Mazda's Hot Hatch The Real Deal
By any measure, Mazda's entry into the hot hatch segment - the MPS - has been a success and the launch of the new generation Mazda3 MPS was eagerly awaited.
After a week behind the wheel of the latest MPS (a Luxury model), the Car Showroom team was sad to see the 2.3-litre turbocharged hatchback returned to Mazda. Sure there are some credentialed hot hatches on the market from the likes of Honda, Volkswagen and Ford, but the Mazda3 MPS meets their challenge with prodigious power, torque and a sporty drive.
What You Get
MPS is the range-topper of the Mazda3 lineup, available in two grades - the standard MPS 5-door hatchback or (as tested by us) the Luxury version with adaptive headlights and a premium 10-speaker Bose audio system.
Both share the lively turbocharged 2.3-litre four cylinder engine and slick six-speed manual transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, MPS sports body kit and safety features including Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control.
The standard MPS retails for $39,690 with the Luxury priced at $43,290.
Under The Hood
Mazda's 2.3-litre turbocharged four is a potent performer. Maximum power is 190kW at 5,500 rpm and peak torque is 380Nm at 3,000 rpm - the best in the segment.
For the latest generation, Mazda has delivered slight improvements in fuel economy (now 9.9l/100kms) and emissions (now 235g/km).
Power delivery is also more refined in the latest models thanks to a recalibration of the engine management system, changes to the turbocharger boost pressure control and revised ratios in the six-speed manual transmission.
And new driveshafts have been designed to reduce torque steer under hard acceleration.
Equipment levels in the MPS Luxury are comprehensive and the driving environment has improved upon the previous generation. For starters the new leather-trimmed seats are a new sports design with enhanced support - the driver's seat has an 8-way electric adjustment with 3-position memory function.
The nice leather-wrapped steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach to provide a good driving position and clear view of the traditional instruments. Straight ahead of the driver is an LED display with a bar graph indicating the amount of boost being provided by the turbocharger.
To the driver's left is the Multi-Information Display with a 4.1-inch screen for the satellite navigation and audio information (Bluetooth compatibility is standard). A steering wheel button allows the driver to switch functions.
Our Luxury model came with the excellent Bose surround sound audio with a noise compensation system called AudioPilot2 which automatically adjusts the sound according to changes in road noise. It's a 10-speaker system with in-dash six CDs and MPS/WMA compatibility.
The rear seats fold 60/40 for luggage versatility (up to 300 litres).
Exterior & Styling
Take the already sharply styled Mazda3, add some sporty enhancements to provide a more aggressive look and the total package just has to be good.
A new cool air intake in the bonnet gets things started and there are front quarter panels plus the bumper with round fog lights that are unique to the MPS. The Mazda five-point grille and lower front bumper sections are painted in metallic black.
Cylindrical bi-xenon headlights have boomerang-shaped accents (Luxury models gain the Adaptive Front-lighting System)..
From the side, the MPS side skirts accentuate the Mazda3's standard wedge shape and fender curves, combining with meaty 18-inch wheels (styled like the RX-8 wheels and fitted with 225/40 tyres) to provide a low-riding sports look.
The large rear spoiler and clear-lens LED tail lights round out a distinctly aggressive appearance for the MPS.
Mazda undertook extensive aerodynamic testing to hone the exterior styling of the new MPS and, with the small front grille and additions like the front tyre deflectors, the drag co-efficient is down to 0.32 - very slippery and handy for reduced wind noise and enhanced fuel economy.
On The Road
The standard Mazda3 has been praised for its responsive steering and pin-sharp ride/handling so it's no surprise that changes included in the MPS package have delivered a handy drive.
Coil rates for the MacPherson strut front suspension are softer and the rear multi-link setup is firmer. New dampers and thicker anti-roll bars also distinguish the MPS from standard Mazda3s.
Driving 190kW of turbocharged power through the front wheels takes some management and while the previous generation MPS required judicious use of the throttle to prevent wheelspin and torque steer on wet roads, changes to the calibration of the Traction Control System (TCS) in the new model have transformed the Mazda3's sports star.
In fact we reckon the MPS' TCS is one of the best we have tested - it cuts in with subtlety and even when accelerating hard in slimy conditions, acceleration is brisk and unfussed.
Over our high-speed mountain test route, the MPS was exhilarating with nice roll control, excellent grip from its specially developed Dunlop tyres and precise turn-in even on wet roads.
The previous generation MPS was astonishingly fast but was let down by its harshness and lack of refinement. Certainly Mazda has improved things with the current model - the Luxury version we tested was very nice inside - but we reckon the Ford Focus XR5 Turbo and Volkswagen Golf GTi manage to better combine serious performance with on-road refinement.
Clearly a legitimate hot-hatch contender, the MPS delivers more power and torque than its rivals, is nicely built and sharply priced.
Seriously fast and competent; nicely equipped; value
Not the segment leader for refinement