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Mazda Mazda3 MPS

Click to view picture gallery“Rather than play the ‘mines bigger
  than yours
game with its rivals,
  Mazda has stuck with 256bhp in its
  fast and furious Mazda3 MPS —
  but that hasn
t stopped it building
better mousetrap...”

THE ORIGINAL 256BHP MAZDA3 MPS was, in its day, the most powerful production front-wheel drive hatch you could buy. Then along came the Focus RS, which did the same but upped the bragging rights to 300+bhp. Rather than play an ever-escalating and ultimately pointless game of 'mine's bigger than yours', Mazda, with true Japanese pragmatism, stuck with 256 horses but proceeded to build a better mousetrap.

Today's MPS still has the same 256bhp under its bonnet, courtesy of a 2.3-litre turboed four. 256 is an interesting number for instance, it's an area code in Alabama and also the number of bits in the key for the 'Poison Pill' Doomsday Code used by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks that will apparently, in the event of his death or imprisonment or the destruction of WikiLeaks, unleash a terrible secret. In the MPS, it represents unadulterated Zoom-Zoom.

More standout than a 'cooking' Mazda3, there's no mistaking the latest MPS lots of elegantly brutal sculpting especially around the thrusting nose, distinctive wheel arches linked by sideskirts, fluently integrated all-of-a-piece bumpers, a functional scoop in the bonnet that would do a hardcore Impreza justice and, at the tail, a brazen can't-miss-me spoiler.

“More standout than a
‘cooking’ Mazda3,
the MPS is Unmissable,
especially finished
in the Crystal White
Pearlescent of our test
car which was, during
our test week, a red flag
to Cooper S drivers.
Sayonara, boys!
Unmissable, particularly so finished in the Crystal White Pearlescent of our test car which, during our week with it was a red flag to Cooper S drivers. Sayonara, boys!

Not only does the MPS look, to borrow an Americanism, loaded for bear, but it's got the heart of one too one that pumps out 256bhp. So how does 256bhp and 280lb ft of torque in a chassis honed to sin go?

In mixed company, let's stick with PDQ Pretty Damn Quick. Off the line, the benchmark 62mph zoom-zooms up in 6.1 seconds (you'll need 6.9 seconds to do the same in a Golf GTI and 7 in a Cooper S).

The four-pot is tractable from low down but the real kick makes itself felt from around the 2,500rpm mark and when peak torque adds its muscle at 3,000rpm, progress becomes sling-shot keep your right foot planted and the rocket-ride will last without let-up until chopped by the rev-limiter.

Space and speed limits permitting, Mazda's hottie will charge all the way to 155mph. A well-judged set of six ratios and a change action that lets you snap though the gears ensures the driver can keep up with the engine.

You might expect and indeed want a look-at-me soundtrack to let the world know all about the 256 wild horses corralled in the the MPS's engine bay. Actually, underbonnet and tailpipe sounds do also serve a more practical purpose providing measurable feedback as to your road speed. Generally the MPS is vocally refined, particularly on motorways, so you do need to keep an eagle eye on the speedo or the only points you'll score won't be for street cred but on your licence.

With 256bhp going through the front wheels you might (some would say 'should') be worried about torque-steer, particulalrly pressing on along twisty, challenging roads. Mazda's engineers have already been there, done that and installed some clever electronics to smooth out the torque delivery in lower gears and it all works pretty well, too. We had no problems during a week of spirited driving although with that much power being laid down through the front wheels it makes sense to save full-bore take-offs for dry blacktop.

The MPS's ride is firm but not uncomfortably so in spite of rolling on 18-inch alloys wrapped in 225/40 rubber. And the well-bolstered Sports-style front seats (half-leather partnered with red-patterned fabric and nicely heated) do a decent job of keeping both front seat occupants steady and comfortable whether you're travelling at a leisurely three-tenths or hammering down the road at eight-tenths.

“Despite the stiff,
chassis set-up, on
decent tarmac
grip is excellent.
Set it up for a bend or
tight corner and the MPS
obediently tucks in
its nose and powers
through, flat and
composed, before
blasting out the other
side with satisfying
Despite the stiff, performance-biased chassis set-up, on decent tarmac grip is excellent.

Set the MPS up for a bend or tight corner and it obediently tucks in its nose and powers through, flat and composed, before blasting out the other side with satisfying gusto.

The brakes are strong, work with a progressive feel and are reassuring and the non-slip aluminium pedals well proportioned. Steering, through the leather-rimmmed multifunction wheel, is light and accurate courtesy of a quick rack delivering sharp turn-in.

While the MPS's forte is fast and furious, that doesn't mean it doesn't have a practical side which, perhaps, we've glossed over here in favour of the dynamics.

So, for the record, the driving position is fine (and a fine position is easily set), the cabin ambience good and it's an easy car to place and manoeuvre. Room in the back is equally accommodating and three-in-row behind the driver is definitely do-able. Build quality is typically Japanese; ie, thorough with first rate attention to detail, and it all feels built to last.

Fitted into the neat cabin, with its attractive swooping dash, is a mass of kit: SatNav (small but effective 4.1-inch colour screen built into the fascia), Sports seats, keyless entry and ignition, tyre pressure monitoring, rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic dual-zone climate control AirCon, radio and premium Bose 10-speaker surround sound with 6-CD changer, combined Bluetooth phone and mobile MP3-player system and a driver's information display.

There's also an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power windows and mirrors, radar-based rear lane change assistance and blind spot monitoring, heated windscreen, auto lights and wipers, Bi-Xenon headlights with swivel-type adaptive front lighting and automatic headlight levelling and cleaning.

Safety kit includes Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control and an Emergency Stop Signalling system with automatic hazard light activation during emergency braking.

Officially the MPS returns 29.4mpg on the combined cycle with 21.4 urban and 37.7 extra-urban. Our test average worked out at 26.7mpg. Not that bad; some unhurried, steady-speed motorway runs saw 32mpg. With the MPS, the devil's not in the detail but your right foot consistently leaden-footed drivers will pay not in the afterlife but here and now, at the pumps.

The dual-character MPS is undeniably a very rapid piece of machinery but it can also play the reliable compact family runabout or chummy commuter. And when you want to let your hair down it will willingly hang out with you. Spend time getting to know it well and your MPS can be ichiban nakano ii tomodachi; your Number One Friend. — MotorBar

Mazda Mazda3 MPS | 23,185
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.1 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 26.7mpg
Power: 256bhp | Torque: 280lb ft | CO2 224g/km