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Mazda gearing up for hot stuff

Hint of things to come: Mazda has already previewed the Mazda3 MPS with this Mazdaspeed special edition in Japan.

The Mazda6 MPS heralds a rollout of performance variants

26 Nov 2004

THE Mazda6 MPS is the starting point for what should become a range of performance variants at the head of Mazda’s mainstream model range.

Next up is the Mazda3 MPS, which is expected to be launched in 2006 after the new generation MX-5 roadster has been rolled out, following on from its debut at Geneva in March.

That timing suggests the 3 MPS could break cover as soon as Frankfurt in 2005.

While some European reports forecast the 3 MPS will employ a 2.0-litre version of the MZR turbo producing around 180kW, GoAuto sources insist it will get the same 2.3-litre MZR DISI engine as the 6 MPS, and all-wheel drive.

That should make it one hell of a hot hatch! And hatch it certainly will be. While the 6 MPS appeared as a hatchback in concept form in 2002, it was later transformed to a sedan because the three-box bodyshape could be made more torsionally rigid (6 MPS is 50 per cent improved over the standard sedan).

But there is no chance of that happening this time. Indeed, GoAuto understands the styling for the hatchback has already been signed off.

And will it follow the same subtle route as the 6 MPS, or be somewhat more radical because of its younger potential buying audience? Although unwilling to discuss 3 MPS specifics, Mazda’s European styling chief Peter Birtwhistle offered some clues.

"For a younger audience maybe we need to think about something that is a little more aggressive," he said.

"But I don’t think we are going to go the Evo (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution) way, because those are very hard sporting vehicles." Asked what among the current European hot-hatches might best capture the look of a 3 MPS, he nominated the forthcoming replacement for the Volkswagen Golf R32.

"I’ve seen some pictures of that with mules running around the Nurburgring and that’s got slightly more the flavour because that’s got a more aggressive front-end and the scoops, but again it doesn’t shout that aggressive power," he said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mr Birtwhistle questioned whether Mazda would ever do an MPS version of either the RX-8 or MX-5: "MPS is focussed on the core models and those are more icon vehicles."

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