The BL Mazda3 MPS is not your average grocery-haulin' hatchback. Although it can fill this role quite competently, the car takes no effort to hide its attitude problem, with a large rear spoiler, 18” alloys, twin exhaust, side skirting, and *prominent* bonnet scoop. The latter feeds cool air to the intercooled MZR 2300cc turbocharged four cylinder engine with direct injection. The car is available only with a six-speed manual transmission; purists rejoice!
Performance is certainly the MPS' strongest point, and is sure to keep the enthusiastic driver well entertained on any and every journey. According to Mazda, the 3 MPS will accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds; one of the fastest 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… hard. If you can master this, you will soon find the Mazda thrillingly addictive to drive; though caution is still sometimes needed when the bitumen isn't smooth, or in the wet.
Drivers may need time to familiarise with the heavy clutch pedal, as it starts biting very close to the floor; 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 throws and positive engagement.
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 place the wheels to hit the apex, 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, wonderfully raspy engine note and inadequate sound-deadening, the 3 MPS is definitely loud too; especially 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 averages closer to 10-12L in suburban driving.
The wrap-around driving position of the 3 MPS is perfect, between the usual adjustments in the steering wheel and electric-sliding driver's seat. 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 soft-touch plastics on the dash and pleasant lighting effects on the instrumentation; though with a lot of seemingly redundant buttons on the audio system. Seating for five adults is a squeeze, but the car is otherwise practical with a commodious hatchback, fold-down rear seats, and a large glove box 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 has crisp graphics and deep contrast ratios for excellent readability. 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. Destination entry is very tedious, though voice can at least be used for some phone operations.
In summary, the BL Mazda3 MPS is a proper driver's car. If you can accommodate for a firm and noisy ride, the not unexpected fuel economy and the now-dated technology interfaces, the car will reward you with amazing performance, acceleration, handling and practicality that make you just want to push a little bit harder. It is an absolute blast to drive, as long as you hang on to that steering wheel!
Rumours abound of the BL's successor – an AWD Mazda3 MPS with a 2.5L turbocharged Skyactiv petrol engine. Combined with the dramatically improved interiors of the newest Mazda3's, the next MPS should be a true performance weapon, with the stability to match and enhance its performance credentials.