MAZDA3 MPS REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Performance hatchback
Fuel Economy (claimed): 9.9 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 12.4 l/100km
It’s the fastest car Mazda sells, yet it's not without its practicalities.
By marrying a sizzling 2.3 litre turbocharged engine to a city-friendly small hatchback body, Mazda has created a jack-of-all-trades with the Mazda3 MPS.
Quality: Although the Luxury model, the interior doesn't exactly scream "luxury". But, while the design is starting to date, the MPS’s cabin is nicely furnished with high-quality plastics, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and sporty alloy pedals.
Our only real gripe centers around the red halftone-patterned dash trim, which looks well out of place.
Comfort: With leather-trimmed bolsters and cloth-trimmed squabs and backrests, the front seats are comfortable and provide good lateral support. The driver’s seat is power-adjustable, and the steering wheel adjusts for both rake and reach.
The back seats are spacious enough for two adults to sit in comfort, but aren’t as supportive as the snug front seats.
Equipment: Standard features on the Mazda3 MPS include dual-zone climate control, cruise control, trip computer, Bluetooth, satellite navigation, keyless entry and ignition, a 3.5mm auxilliary audio input, foglamps and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Luxury adds dusk-sensing bi-xenon headlamps, a 10-speaker premium Bose audio system, auto-dimming rear view mirror and rain-sensing wipers.
Storage: The Luxury’s boot measures 268 litres with the rear seats up, but expands greatly with them folded flat. In-cabin storage is plentiful.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Despite limited boost in lower gears (a counter-measure to dampen torque steer), there’s no shortage of urge from the Mazda3 MPS’s turbo 2.3 litre inline four.
Give it some steam, and it pulls hard all the way from 2000rpm to its 6500rpm redline.
There’s not much point to revving it to the cut-out though, given peak power of 190kW arrives at 5500rpm. Instead, it’s better to shift earlier, exploiting the MPS’s flat torque curve and the very robust 380Nm available at 3000rpm.
The ratios of the six-speed gearbox complement the engine’s torque-happy character, but there's a slightly rubbery feel to the shifter. The clutch however is easily modulated, and not as heavy as some performance cars.
Refinement: It’s a hot hatch, so tyre roar from the high-performance low profile rubber is more intrusive than in other Mazda3 variants. It’s a solidly-built device though, with an appealing cabin ambience.
Despite being the Luxury variant, we'd prefer a louder exhaust. It's still a hot hatch and it deserves a throatier engine note (even if only to drown out the excessive induction noise).
Suspension: Mazdas engineers deserve a pat on the back for making this front-driver handle so competently. Understeer eventually occurs when the car is pushed to its limits, but the threshold of grip is so high that few will be prepared to take things that far.
Driven more sedately, the Mazda3 MPS is easy to live with. The suspension is firm but not overly stiff; it's equally adept as a weekday hack as it is a weekend warrior.
Torque steer is often cited as a key complaint about the MPS, but we found it to be very manageable - especially in contrast to the first-gen Mazda3 MPS.
If we had to suggest an area of improvement, it’s that the MPS is under-tyred for a front-driver with so much torque. Stickier rubber would help with off-the-line traction immensely, and would also take the Mazda’s cornering abilities to even greater heights.
Braking: The Mazda3 MPS’s brake package teams 320mm ventilated front rotors with 280mm solid rear rotors, and it pulls up the 1470kg hatchback with ease. The ABS calibration also works well on wet tarmac and on poor-quality roads.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars (Mazda3 Maxx Hatch tested)
Safety features: Standard safety features include stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and EBD. Front, front side and curtain airbags are also standard, along with three-point seatbelts and anti-whiplash front headrests.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: The Mazda3 MPS costs around $200 for a basic service, ranging up to $400 for more complex scheduled maintenance. The first major service is due at 100,000km, and costs over $550.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
However form definitely precedes function with this one. Carrying more than one passenger is a bit of a chore in this three-door.
Honda Civic Type R ($39,990) - Aspects of its interior are starting to age, but the Civic Type R is still one of our favourite hot hatches.
It’s one of the last naturally-aspirated performance hatchbacks on the market and its 148kW/193Nm pales in comparison to the Mazda, but we love the way it handles, the way it sounds and the way its 2.0 litre engine never seems to run out of steam - or revs. (see Civic Type R reviews)
Volkswagen Golf GTI 5dr ($40,490) - A match for the MPS in the practicality stakes, the GTI also delivers good performance. But with 155kW and 280Nm, it’s heavily outgunned by the Mazda and is also much more expensive when specced to the same level. (see GTI reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Newer arrivals in the hot hatch scene like the Golf GTI, Megane RS250 and even the Subaru WRX have stolen the limelight from the MPS, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser car for it.
Its engine and chassis have been proven on the punishing stages of Targa Tasmania. It's the genuine article - the Mazda3 MPS is good value and possesses a great amount of character and appeal as a performance car.
Buy one, throw some grippier tyres on it and head to your nearest racetrack, you won’t be disappointed.
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