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Boosted in Bavaria. Image by Will Nightingale.

Boosted in Bavaria
Mazda launched its foray into the uber-hot hatch market in Munich. We went along to see if the MPS version of the Mazda3 stands up to the competition.

   



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#02#Mention the words hot hatch to someone who knows anything about cars and it'll usually conjure up images of GTis of the '80s and '90s, or even of the current MINI Cooper or Renault Clio Sport; nippy and reasonably cheap, but cars that know their place in the pecking order. It strikes us that a car costing the best part of 20,000, with more than 250bhp, which just so happens to have a hatch on its back clearly doesn't, and shouldn't be allowed to masquerade under this pseudonym. A new name is needed for these renegades, the latest of which is the Mazda3 MPS.

Mazda has been strangely absent from this particular sector for many years. In fact, the last serious offering from the Japanese brand was the 323 4x4 Turbo of the late '80s. So, while this new power-hatch might not have a long line of ancestors to live up to, it's sure to have a fair amount of competition from outside the family when it goes on sale in February.

The MPS isn't as much of an extrovert aesthetically as rivals Ford Focus ST and Vauxhall Astra VXR. But, while the Mazda might not blow its own trumpet as loudly as some, it has no need to; 256bhp and 280lb.ft do all the torquing...

Unsurprisingly, this means the Mazda3 MPS will soon represent the pinnacle of hatchback performance. Performance figures include 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds and, if you're on a German Autobahn (like we were at its European launch), you could very quickly find yourself doing an electronically limited 155mph. You'd hardly know it, though; the car is extremely stable at speed and never feels strained.

The MZR 2.3 DISI engine, also fitted to the Mazda 6 MPS we drove earlier this year, is a powerful unit. Like many turbocharged engines it isn't rev-happy, which can make it tricky to keep the slightly lagging charger on song, but once spinning, power is impressive at any speed. #p##02# Other than the bluster of the big turbocharger under hard acceleration, the engine note is surprisingly mellow, despite one of the only visual cues to the car's outstanding performance a beefy 102mm diameter tailpipe. Some potential buyers may desire a slightly more hostile tone, but this and the modest styling combine to create a more mature, yet devastatingly quick street sleeper.

Attractive 18-inch alloys, wider front wings and a modified rear bumper also discreetly distinguish the 3 MPS from its lesser brother, the Mazda3 2-litre Sport. Not a natural stunner from the outset, Mazda hasn't sought to overcompensate by fitting inept wheels, a silly spoiler or tacky side-skirts; which is a good thing. The MPS appreciates it wasn't conceived in Italy and covers up appropriately, making it far from ugly.

Inside, the Mazda is equally reserved. A small 'MPS' embroidered into the supportive red-stitched seats and a set of aluminium-drilled pedals are the only real indicators that this is no ordinary Japanese run-around. The quality of materials is perfectly adequate, although some way behind its rival, the similarly-priced Golf GTi.

Before heading out onto the Autobahn, our test route ventured through the Bavarian Alps. This gave us ample opportunity to sample one of the most important aspects of a car of this ilk the handling. And it didn't paint too bad a picture of itself, especially considering that Mazda hasn't equipped the 3 MPS with four-wheel drive like its big brother the 6 MPS. Grip levels are excellent and the Ford Focus derived chassis feels predictably well balanced. The steering is a little vague, but body-roll is minimal making cornering at speed entertaining and largely drama-free. The brakes are also particularly sharp and plenty powerful, which is always reassuring. Torque-steer wasn't too apparent, either, which is surprising for such a powerful front-wheel drive car. #p##05# Of course, it probably won't shock you that German roads are rather better maintained than ours back in the UK, and the weather was also fantastic, which gave the MPS an excellent canvas to show us its finest colours. It'll certainly be interesting to see if it's quite as adept at dealing with the damp, poorly laid surfaces on our own test routes back home.

An exact price has yet to be released, but it'll be somewhere between 19,000 and 20,000. Now on the one hand that doesn't sound too bad; the only way you'll get a quicker four-wheeled machine for that kind of money is by making a serious compromise a Caterham 7, maybe? And even that won't get you a top speed close to that of the MPS. The problem comes when you consider its more direct competition, which includes the multi-talented and hugely desirable VW Golf GTi and the Focus ST.

We'll know more when we spend some time with a UK car upon its launch early next year.
Mazda3 5-door hatchback UK range overview

- Mazda3 1.4 5dr S : 11,400
- Mazda3 1.4 5dr TS : 12,700
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr TS : 13,300
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr TS Activematic : 14,300
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr TS2 : 14,260
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr TS2 Activematic : 15,260
- Mazda3 2.0 5dr Sport : 16,330
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr S Diesel (90ps) : 12,900
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr TS Diesel (109ps) : 14,800
- Mazda3 1.6 5dr TS2 Diesel (109ps) : 15,700
- Mazda3 MPS: TBA


Will Nightingale - 13 Oct 2006



  www.mazda.co.uk    - Mazda road tests
- Mazda news
- 3 MPS images

2006 Mazda 3 MPS specifications:
Price: £18,995 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 29.1mpg
Emissions: 231g/km
Kerb weight: 1483kg

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.



2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Will Nightingale.
 

2006 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.
 






 

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