Christmas is rolling around, and the new Mazda 6 2.5-litre turbo has just been announced with 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque – not a full-blown MPS model, but sweet all the same. However, it seems another day is another chance for Mazda to again tell us that it isn’t doing performance cars anymore.
How dare Mazda not!? So, what really makes us care about what Mazda gives us and then rudely takes away? The answer to that is the Mazda 3 MPS.
Sure, we have been given the RX-7/8 with its rotary engine that unfortunately has a diet consisting of its own oils, and the MX-5 that is the gift that keeps on giving, but only as an impractical go-kart that couldn’t keep up with your mother’s Camry if it tried.
However, we still have the hotted-up MPS that ceased production in 2013, which has managed to capture how fun the other two cars are and combined it into a compact package for us to enjoy.
In my two years of ownership, $60K has turned into $85K and all the thrills are but a fond memory.
I love cars, and have driven a manual since day one. I have owned cars from Toyota, Lexus and BMW, and was a little skeptical when I first laid eyes on this little red car with a large bonnet scoop from Japan.
Firstly, I’m a guy, and the red on this car was as red as you can get. Secondly, I was 23, and insurance doesn’t look kindly on kids. Thirdly, it wasn’t a WRX or a GTI. So I did what I’m fantastic at doing, and jumped straight in without looking.
It was only after purchasing the car that I looked up issues on its reliability, and quickly found there are well-documented issues such as the engine going ‘zoom, zoom, boom’ when it feels like it, monster torque steer and that’s about as far as I got.
Believe me, being slapped in the face with buyer’s remorse was only a fraction better than getting slapped by Sarah in year 10. But even that doesn’t hurt as much as a smack from a CEL. After I swapped my left kidney for the mechanic to diagnose the problem, I learnt another issue of this car – the oxygen sensor post-catalytic converter is known to conk out, and $500 poorer, I got the thing replaced.
So why did I not drive this car into a lake at 250km/h? Well, because 23 months since then have more than made up for it.
The engine in this little beast is a 2.3-litre inline-four with direct-injection spark ignition (DISI) technology, and has been used in a few notable cars, including the all-wheel-drive MazdaSpeed 6, and was employed detuned in the Mazda CX-7 people mover.
Its potency obviously highest in the smallest and lightest Mazda 3 MPS, this engine was also awarded as one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines when it came out. It developed 190kW and 380Nm driven through just the front wheels. It was nothing short of a muscle car for its time, and still bests many a hot hatch today.
However, this led to many publications and owners commenting on the torque steer, which would make you think this thing would drive you off the road the second you floored the pedal. Luckily for me and my two twigs (my sorry excuse for arms), this has turned out to be mostly hyperbole, as I have never struggled with this fabled lane-changing torque steer.
I also found out the ‘zoom, zoom, boom’ issue mostly occurred with enthusiasts who were too enthusiastic with their power goals, while neglecting to upgrade their fuel pumps, and to my knowledge is extremely rare.
Demanding maximum boost at low RPM is also a leading cause of the boom, thus downshifting to the correct gear to display the train-like pulling power of the car is recommended, and highly encouraged thanks to how fun simply shifting this car is. It really is a work of art, well weighted and accurate, with six gears that allow it to be pretty efficient on the highway.
However, the car’s real talent is its ability to do absolutely everything you ask it to do. This was my first-ever hatch, and oh boy, do I regret making fun of hatches. I think if I ever buy a wagon, I might pop an artery. The space you get when you fold the seats down flat is nothing short of amazing.
I once fit a 65-inch TV, box and all, flat into the back with space to spare. The other SUV drivers could only put them in sideways. Suckers! Theoretically, I could have fitted four had I stacked them up. I have taken this car 1000km up to QLD with five people, fully loaded with luggage, without issue.
Two adult-sized mountain bikes fully assembled in the back? No problem!
Interior-wise, it was years ahead of its time. The built-in GPS is useful, though small for today’s standards and outdated, yet still works flawlessly. The 10-speaker Bose unit with built-in subwoofer in the trunk is more than adequate, and is crystal clear with Bluetooth or AUX – the Bluetooth connects almost instantaneously, and is much faster than my new car.
The gauges are nice and clear, the electronic boost gauge in the middle is also entertaining. Dual-zone climate control? Yes! Electronic seats? Yes! Raining? Automatic wipers!
The bi-xeon lights are amazing, automatic as well, and brighter than my new car. They also turn into corners and self-level, although only the Luxury version has these features. (My new car isn’t stacking up very well…)
Put your foot down and you will pull whatever poor sap is trying to race you (380Nm is no joke, and with little drivetrain loss due to FWD and light weight, 190kW pulls some 250kW cars). Although, never attempt this from a standing start, as it’s only as fast as the new GTI at around six seconds to 100km/h.
Where this car really shines is at speed and at a roll. It will give much more expensive cars a run for their money with its explosive mid-range power up to the redline. Being a hot hatch, its handling is more than adequate, so it’s not a one-trick pony.
The sheer grunt of this engine made the first-generation BK one of the best sleepers around, as they were lighter than the current generation, although with a higher aerodynamic co-efficient.
Fuel-wise, I have averaged 11L/100km in city driving, with my best being 8L/100km on a highway run – not too shabby for the performance.
Maintenance and servicing costs are relatively cheap, as it’s basically a Mazda 3. The oxygen sensor aside, this really is Japanese reliability at its finest. I have zero doubts this car will soldier on for another 100,000km and not miss a beat.
Hopefully, Mazda will bring out the new MPS line when that time comes around.
If you are looking for a fun, undiluted hot hatch that is for now the last of its kind – and no doubt a future classic – look beyond the iPhone of cars, the WRX and the GTI, and get something special. Just make sure it is the Luxury version.