Here’s a performance car that’s really coming out fighting!
The Mazda 3 MPS lost its title as the world’s most powerful front-wheel-drive hot hatch to Ford’s Focus RS.
So, the Japanese manufacturer has launched a new model in an attempt to redress the balance.
The 256bhp 2.3-litre turbo engine remains, as power was never the problem; control was. Mazda has concentrated on improving other areas, particularly the unruly chassis. For sharper reactions, the body has been stiffened by 41 per cent, while a torque-sensing limited-slip differential is now fitted as standard. The suspension has been firmed up, too.
Other changes include an updated front end, Subaru Impreza-style bonnet scoop, chunky bodykit and unmissable rear spoiler. These hot hatch add-ons take cues from the likes of the Ford Focus RS and Vauxhall’s Astra VXR. But have all the chassis updates managed to quell the 3 MPS’s torque steer habit?
Unfortunately not. On steep cambers and wet surfaces, the wheel writhes in your hands, and this can drain your confidence in corners. Nevertheless, the steering is well weighted and, thanks to that clever diff, the fresh nose tucks in eagerly. And the 3 MPS is still incredibly fast in a straight line, and all that turbocharged torque makes it surprisingly versatile.
There’s so much urge on tap, the car is limited in first and second gear; only when you reach third does the car begin to fly. It has a tendency to feel breathless above 5,000rpm, though.
The interior is more functional than stylish, and you get plenty of kit for the £21,500 price. Yet the biggest problem for the 3 MPS is that the improvements may not be enough, as the hot hatch market has moved on.
Rival: SEAT Leon Cupra R
Packing 261bhp, SEAT’s most powerful production car arrives later this year. It’s set to be one of the quickest, most composed hot hatches on the market.
* Price: £21,500
* Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo
* Power/torque: 256bhp/380Nm
* 0-60mph: 6.1 seconds
* Top speed: 155mph
* Econ/CO2: 29.4mpg/224g/km
* Equipment: Rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, part-leather upholstery, climate control, aluminium pedals, sat-nav, 10-speaker Bose stereo
* On sale: 1 October