Owners of the last shape Mazda3 MPS spent just as much time defending their cars against cynical mates as they did driving them. Banging on about the 256bhp power output, 6.1 second 0-62mph time and 155mph top speed, they were adamant that because it had better stats than a Golf GTi, the MPS was a better car. Sadly, their mates knew otherwise. The old car looked bland, felt synthetic and squirmed its power away with embarrassingly premature wheelspin. So, perhaps this new one can redress the balance and give its owners some more sophisticated grounds to argue on.
Encouragingly, all the key numbers have stayed exactly the same. Power, acceleration and top speed benchmarks are all identical to the last one, from the same 2.3 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine. All the work has gone into making it lighter and more rigid. So, in not worrying about making it look more impressive on paper, have Mazda made it more impressive on tarmac?
Being based on the current Focus, it’s got a crisp balance, a well-judged blend between roll control and pliancy, and decently chatty steering. It feels better resolved, more sophisticated and smarter than the last one – but it’s still not as accomplished as a Megane, Golf or Focus hotty. The better ride and awesome speed do mean we’d have an MPS over a Civic Type-R though.
And there’s still no getting away from the insanity going on at the front wheels. Any camber, rut or grease will be sniffed out and followed like a hunting hound to fox piss. On dry country roads it’s fun chasing the car down the route it wants to take, but on anything damp it’s a pain – even on what look like straight roads, you’ll be tugging against the torque as the boost comes in at 2,500rpm. Despite having limited torque output in first and second gears, and despite an LSD and torque-sensing software that adjusts the grunt depending on your steering inputs, it too often shows exactly why Ford invented Revoknuckle.
But the new MPS doesn’t rely on paper stats anywhere near as heavily as the previous car – despite the common faults, it comes closer to feeling like a well-rounded, controllable and dynamically talented hot hatch than before. Add an enormous kit list with parking sensors, bi-xenon lights, a cracking Bose hi-fi, leather everything and sat nav to a low £21,500 price and it starts to look like a sensible buy. The looks, even though it’s only available in practical but uncool 5dr, finally do the frenetic power delivery justice.
So, while even new MPS owners will need to defend their car to their mates, they’ll be able to put up a much stronger argument. It’s still no class leader, but offers incredible value, is incredibly quick and much of the time frantic fun. If you’re the type who likes to end an argument with an arm wrestle, it could be just what you’re looking for.