Mazda 3 MPS

4 Jan, 2013 11:00am Tom Phillips

We get behind the wheel of the revised Mazda 3 MPS hot hatch to find out if it's now a contender


The Mazda 3 MPS is decent value and remains a powerful, handsome and very fast hot hatch. However, the class has moved on considerably since the car debuted in 2009, and these subtle tweaks can’t hide the fact that it’s now a fair way off its rivals’ pace, if not in outright speed then certainly in terms of design, economy and technology.

You have to be a true fan of Mazda’s MPS performance brand to be able to tell this new facelifted version of the 3 hot hatch apart from its predecessor.

As part of a range of minor tweaks, the new 3 MPS now gets a choice of four metallic colours, including our test car’s Crystal White, and a set of new gunmetal grey 18-inch alloys as standard. The other upgrades concern the mirror caps, lower back bumper and second, smaller rear wing – all are now finished in gloss black rather than body-coloured paint.

While the Mazda is still a handsome car, the design tweaks don’t really move the game on much in a competitive market that includes rivals such as the aggressive Ford Focus ST and swooping Vauxhall Astra VXR.

There are no changes to the interior, either – so it remains simple and well made, if a little on the plasticky side. Standard equipment includes everything from heated front seats to a nice-sounding 10-speaker Bose stereo.

Sat-nav also features, although it’s operated via steering wheel buttons, while the 4.1-inch display is quite small and tricky to read.

The driving experience is very familiar. The 2.3-litre engine still delivers its 256bhp to the front wheels in great, eager punches, for huge acceleration particularly in the middle of third gear where the turbo is properly spooled up.

Yet while it has decent pace, a 247bhp Focus ST promises fuel economy and emissions that are 9.1mpg and 50g/km better than the 3’s 30.1mpg and 219g/km. The Mazda’s six-speed box is as slick as ever, but the previous model’s torque steer has also been carried over. So the wheel jiggles in your hands as the front tyres struggle to turn the engine’s power into forward motion.

The stiff suspension doesn’t help. Hit a bump mid-corner and the car is thrown off line, with a violent kick from the wheel.

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On this one I must agree with Tom. This model's appeal would likely be limited to die-hard Mazda fans because it has failed to keep pace with the competition in terms of design, economy and technology.

Ford Focus ST2 is only half a second slower but is a lot cleaner in terms of CO2 emissions.

Renault Megane Renaultsport coupe is slightly faster and a whole lot cleaner too.
And though Vauxhall Astra VXR is more expensive on list price it is faster than Mazda MPS and cleaner.

The efficiency of this car is laughable.
It's economy is even less than the new 4.4 SDV8 Range Rover.

Not a great review here in my opinion. Aside from the fact that this car is now about 3 years old, it would only be fair to compare the next 3 MPS (if there is one), and since the next model of the 3 is likely to roll out next year, we can expect an MPS variant soon after - Most likely on a Skyactiv engine for efficiency.

Moving on from that, aside from fuel economy, this car isn't so bad. There is torque steer yes but you can sort of expect that from a very fast FWD hatch, and it isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. If you say otherwise, you must have weak arms.

It is very practical, which is more than can be said for other hot hatchbacks, fairly comfortable, quiet, very well equipped, put together and the interior isn't too bad either, not forgetting that it is very fast, so really, it should get 4*. Having said all that, to buy this car now (especially at list price) would be silly, better to wait for the refresh. But one south of 12k is a cracking deal.

And before I get flamed.. I'm a previous owner of the old Focus ST, the current MPS, and I've had a brief stints in a mk6 GTI and RS Megane and I work as a car trader. Not to say the rivals aren't good, they are great - but this car isn't as bad as reviewers apparently make it seem to be. What I really hope for is an MPS Coupe based on the new Mazda 6. Sick of the usual 3 series coupe and A5s. Come on Mazda..!!

You wont get flamed from me..! because I agree with your comments about the MPS. It is a cracking car. I've driven the current MPS - very lively and very entertaining. There's plenty to like about the 3 MPS. Its a great hot hatch for those in the know.

This is not a fair review of this car. Most British online car blogs are too snobbish to highly rate anything not manufactured by a European company. Shame.

British always slag off Japanese cars. I've had a Ford, a Volkswagen, 2 Hondas and a Mazda.
Had loads of problems with the Ford and Volkswagen. Never had any problems whatsoever with the Jap cars!
European cars are not built to last.

It should have a violent kicd because of the LSD. And I didn't understand that pillowy settings with progressive springs was a must on hot hatches...

Jeremy, you are absolutely right, I had driven Alfas, VW, BMW and Merz. Had faced high maintenance cost before. Well, the Merz is very reliable but still quite expensive to own. The best I got to drive amongs the Japanese brand this year is the Suzuki Swift Sport. It is so enjoyable that I decide to buy it after test driving it last week. Handles like the Mini and yet comfortable for everyday use.

The hot hatches you are comparing the 3MPS to are all new models so should be better in power economy and emissions.

I suggest you wait till Mazda release a new model with skyactiv tech. Then you can comment wisely.

As the owner of an MPS, I can't really agree with what they say about this torque steer that's apparently so bad. But like has been said, a new 3 is out soon, so no doubt it'll move the game on. But I don't think you will find this kind of talented chassis, handling and power combination for a price anywhere near what Mazda ask. The ST is dearer and not as well equiped or fast. VXR is a Coupe, so can't really compare it to that either.

How do you mix Skyactiv petrol tech with a turbo? Sky high compression ratios don't really mix with turbos.

I've just bought this very car and I test drove all the other hot hatches available there's one thing Mazda offer you that nobody else could or would and that's zero percent finance and 1500 quid dealer contribution, thats a big deal when buying a brand new car plus the mps is loaded with kit ok it's not as young as some but it looks awesome still,my current 2010 Octavia vrs has torque steer so why the poor mps gets bad mouthed I'll never know even the new focus st suffers badly from it that never gets mentioned not to mention all jap cars I've owned have never failed yet my vrs has had 3 trips to the dealer for electrical faults.

Torque steer, torque steer, torque steer...! What a load of rubbish. It grips and goes far better than the other hot hatches, is much better built apart from the interior but its not bad. It is loaded with extras as standard and is far cheaper than the competition plus it has 5 doors as standard for practicality. Why oh why do they keep getting knocked??? As for economy they get better than the published figure where as ford just lie about average mpg. It's how you drive as to your mpg. As for the torque steer, it is no worse than any other car in its class, hardly there and predictable when it is. It is basically a lot cheaper, better built, quicker, more reliable with more extras than the rest plus it is rarer on the road. I've driven them all and cannot understand why it is not the class leader.

Key specs

  • Price: £23,995
  • Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power: 256bhp
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Economy: 30.1mpg
  • CO2: 219g/km
  • Equipment: 18-inch alloy wheels, Bose stereo, sat-nav, keyless go
  • On sale: Now