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Boom boom boom. Image by Mazda.

Boom boom boom
Having less than 200bhp is so 2008. The Mazda3 MPS has a startling 256bhp. But is it all bark and no bite?


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| First Drive | Hamburg, Germany | 2010 Mazda3 MPS |

Here we have an 'alternative' car if ever there was one. Mention the words 'hatch' and 'hot' during a conversation (about hot hatches, hopefully, otherwise people might think you're weird) and the initials that come to mind will be GTI, RS, ST, VXR and possibly GLXie. Maybe not that last one. For most, 'MPS' probably won't figure highly, but that could soon change: the Mazda3 MPS is one quick muddy funkster.

It's not new though. The last Mazda3 MPS had massive power and a capable chassis, but that was never quite enough to propel it into the upper echelons of the hot hatch tree. This one's built on a very capable base model (as we've recently attested to) so it's off to a good start.

In the Metal

We reckon the standard Mazda3 is already one of the most visually dynamic hatches on the market today. The MPS version bolsters its case even further by piling on even more surface aggression in the form of a remoulded front bumper (complete with a nice, offset 'MPS' badge), some side skirts, a big roof spoiler and a pair of wide pipes, one at either side of the rear skirt. There's a bonnet scoop too, and some 18-inch wheels. As aesthetic heat goes, the 3 lands pretty much halfway between a Golf GTI's discretion and a Focus RS's Essex excess. It's a good balance if you ask us.

But as far as we're concerned, the interior dabbling isn't quite as successful. It's quite limited for a start, with some half-leather buckets, different trim on the dash and doors, aluminium pedals, and an MPS-branded instrument binnacle about the extent of it. And the trim - a sort of swirly collection of red dots - is all very early 1990s and cheesy. Backlit controls - like the air con temperature dials - pulse when used, which is a neat touch, but the cabin is arguably a step down from the perfectly acceptable standard one; it's no worse, but raised expectations make it a disappointment.

What you get for your Money

This is a car at the top end of a Japanese maker's range, so naturally the spec sheet is long. It includes parking sensors, bi-xenon headlamps, blind spot warning indicators in the door mirrors, dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth for your Blackberry. And then there's the question of that engine and the associated collection of chassis adjustments.

21, 500 is the price Mazda dealers will be scribbling on the window with a big marker when it goes on sale on 1st October. That outlay buys straight-line acceleration that will embarrass almost anything at the same price and a top speed limited to the same 155mph as a load of German mega cars with twice the power and four times the price. To keep that all in check, the 3 has a torque-sensing limited slip differential, as well as a torque limiter that comes into place for the first and second gears of the six-speed transmission. The springs and dampers are stiffened up too of course, but just in case it still feels a little soft, Mazda has shod the eighteens with a set of Dunlop tyres sporting ultra stiff sidewalls. The steering is tightened up too.

Driving it

Despite Ford's recent Revo-miracle, giving a smallish, front-wheel drive car a 2.3-litre, 256bhp turbocharged engine with 280lb.ft of torque at 3,000rpm could be either disastrously overwhelming or hilariously manic, like being stuck in a lift with Reeves and Mortimer. We're not going to damn the MPS by saying it's the former, but the car does tend to have an aversion to going forward quickly in a straight line in first and second gears without making its driver fight the wheel for the privilege.

We should mention here that the test routes we drove the car through weren't the most challenging we've ever experienced, so we're reluctant to pretend we've given the car a comprehensive dynamic once over, but initial impressions suggest that while it's a capable chassis, the front wheels can't quite handle all that torque and power. It's a shame too, because it seems the 3 has loads of grip and a nice, neutral balance around corners; and the steering, while not the most communicative we've felt, doesn't suffer much slack.

The ride is going to cause Mazda dealers the biggest headache when it comes to persuading test drivers to sign on the dotted line though; it's just too hard. It's great for body control and feel from turn-to-turn - and distinguishing the MPS from lesser shopping carts, for that matter - but plenty of its peers prove that you needn't sacrifice that basic hatchback tenet of day-to-day comfort in order to achieve an involving driving experience. The boomy soundtrack doesn't help either, which is just loud rather than special.

Worth Noting

You know, we could bore the pants off you by telling you how many copies of the last 3 MPS Mazda shifted worldwide (31,000) and in Europe (6,300), or how many of the new one it should shift in the UK (a couple of thousand). Or we could tell you how the torque limiter works (a combination of electronic wizardry and temporarily opening the turbo's waste valve).

But those things would be irrelevant to the majority of buyers. What is relevant, however, is how mega the Bose surround stereo is in this thing. The ten-speaker system (which is standard) has two 'twiddlers' and a sub woofer ensconced in the spare tyre well. Very nice, and a very effective way of drowning out just about any unwanted cabin noise, be it mechanical or human.


We weren't really able to give the Mazda3 MPS the thorough going over we'd have liked to during our first drive, but we have done enough to glean it's quick and lively in an old-school, slightly overwhelming way, and that on the UK's notoriously ripped up roads it will bump its occupants about like a horse. We'll hedge our bets on a definitive conclusion for now, but first impressions are of a missed opportunity here. The sharply sculpted, thoroughly entertaining standard Mazda3 should form the basis of a splendid hot hatch; as it is, Mazda looks to have sacrificed finesse in the quest to out-power everything in its price bracket. The result is an intriguingly entertaining car, but one that's too flawed to stand on the hot hatch podium. For now...

Mark Nichol - 8 Sep 2009

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2010 Mazda 3 MPS specifications:
Technical specifications for 2010 Mazda 3 MPS

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.

2010 Mazda3 MPS. Image by Mazda.


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