Mazda 3

Mazda has always lacked presence in the hot hatch sector. Not any more with the 3 MPS

This MPS version of the 3 is a truly impressive package. Everything about the car feels just right – it has plenty of power, great handling, superb brakes, a positive short-throw six-speed gearbox, a pliant ride and is comfortable inside. Compared to its front-wheel-drive hot hatch rivals, it feels as if it accelerates and corners faster than anything else in the class.

You have to admire Mazda. The pace of the company’s reinvention has been stunning. From the sensible 6 saloon to the daring RX-8 coupé, the firm has mixed brave engineering with innovative design.

But when it comes to the hot hatch sector, Mazda has lacked presence. Now that’s set to change, as the new 3 MPS is on the way. Judging by the car’s specification, it’s set to cause head­aches for the segment’s biggest hitters. With a heady 248bhp, Auto Express was first in line to drive it.

Aimed at rivals such as the VW Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST, the MPS (Mazda Performance Series) is based on the newly facelifted 3 but gets sporty body modifications. At the rear there’s a big roof spoiler, while multispoke 18-inch alloy wheels round off the aggressive looks. The cosmetic surgery parallels many hot hatch rivals, but it’s the MPS’s on-road performance that’s set to make it stand out.

Tipping the scales at 1,390kg, the MPS is 70kg lighter than the Golf GTI, while its 248bhp output is nearly 50bhp more than its rival. Those figures mean that the 3 covers the 0-60mph sprint in 6.1 seconds and has a top speed close to 150mph. The turbo begins to spin from 2,500rpm and stays on boost all the way to the 6,800rpm red line, while the linear response is more akin to a gutsy V6 than a four-cylinder turbo.

And the engine’s power certainly doesn’t go to waste. After five minutes in the MPS, any doubts about traction under acceleration or torque steer dissolve, as the reinforced driveshafts and specially tuned torque-sensing limited-slip diff cope well with the car’s thrust. In addition, there’s a responsive traction control system, a stiffened chassis and beefier springs which allow the MPS to corner quickly. In all types of bend the MPS is composed, while the Volvo S60-sourced brakes wash off speed quickly.

The only issue remaining is brand image. Can the 3 MPS gain sufficient street-cred to draw buyers into showrooms? The jury is still out, but with the first cars arriving in the UK in November, we won’t have to wait long to find out.

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