MPS’s extra power. Huge ventilated discs measuring 320mm in diameter at the front and almost as large 280mm diameter discs at the rear mean that as well as out-accelerating most of its rivals, it will also scrub off speed just as quick when the need arises.

Like every other car on the roads today there’s a whole host of electronic safety devices too fitted as standard, aimed at keeping you out of trouble – fairly essential when you’ve got this much power beneath your right foot.

There’s a limited-slip differential, four-channel ABS, electronic brake force distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist and traction control system (TCS), all of which are designed to keep the car on the road no matter what may lay in your path.

Dynamic stability control (DSC) is also standard as are rain sensing wipers and xenon headlights with headlight wash.

Times have certainly moved on from the days when a radio cassette was an optional extra.

 

Engine, Gearbox and Performance

  The MPS is powered by the same 2.3-litre petrol direct injection turbo charged, 4 cylinder, MZR engine already found in the Mazda6 MPS. This combination of an already powerful engine, mated to a lighter chassis, make it one of the fastest front wheel drive production cars currently available.

The stats are very impressive: 256 BHP (260 PS) at 5500 rpm and 280lb ft (380Nm) at 3000 rpm are enough to launch this 5 door hatchback from 0-62 mph (0-10km/h) in 6.1 sec and onto an electronically limited 155mph (250km/h)

 


2. 3-Litre Turbo Engine and 6 Speed box provide the entertainment.
The biggest problem for Mazda with the MPS 3 was how to get all of this power onto the road safely and once again they have shown their strengths in engineering by developing an electronic throttle which automatically limits top end power to the front wheels in the lower gears to prevent wheel spin. Whilst I’m not a great fan of these type of devices, this system was so unobtrusive that you wouldn’t know if was there unless you read it in the manual another triumph for the techs from Japan.

The 6-speed gearbox is a joy to change from gear to gear and with so much torque on tap there’s no shortage of power from almost every gear. Fifth gear is the most rewarding gear from almost any speed.

During our test drive we had the opportunity to experience the power of this MPS at its best – on an unrestricted German autobahn.

Now there aren’t many cars out today that won’t top 120 or even 140mph but there’s few at this size and in this sector that will deliver such flawless handling and smooth acceleration as the MPS.

When the traffic cleared I was eager to see just how well this car lived up to the promises of stat sheets. Initially I was surprised at just how quickly the electronic limiter (155mph) was reached but I was even more surprised at just how quiet the interior was, being able to hold a normal conversation with my passenger without so much as raising my voice; this despite covering a mile every 24 seconds.

The enhancements to the suspension and chassis really became apparent, as even under this kind of load there was nothing but complete confidence in the car and I felt you really could drive at these kinds of speeds for a considerable amount of time, traffic laws permitting of course.

 

 

Practicality

  As with any high performance car today fuel choice is an important factor, Mazda recommends a 98RON fuel though we understand the car will run normally on standard 95 RON unleaded fuel

 

Space, sat nav & cupholders too.
Although fuel consumption isn’t usually high on the list of priorities for those buying a performance car of any type the MPS should return a figure of around 27-30 MPG.

The hatch back is still probably one of the most versatile model shapes and with the added benefit of rear doors the MPS ticks some extra boxes, for those needing to carry rear seat passengers, over it’s 3 door rivals.

The boot too is a generous size and with the now standard 60/40 split folding rear seats there isn’t much that you couldn’t fit in this sporty hatchback.

 

Conclusion

  The hot hatch market is a very competitive sector and when the Mazda3 MPS goes on sale in the spring, it will be up against some strong contenders. Cars like Astra VXR, Focus ST, Golf GTi, Leon Cupra and the forthcoming Civic Type R.

But whilst it may not have the looks and styling to make teenage boys weak at the knees, there is no doubt that it is a very competent and complete car.

In my view Mazda have steered away from taking the easy approach like Vauxhall and even their Ford parent by simply tarting up their existing models. They’ve instead developed their already successful model and aimed it at a much wider market, one that until now has been the stomping ground of the Volkswagen Golf.

This car will appeal to all of us who have children or need that extra space in the rear and yet still want a hatchback; or those of us who don’t want their car to be a target of unwanted attention when parked outside their house, yet still have more than enough power to hold it’s own when the need arises.

Although exact prices weren’t available at the launch we expect to see the MPS priced around £19500 when it goes on sale in February which when you consider the power stats and equipment levels, will make it difficult to ignore.

Over the last few years Mazda really have injected their zoom-zoom attitude into the car market and the Mazda3 MPS delivers it in a double dose.

We can’t wait till we test it again on our UK roads at the end of November



 
Andy
 
 
Related Links:         



Our review of the Mazda 6 MPS




Our review of the Mazda 3 2.0 Sport



Full Set of Photos taken during the test


Mazda Press Photos of the Mazda 3 MPS


Mazda's UK website

Quick Section Links:         
1. Background
2. Exterior Styling
3. Interior Styling
4. Ride, Handling and Steering
5. Engine, Gearbox and Performance
6. Practicality
7. Conclusion

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