The 2009 BL Mazda3 MPS makes use of the same MZR 2300cc turbocharged four cylinder engine with direct injection as seen in the earlier BK Mazda3 MPS and the AWD Mazda6 MPS. It is available only with a six-speed manual transmission.
Performance is certainly the MPS’ strongest point, and is sure to keep the enthusiast driver well entertained on every journey. According to Mazda, the 3 MPS will accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds; among the fastest of the hot hatches of its era. There is very little turbo lag, so the torquey 3 will surge forward effortlessly in any gear.
With all the power going to the front wheels, torque steer in the MPS will understandably put some people off. In one faultless motion, you need to grab the wheel by the scruff, anticipate what the car is going to do, hang on and put the power down. If you can master this, you will soon find the MPS thrillingly addictive to drive.
Drivers may need to take time in getting used to the heavy clutch pedal; it starts biting very close to the floor, so crawling along in traffic can get a bit cumbersome. That said, the manual transmission is wonderful to operate, with a bolt action-like travel, notchy and positive engagement and short throws.
The 3 MPS has a really firm suspension setup, nicely progressive brakes, and precise steering. It means taking corners is just as fun as the raw acceleration. The sculpting of the bonnet scoop helps you visualise exactly where the wheels are, and there’s very little body roll. For this reason though, the ride is quite crashy (especially around town), and you can feel every imperfection in the road. Between the low-profile tires, raspy engine note and inadequate sound-deadening, the 3 MPS definitely is noisy too; though I only really noticed it when driving on course-chip, unsealed roads.
Fuel economy for the 2.0L and 2.5L BL Mazda3’s weren’t class-leading, so the more spirited Mazda does not fare any better here. That said, the car is civil if you drive it so. On the highway, the MPS returns a respectable 5-7L/100km, but closer to 10-12L in suburban driving.
The driving position of the 3 MPS is perfect, between the usual adjustments in the seats and steering wheel. The seats have leather inserts and are slightly bolstered to keep you snug and in place in the corners. The centre console is laid out intuitively, with pleasant lighting effects on the instrumentation (though with a lot of seemingly redundant buttons on the audio system). Seating for five is a squeeze, but the car is otherwise practical with a commodious hatchback, fold-down rear seats, and a large glovebox and central cubby.
The Mazda3 MPS comes with FM/AM radio, auxiliary cable input and a six disc in-dash CD player. On the upper lip of the dashboard, you will find two displays; including a 4.1” colour screen as used for voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation and the trip computer. The screen is definitely small, but fortunately has a high number of pixels per inch and excellent contrast. There is also Bluetooth, for handsfree calling and A2DP stereo music playback.
The interface is functional and easy enough to use, but simply does not compare to the MZD Connect system found in newer Mazda’s. Both navigation and Bluetooth are controlled using the 22(!!!) rockers and buttons on the steering wheel, though voice can at least be used for some phone operations.
In summary, the Mazda3 MPS is a proper driver’s car. If you can accommodate for a firm and noisy ride, not-unexpected fuel economy and the now-dated technology interfaces, the car will reward you with amazing performance, acceleration and handling that make you just want to push just a little bit harder – it is an absolute blast to drive.