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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda3 - MPS 5-dr hatch

Launch Story

Mazda logo17 Nov 2009

By JAMES STANFORD

THE new Mazda3 MPS passes the first test before you even get in. You can actually tell it is a sporty car.

The previous MPS was a sleeper, and Mazda went out of its way to hide its potent turbo performance under the bonnet.

That car had a special dual-skin bonnet to feed air into the intercooler rather than use a more efficient bonnet scoop as Subaru does.

At the time, Mazda said it didn’t want to build a boy-racer with a scoop.

The new scoop is an instant indicator that this is an MPS, but is relatively subtle and does not stick out of the bonnet like a huge bin lid. The bumper extensions give another clue, as do the stylish and sporty alloy wheels and the rather large roof mounted rear spoiler.

It doesn’t look like the meanest car around, but is quite fierce compared with the regular Mazda3 which has a cutesy design with that frog-like face.

So, Mazda has sorted the styling, but what about the other main issue with the previous car? That is, torque steer. With so much power channeled through the front wheels, the steering of the previous MPS tugged like crazy under heavy acceleration.

Mazda has made a lot of minor tweaks in an attempt to rid the car of this issue, including wider tyres and a range of various suspension modifications, but it is still a problem.

Even in a straight line, the torque steer feels as if it is trying to pull you into the next lane.

You can drive around the problem, as we found out when Mazda introduced its gun rally drivers Rick Bates and Brendan Reeves to guide journalists around a twisty test track just out of Canberra at this week’s launch.

Their advice was to hold a higher gear if possible and to straighten up and then feed the power on. Basically, don’t provoke it, because it bites. So much for the hard-revving fun.

At least that saves the tyres, because with so much power through the front wheels in spirited driving, it could end up being expensive in tyre rubber, especially if the driver turns off the hard-working traction and stability control.

Despite all this, the MPS can be a fun drive. The in-gear acceleration is just fantastic overtaking ceases to be an issue – just drop back a gear and press the accelerator and the MPS slings forward with incredible force.

This driveability is simply amazing, especially for a car that costs about $40,000. The cracker of an engine has heaps of torque that goes bananas from 2500rpm all the way to near 6000rpm.

Higher in the rev range, the engine’s induction creates an angry sound that is more like the whoosh of a jet engine.

The manual gearbox, with its easy short shift in easy reach, slips into each gear crisply, aided by a light clutch.

Mazda has done a lot of work to make the Mazda3 and the MPS version quieter than the previous car and it shows – in some conditions.

On some roads, the MPS seems impressively quiet, but on others, it is still intrusively loud. The considerable tyre roar on coarse chip surfaces is understandable, given the aggressive nature of the rubber, but …

The suspension seems well sorted, with a good balance between the handling requirements and comfort. Some of the roads we used on the launch were rough and ready, yet the MPS remained civilised and comfortable.

It was also a treat around the bends, with minimal body roll.

Mazda spent a lot of time and money making stiffening the body, and you can feel the result from behind the wheel. The steering is precise, needing only small inputs to turn quickly.

Our drive at the test track was quite hard on the brakes and yet the discs with single-piston floating callipers provided more than enough stopping power for our grueling workout.

The bucket seats are among the best around, providing great support without hindering access.

The interior is generally impressive, but some elements will not please everyone. Mazda has chosen a bright red and black spot pattern for the seat centre fabric, the doors and a horizontal strip across the dashboard, which looks cool or naff, depending on your taste. The dashboard is of soft plastic, and while the information screen might not be the largest, it is quite legible, sitting high on the dashboard, right in the line of sight.

It is a credit to Mazda that it has included satellite navigation as standard in a car at this price, which gives it an edge over some rivals that a) don’t offer it or b) charge an arm and a leg for it.

Many customers will also appreciate the digital turbo boost indicator. Fun.

The MPS is at the top of its class in standard features, with a full suite of safety gear as well as luxuries such as dual-zone climate control, six-disc CD, cruise control and keyless entry and start. Metallic paint at no extra cost is also a strong selling point.

The MPS comes with so much gear that the $3600 Luxury upgrade does not make all that much sense unless you really want those headlights that turn with the steering and a beefier sound system.

Like other Mazda3 models the five-door MPS has only adequate rear head and legroom, a sizeable boot and a split fold rear seat. So, it is not only fast, but also practical.

There is a lot to like about the new Mazda3 MPS. It is fast, practical, great value for money and now looks the part.

The only problem is feeding all that power through those front wheels. This will be enough to put off some customers, but if you can overlook the tugging through the wheel under acceleration, or simply drive around the problem, owning a Mazda3 MPS will be rewarding experience.

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