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First drive: Mazda3 MPS rocks hot-hatch world

Top of the class: Newest MPS delivers 25kW more power than the current small hot-hatch champ, Ford's Focus XR5.

The 190kW Mazda3 MPS hatch is one of the fastest front-wheel drive cars on earth

11 Jul 2006

MAZDA has gatecrashed the hot-hatch party with the new 190kW Mazda3 MPS (Mazda Performance Series).

Priced from $39,990, the five-door hatchback produces 25kW more power than the $35,990 Ford Focus XR5 Turbo and $37,990 Renault Megane Phase II RS to easily steal the kiloWatt crown in the class.

Using a variation of the 2.3-litre twin-cam 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder MZR direct-injection (DISI) engine also found in the all-wheel drive Mazda6 MPS sedan (as well as the upcoming CX-7 4WD), power is rated at 190kW at 5500rpm while the 380Nm torque output tops out at 3000rpm. It runs a compression ratio of 9.5:1.

Drive is channelled to the front wheels only via a six-speed manual gearbox. Like its Focus XR5 Turbo cousin, no automatic gearbox is available.

The Australian ADR 81/01 fuel cycle average is 10L/100km, while the 0-100km/h sprint time takes 6.1 seconds – which makes it the quickest of all current Mazda models.

Aiding this is the engine’s electronic throttle and electronic boost pressure control devices, which Mazda claims minimise turbo lag.

Premium 95 RON unleaded fuel is injected under 115-bar pressure directly into the combustion chamber for a 10 per cent torque increase over a more conventional manifold injection engine.

Mazda’s own figures show that, in third gear, the MPS zips from 50-100km/h in 4.2 seconds.

The body, suspension and brakes have been significantly uprated to accommodate the MPS’s extra performance over the Mazda3’s more sedate 115kW/203Nm 2.3-litre SP23 sibling.

Look for 20mm-wider front mudguards to help house the 10-spoke alloy wheels shod with 215/45 R18 tyres, along with a larger air intake, new foglight design, rear roof spoiler, wider tailpipes (forming part of an exhaust that is tuned to sound "sporty"), side skirts, revised rear bumper and a unique hue among the four colour choices known as "MPS Cosmic Blue".

To reduce torque steer and other unruly front-wheel scrabbling, a boost pressure control has been fitted that suppresses sudden torque peaks for smoother delivery, along with a limited-slip differential.

A similar goal is reached by a reduction of torque flow in first and second gear, particularly in acceleration from standstill or in tight cornering situations.

Matching the stiffness and matching the angles of the driveshafts further help reduce this.

An increase in torsional rigidity results due to a beefier floor tunnel section, while reinforcements to the front cowl member ups overall body rigidity. The latter is said to have the same effect as fitting MacPherson strut tower braces but without the possible deformation and skewing of the suspension geometry.

Similarly, for the rear multi-link suspension set-up, a gusset at the lower part of the towers keeps them steadier.

To counteract bodyroll, higher coil spring rates, thicker anti-roll bars front and rear and firmer dampers have been fitted.

22 center imageStopping power is improved over the regular Mazda3 courtesy of large-diameter four-wheel disc brakes – measuring 320mm for the front ventilated discs and 280mm for the solid rear units – aided by anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency-brake assist.

Further on safety, stability control is standard fitment (and can be switched off), along with traction control, six airbags, a collapsible brake pedal set-up and a revised steering column structure designed to lessen injury to the driver’s lower leg area. A five-seat seatbelt reminder system has also been incorporated.

Aluminium pedals, brushed-metallic look trim, bolstered seating, a 280km/h-calibrated speedometer, red stitching and new striping define the MPS’s unique cabin treatment.

Cruise control, climate-control air-conditioning, 18-inch alloy wheels, six-stack CD/MP3 audio with satellite controls and power windows and mirrors are also included.

The $43,690 SP Sports Pack adds a Bose sound system, Xenon headlights, “half” leather trim and high-gloss alloy wheels, as well as 12kg to the standard MPS’s 1403kg kerb weight.

Mazda is forecasting 130 MPS sales a month, with the SP accounting for around 30 per cent of total volume.

The Mazda3 MPS may be the newest member of a growing number of high-performance small cars, but it stands as one of the fastest production front-wheel drive cars on the planet. Top speed is limited to 250km/h.

Recent inductees to the hot-hatch ranks include the 165kW/320Nm Focus XR5 Turbo, 147kW/262Nm Holden Astra SRi Turbo and 130kW/202Nm Citroen C4 VTS.

An HSV Astra VXR version will arrive by the end of the year, but it will "only" deliver 176kW and 320Nm. Volkswagen’s Golf GTI produces 147kW and 280Nm.

The Mazda3 MPS is not the first turbocharged Mazda small car to be sold in Australia. From 1987 to 1989 it offered the BF-series 323 SS Turbo and Turbo 4WD tearaways, as an adjunct to the regular SS "warm" hatchback models.

Both were fitted with a 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve B6T four-cylinder engine developing around 110kW and 187Nm, and tied to a five-speed manual gearbox.

Ford also offered the same mechanical set-up in the 323’s KE Laser TX3 and TX3 Turbo 4WD "bubbleback" fraternal twins.

2006 Mazda3 MPS hatch pricing:

Mazda3 MPS 5-dr - $39,990
Mazda3 MPS 5-dr Sport Pack - $43,690

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