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Mazda 3 MPS review (2009 onwards)
The previous Mazda 3 MPS was the uber hot hatch, the power-hungry road crusher that made up for its dynamic failings with the sort of honest straightline punch that put it in a class of its own.
Then along came the Ford Focus RS with its clever RevoKnuckle suspension and 300hp and suddenly the flaming Mazda never looked that hot anymore.
Now Mazda is back to have another crack at the upper end of the hot hatch market with a new 3 MPS. The engine stays the same, a 2.3-litre turbo, with 260hp, but Mazda's engineers have worked hard at making this a car that can handle the curves just as well as the straights. Has it succeeded?
Where does it fit?
With 40hp shy of a Focus RS, the Mazda won't topple the fiery Ford from its hot hatch top spot, but it does match the RenaultSport Megane 250 and SEAT Leon Cupra on pace, while the forthcoming Vauxhall Astra VXR promises nearly 300hp and should be the hot hatch to watch when it goes on sale next summer.
Is it for you?
Unlike the fast Renault and SEAT, the MPS takes more of a gran turismo stance, a crushing motorway car which is fine for long distances but which isn't so adept when you throw in a few bends.
The problem stems from its abundance of torque, all 280 lb/ft of it, which corrupts the steering and causes the wheel to slither in your hands.
In the first two gears, the Mazda's electronic sentry limits the amount of torque sent to the front wheels but into third gear and beyond and the electronic nanny steps in too much to avoid the wheels spinning under full load.
This is particularly unhelpful in bends, as you have to tread delicately on the throttle or you risk unsettling the front wheels and pushing the nose wide on corners.
What does it do well?
That isn't to say the 3 MPS doesn't drive well. Mazda has stiffened the chassis and thoroughly reworked the suspension, so it corners flatly and turns in cleanly, but the steering doesn't connect you to the road like it does in its main rivals, the Ford and Renault.
There is no denying its forward propulsion, though. Manage the power and you can crack 62mph from rest in only 6.1 seconds, only a whisper behind the Focus RS, and on to a 155mph maximum.
It surges through the gears from 2,500rpm and you're quickly thumping 6,000rpm and flicking through the gears at an immense rate. This is a very fast car that will embarrass three-litre BMWs and Audis into middle-lane submission.
What doesn't it do well?
Now that the MPS is stiffer than before, on all but the smoothest of roads its suspension struggles to cope with lumps and bumps, the dampers easily reaching the limit of their travel and making progress rather jarring.
Its styling might not win many friends either. Mazda has worked hard to make the MPS stand out from other less-exciting 3s, with a huge bonnet scoop, more aggressive front wings, a big boot spoiler and a double exhaust but the mods look rather contrived, like Mazda is trying too hard. It's almost too subtle and looks like a normal Mazda 3 with a few aftermarket addenda.
What's it like to live with?
Sadly, despite that immense power and performance, the noise emanating from the engine and exhausts isn't special enough. This car goes about its business without making much of an issue about it.
The six-speed gearchange isn't the most precise tool to extract its potential either, feeling nothcy even though it works precisely enough.
On the inside, the black plastics are drab and don't suggest a car that will fizz your senses with every flex of your right foot. However, the seats are very supportive, with plenty of side support to hold you in place through bends and with enough adjustment to find your perfect driving position.
For the price, the 3 MPS is remarkable value for money. At £23,185, it comes with so much equipment that Mazda doesn't offer any optional extras. The standard kit includes Bluetooth and a sat-nav system. Only problem with the sat-nav is that it is displayed on a tiny screen in the centre console that is hard to glance at on the move.
How green is it?
With an average economy of 29.4mpg, the 3 MPS isn't too expensive to run given the performance on offer. Carbon emissions of 224g/km keep it well under the top rate for company car and road tax.
Would we buy it?
The Mazda 3 MPS is the hot hatch for the more mature driver. It offers superb grunt and is actually pleasant enough to drive, but it doesn't excite you visually or dynamically in the way a Megane 250 or Focus RS would.
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