In 2007, I was seeking a replacement for our Hyundai Elantra for my wife. We were holidaying on the NSW Central Coast when I spotted a Subaru Liberty GT in the carpark. I’d always fancied them, but buying new just wasn’t in our budget at the time. A two-year-old used example was.
I always like to keep my options open when buying cars, so it would have been remiss of me not to research any viable alternatives. In doing so, I came across the Mazda 6 MPS. For reasons I still can’t explain today, we never ended up test-driving a Liberty GT, and in no time at all a 2005 6 MPS in Velocity Red with the optional leather pack was sitting in our garage.
From early on, the snatchy clutch take-up was an issue. I noticed it during the test drive, but thought I would just need a little time to get accustomed to it. My wife and I are no strangers to driving manual cars, but this clutch pedal had to be modulated quite carefully. It was very easy to lurch from standstill or even stall. Once on the move from third gear on, it wasn’t so much of a problem. Thankfully, Mazda developed a fix, which I had carried out early. It improved the feel and take-up of the clutch, but it remained a weak point in the driving experience.
Our 6 MPS wasn’t the best car as far as reliability was concerned. The clutch pressure plate that was replaced as part of the fix needed replacing again 15,000km later. There were small niggly problems, like a persistent wind noise in the upper corner of the driver’s window. Despite two seal replacements, it was never rectified. A coolant leak required a new bypass hose, but much worse was to come.
With less than 50,000km on the clock, the turbo started making a whining noise. It was diagnosed as excessive play in the impeller bearing. That meant a new turbo was required and the MPS was now 11 months out of warranty. The dealer (Rolfe Mazda Belconnen in Canberra) consulted on my behalf with Mazda Australia and to its absolute credit, Mazda covered both the turbo replacement and the labour. It didn’t cost me a cent.
Two weeks later, the seal on the propshaft boot split leaking grease everywhere. That required a new propshaft, and again, Mazda covered the lot. I will always speak highly of Mazda’s customer service because of this. At about 60,000km, the transfer case developed a slow leak that needed a small top-up every service, and at 115,000km, the right-hand engine mount needed replacing.
Enough of the bad, let’s focus on the good, starting with the 2.3-litre 190kW engine. This was one of Mazda’s first forays into direct injection (DISI), and combined with the Hitachi turbo it produced some stellar punch, particularly with in-gear acceleration. Performance testing of 80–120km/h in 3.5 seconds was Porsche 911-rivalling at the time. Despite torque of 380Nm peaking at 3000rpm, it pulled strongly from much lower revs. The top-mount intercooler was fed by hidden air ducts in the bonnet, which required a nice purposeful-looking bonnet bulge not too dissimilar to the FPV GT.
The AWD system (dubbed Active Torque Split) is front-wheel drive until certain conditions dictate up to 50 per cent of torque is shuffled to the rear wheels. The transfer was imperceptible, and it was virtually impossible to get any wheel spin from hard acceleration. The gearshift from the six-speed Aisin gearbox was precise, the grip and handling tenacious. The ride was slightly on the firm side, but not uncomfortable.
Fuel consumption averaged 10.4L/100km, which I thought was quite reasonable considering the performance on offer. Servicing costs were also quite good. As I always provided the oil and filters for the dealer to use, the service charge was usually around $150–$300 depending on the service required. Unfortunately, service intervals were only 10,000km, which meant two visits to the dealer every second year.
I ditched the fussy multi-spoke wheels that were difficult to clean and fitted some wider wheels with fatter rubber. I replaced the two rear mufflers and that beefed up the exhaust sound nicely. It was then lowered on Pedders springs, which gave it a more aggressive stance on the road. The car still features on the Pedders website gallery.
The leather pack was definitely the version to choose. Over the base MPS it added a sunroof, an electric driver’s seat with memory settings, a Bose audio system with subwoofer, and of course the leather seats. The leather seats were actually a bit disappointing. They didn’t feel like soft genuine leather at all (more like vinyl), but they were at least durable and easy to keep clean. The memory driver’s seat was very handy, as I’m about a foot taller than my wife, and the sound quality from the Bose audio was very good. While it lacked the functionality of infotainment systems of today, in 2007, I was more than happy with it.
We sold the MPS five years ago, and it wasn’t until I trawled through the old service records to write this review that I was reminded of all the things that went wrong in the seven years we owned the car. What I don’t forget is how much I enjoyed driving the MPS, and to this day it remains one of my favourite cars. My wife absolutely loved it, and I’m not sure she completely forgives me for trading it in on a Mk6 Golf GTI.