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First drive: Mazda’s hot hatch comes out

Wings and things: The new Mazda3 MPS looks the part, with aero accoutrements.

New Mazda3 MPS gets base-model price snip – and new-found refinement

Mazda logo21 Jul 2009

THE second-generation Mazda3 MPS hot hatch has gone on sale in Australia, promising improved power delivery, more equipment and a $210 price cut for the entry-level model.

Pricing for the new 3 MPS starts at $39,690 for the standard model and rises to $43,290 for a Luxury version.

Based on the recently upgraded Mazda3, the new MPS runs an almost identical turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the same basic suspension architecture as the previous model, but engineers have made a raft of changes to try to cure it of the torque steer that blighted the old car.

The designers have made a bold change of direction by moving away from the understated shape of the first-generation Mazda3 MPS introduced in 2006.

Rather than create another ‘sleeper’ car, the design team led by Laurens van den Acker, who has since joined Renault, has delivered a muscular vehicle that is clearly distinguishable from the standard models in the range.

The new car has a prominent bonnet scoop, large roof-mounted rear spoiler and unique pumped-out front guards. More aggressive front spoiler and side skirts complement the athletic design of the donor car with its LED tail-lights, futuristic headlights and swooping bonnet lines.

22 center imageLurking under the bonnet is a 2.3-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a top-mounted intercooler. While the power output has not changed from 190kW at 5500rpm, that is still at the top of the class when compared to other front-drive cars. The impressive torque figure of 380Nm available at 3000rpm also remains the same.

This allows the MPS to dash from 0-100km/h in just 6.1 seconds (running on premium unleaded), which matches the performance of the previous model and, interestingly, is faster than the brand’s flagship performance car, the rotary RX-8 coupe.

Fuel consumption has dropped ever so slightly from 10.0L/100km to 9.9L/100km, which Mazda attributes to improved aerodynamics. CO2 emissions are down from 238g/km to 235g/km, thanks to the reduced fuel consumption. A new catalytic converter is quicker to react than the previous model.

The six-speed manual transmission is carried over with minor revisions. No automatic is available.

In a bid to tame the torque steer of the previous car, Mazda has introduced stiffer driveshafts as well as more precise control of the intake volume and boost pressure to avoid sudden torque spikes.

The MPS also gets larger-diameter front suspension stabilisers, modified stabiliser mounts, softer front spring rates and wider front and rear tyres (Dunlop 225/40 R18s) with more rigid sidewalls.

Engineers have also introduced an extra rigid steering gear mount bushing, for a total of three which have been tweaked to do away with unwanted vibration. Mazda has retained its electro-hydraulic power steering system, with 2.7 turns lock to lock.

The company claims the new MPS has a stiffer body, especially around the tailgate, with extra reinforcement around front and rear suspension towers, which also benefit from an extra brace. The rear suspension is the same independent multi-link set-up as the previous Mazda3.

Mazda has used 17 per cent more high-tensile steel for the body, a move that saved 11kg. Other weight-saving measures included a 2kg lighter instrument panel, 0.7kg leaner rear suspension design and 1.3kg in other weight savings across the board.

The body of the new car is lighter, despite being 75mm longer and 5mm wider, but the overall car is heavier. Mazda Australia’s press kit includes the headline ‘reducing vehicle weight’, listing a string of weight reductions, but the 3 MPS is 53kg heavier, tipping the scales at 1456kg.

The previous Mazda3 range won a lot of fans, but fell short in tyre, road and wind noise. Mazda took the criticism to heart, applying a raft of improvements including optimised damping material. The company claims noise, vibration and harshness suppression has been improved 11 per cent.

New 18-inch alloy wheels featuring a similar design to those on the RX-8 are standard. Braking is by 320mm ventilated discs at the front and 280mm solid discs at the rear. ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and electronic stability control are standard, along with active front headrests and front, side and curtain airbags.

All Mazda3 MPS models come standard with a high-end 4.1-inch colour information control screen, satellite-navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a six-CD sound system with auxiliary jack, dual-zone climate-control, cruise control, keyless entry/start, a comprehensive trip computer, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Metallic paint is a no-cost option.

All MPS cars have a start button and a digital turbo boost gauge. Softer plastic has been used in interior surfaces, with red interior trim highlights and sports bucket seats lined with a mix of black leather and red cloth.

Spending the extra $3600 for the $43,290 Luxury model adds adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, a premium Bose sound system, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Mazda Australia expects to sell about 70 Mazda3 MPSs a month, which is a drop in the bucket considering the company has sold a monthly average of 3032 Mazda3s so far this year, according to VFACTS. It expects 60 per cent of the MPS cars to be bought in Luxury guise.

Rivals for the Mazda3 MPS include the Ford Focus XR5, RenaultSport Megane, Subaru Impreza WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and the soon-to-be-upgraded Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Mazda research has found that most of the 1500-odd buyers of the previous Mazda3 MPS were males aged between 20 and 34. While most car companies aim to target younger customers with each new model, Mazda is predicting the age group of the majority of customers who will buy the new car will increase to between 35 and 49.

2009 Mazda3 MPS range pricing:
MPS $39,690
MPS Luxury $43,290

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