When Mazda first released their Mazda6 MPS in 2005, I almost didn’t notice. It was so uninteresting to me. Fast forward two years to the release of the BK series Mazda 3 MPS and I quickly wrote it off as a "try hard" car, like I did most hot hatches. I was into the local V8s and European luxury cars whilst my closest mates were into the high-performance Japanese coupes – an R33 Skyline GTS-t and S15 Silvia featured. In my mind, no hatch could never compete with such offerings, and the last generation RX-7 was, for me, the only performance Mazda worthy of consideration. It therefore came as a big surprise to me when, about a decade later, I finally settled on a 2010 BL series Mazda3 MPS as my every day car.
In early 2018, after a torturous search through the various options within my budget, I finally relented and added the Mazda3 MPS to my list of cars to test drive. I’d heard they were fun and some videos out of the US suggested they were actually quite quick in a straight line. I looked into the specs and was actually impressed. It had the power and torque of a late model 6-cylinder Falcon wrapped up in a much lighter (1456kg) package – a recipe for fun. The first test drive put a huge smile on my face and immediately sealed the deal. I picked it up a week later.
Having lived with the MPS for about 14 months, I’m no less impressed with it. The official figures put its 0-100km/h time at 6.1 seconds, but this only tells part of the story. Once moving, the mid-range torque available makes for exceptional, effortless acceleration. Mazda uses the engine management to limit engine torque in the first few gears in order to ‘protect’ the transmission. This gives the unusual sensation of the engine getting stronger with each shift - it's quite amusing. That said, disengaging stability control gives full torque and a much more vicious launch, making it very easy to unintentionally lose traction. The location and feel of the shifter took some getting used to, being closer to the driver and with a short throw. Likewise, the clutch was a new experience with a low friction point that's right about where there is a dead spot in the pedal feel. Even after 14 months, I have been occasionally thwarted in attempts for a smooth launch or shift. Getting it all "just right" though made for a very fast and smooth progress.
Whilst modern hot hatches are becoming better known for their straight line performance, their forte has always been the corners. The BL 3 MPS lived up to this reputation with very direct steering and excellent overall grip. Mid-corner grip and stability was surprising, despite the average tyres that were on the car during my ownership. A ham-fisted driver, who turns in suddenly without any thought of balance will experience a fair bit of understeer, which the stability control will eventually correct. In contrast, a corner approached with gentle late braking will reward with a much more neutral behaviour and no stability control intervention. Long drives on winding roads were always very enjoyable, even at much reduced pace. My wife and I took advantage of this on numerous occasions.
The penalty for all the performance is not severe but ever-present. Low profile tyres and stiff suspension made for a jarring ride across poor quality roads, and there’s also a lot of road noise on coarse chip tar. Indeed, on two road trips around country NSW, conversations above about 80km/h required quite a raised voice. A quieter set of tyres might have gone some way to alleviating this burden. The official fuel consumption of 9.9L/100km can be achieved with moderate self control however regularly using the performance available will see that skyrocket. With very careful driving, I averaged under 8.5L/100km from a tank during my short commutes in southern Sydney.
The MPS interior is slightly upgraded from the regular 3, featuring well bolstered leather and fabric seats, an orange backlit dash and a clear, if small, central readout. The MPS Luxury model also gains a Bose stereo system and built-in navigation, both of which are excellent. The cabin materials and design give an impression of quality – a factor which made me shortlist the MPS in preference to the Focus XR5, which shares the platform. At 184cm, I was easily able to get a very comfortable driving position and never experienced back or buttock discomfort during long trips (10+ hours in the car in a day sometimes). Being quite low, getting in and out was a little more difficult than a more regular sedan, but overall nothing to worry too much about.
As a high performance daily commuter for short trips, the MPS was excellent. Both in a straight line and around corners, it was quite capable of surprising some of the brand snobs on the road. Coarse chip tar makes for a lot of noise on country highways but that was a minor inconvenience in light of its cruising abilities. Unfortunately, the low roof line and tight rear seat space have dictated that an upgrade to an SUV is necessary for the impending growth of my family. The joy of the MPS will be greatly missed.