A sleeper with a true sting in its tail
IN 2006 MAZDA turbocharged the new 3 to create its first serious hot hatch. Yet this is a car that time is beginning to forget, quite unfairly if you ask us.
The Mazda Performance Series (MPS) version of the 3 joined the RX-8, NC series MX-5 and 6 MPS to establish one of the company’s most performance-focused model line-ups. At its heart was a 2.3-litre direct injected four-cylinder shared with the all-wheel drive 6 MPS. And despite its powertrain driving only the front axle, the 3 MPS wasn’t penalised a single kilowatt or newton metre.
Its 190kW and 380Nm towered over the four-cylinder hatch competition in its day. In fact, the only hatches that came close to it for stonk had an extra two cylinders and asked for much more than the 3 MPS’s reasonable $39,990.
For that money, the MPS offered decent performance and engineering in the way of a Torsen LSD, unequal length half shafts and specially tuned suspension. Admittedly, it was a lot of power for the 3’s package, and even though it was boost-limited in the six-speed transmission’s lower gears, the MPS was known for torque steer and nose-heavy handling.
Mazda claimed 6.1 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, but all MOTOR could manage was 6.61. It did eventually hook up, though, as it actually crossed the standing kilometre with a higher trap speed than the 6 MPS at 199.74km/h.
It was updated in 2009 when the base car transitioned to a new generation. Mazda tried to address the handling issues with revised steering, suspension and wider tyres. Its looks, too, were finally reworked to suit the car’s dynamite performance that centred around the carried-over 2.3-litre powerplant.
Sadly, Mazda dropped the MPS brand when the latest generation 3 arrived, apparently more focused on developing SkyActiv engines and SUVs instead, leaving us with the good, but far from exhilarating, SP25 in its wake.