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.