When you can make your hero car perform better, look more appealing, add extra equipment and potentially sell better but lower the price, even if only by a few hundred dollars, then you are probably on a winner, especially if it’s the Mazda3 MPS.
We are talking about a car that makes up only a tiny percentage of the Mazda3 sales but it casts a strong shadow over the image of the Mazda3 range and the brand in general.
Pricing for the MPS starts at $39, 690*, $300 below the price of the out-going model, for the base model and rises to $43,290* for the Luxury version.
The previous model was amongst the most powerful hot hatches around, but it brought with it road manners that were questionable, including vicious torque-steer.
Taming that torque steer now are stiffer drive-shafts and more precise control of the intake volume and boost pressure to avoid sudden torque spikes.
The new car is heavy, by 50 kilograms, although its body is actually lighter than before, the result of a more rigid body, bigger tyres (Dunlop 225/40 R18), larger fuel tank and more equipment.
Under the bonnet, which now features a very prominent scoop to feed the air demands of the turbocharged engine, things remain almost unchanged from the previous model.
The 2.3-litre, direct-injection, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine with a top-mounted intercooler, produces an unchanged 190kW at 5500rpm, while the substantial torque figure of 380Nm at 3000rpm also remains the same.
The clutch has a short bite and takes a bit of getting used to but once the take-up point becomes familiar its easy to use with the six-speed manual gearbox’s wider settings and higher gear points.
Fuel consumption has been trimmed slightly; it’s now 9.9l/100km - down 0.1 - while three grams to 235gm/km reduce emissions.
Based on the recently released Mazda3 the car has a much strong visual look than the previous MPS, which Mazda learned was just too much of a “sleeper” for its target market.
That market is very much the ‘boy racer’ type although Mazda expects the almost exclusively male market to move up in age bracket to the 35 to 49 year olds.
Mazda expects about 70 buyers a month will drive away in the MPS, which is a drop in the ocean compared to the 3000+ sales a month for the mainstream models, and it also expects 70 per cent of those sales to be the Luxury model.
Rival include the Ford Focus XR5, RenaultSport Megane, Subaru Impreza WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and the soon to be released Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Having taken previous criticism to heart Mazda has worked hard on the styling, suspension, road and wind noise, to give the MPS a more solid, quieter ride, and aggressively distinctive sport look. In fact Mazda says noise, vibration and harshness has been improved by a significant 11 per cent.
All Mazda3 MPS models come standard with a high-end 4.1-inch colour information control screen, satellite-navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a six-CD sound system with auxiliary jack, dual-zone climate-control, cruise control, keyless entry/start, a comprehensive trip computer, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Metallic paint is a no-cost option.
The MPS also has the must-have for all sports models these days and comes with a start button, plus a digital turbo boost gauge, while softer plastic has been used in interior surfaces, with red interior trim highlights and sports bucket seats lined with a mix of black leather and red cloth.
Spending the $43,290 for the Luxury model adds adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, a premium Bose sound system, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The cabin has a snug, sporty feel to it and the heavily bolstered seats hug the body during hard driving, something we were able to test in the complete safety of a driver training facility outside of the national capital, Canberra.
A large floating rear spoiler and 18-inch alloys, with rotary-inspired spokes, sporting the already mentioned wider rubber than the previous model add to the grip, and enhance the edgy styling.
A revised stiffer McPherson strut suspension, with stronger bracing means the MPS is more poised, even over uneven bitumen, but the firm suspension does tend to produce some see-sawing on our undulating roads. A torque-sensing super limited-slip differential does its bit to help prevent you getting untidy with the front-wheel-drive.
Up front the brakes are 320mm ventilated discs and 280mm solid discs at the rear, Aiding them in their job is ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and Electronic Stability Control (ESC), along with active front headrests and front, side and curtain airbags.
Out on the road the MPS is a quick, torquey performer that needs less cog-swapping to keep it on the boil, charging through sweeping corners with considerably confidence, but getting a little more untidy when the road surface becomes rough or undulating.
Noise levels are much improved but still on the high side while the ride and handling are good, although the firmness can get caught out, again by our rough road surfaces.
CarAdvice will have a full review of the Mazda3 MPs in the next few weeks.
* Manufacturers’ Recommended Pricing