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Mazda 3 MPS 2010 Road Test

Sat, 05 Sep 2009

Click on (www.honestjohn.co.uk/road_tests/index.htm?id=381) and you’ll find a range test of the 2009 Mazda 3. Here we’re going to concentrate on the hot one. The 260PS, 380Nm Mazda3 MPS.

And because the car has a top speed of 250kmh (155mph) Mazda sent us somewhere we could legally find it. Northern Germany, between Hamburg and Rostock.

Compared to its archrival, the VW Golf GTI, the new MPS looks good. The designers have found ways to enhance and accentuate the curves of the standard car; something they weren’t very successful at with its predecessor.

It’s slightly bigger, slightly lighter, slightly more powerful and slightly better at putting its power down,

Because 260PS and 380Nm is an awful lot to feed through the steered wheels, Mazda has adopted several means to manage it. One is reduced torque in the first two gears, as well as torque that reduces according to the steering angle of the front wheels. (It’s done by closing the throttle valve and opening the turbo wastegate.) Steering angle torque control is still applied even if the DSC is switched off.

Another is a ‘Super Limited Slip Diff’ that gives 2/3 torque to the wheel that needs it combined with equal length driveshafts (despite the offset differential).

That, different suspension damping, different anti roll bars, special 225/40 R18 Dunlop tyres and body strengthening gussets to make it stiffer are claimed to make the car very stable in high winds and bad conditions, like rain.

And, right on cue, rain it did on our first day with the car. Serious, monsoonal rain. Yet, as promised, the car tracked straight and true. On our second day, when we finally found a stretch of autobahn not choked with traffic, it stayed impressively stable right up to its max of 250kmh, actually achieved on a slight curve.

Where it wasn’t so good was giving it some beans to overtake on a two-lane blacktop. It really didn’t like the change of surfaces. Call it “white line fever”. Call it torque steer. Call it what you like. The torque management system only cuts a maximum of 60Nm.

Yet while it can go a bit berserk reeling in 5.8 second 0-60s, the other side of its character is a pleasant, purring pussycat. 6th gear gives about 25mph per 1,000rpm, and there’s plenty enough torque to trickle down to 1,500rpm at which it will amble along very pleasantly. I can see many owners bettering the claimed 29.4. Our average worked out at 28mpg (10.1 l/100km), and that included running at up to 155mph. Running in normal UK conditions, not cruising quicker than 80, I reckon you’d see 32 – 35mpg.

The £21,500 price includes a lot of kit. Metallic paint, if you want it (to my eye the car looks best in solid Arctic White, though I could be persuaded into Crystal White Pearl), satnav, cruise, part leather seats, dual climate controls that glow blue or red for cold or hot.

Ride quality is on the acceptable side of what you’d expect on 225/40 R18s. You learn to check the road surface ahead carefully, but needn’t budget for a chiropractor.

This isn’t a rave review because despite the torque management system you do have to be careful how you put down the power. You might get a slightly ‘purer’ driving experience from a Golf GTI (I can’t yet tell you about the Leon Cupra 265). The Quaife diff of the Focus RS works better than the Mazda system.

But the Mazda 3 MPS is still a really good car, extremely stable at very high speed, reasonably economical at low speed, and with a level of equipment that could add £5,000 to the price of some cars.

Definitely worth testing against a Golf GTI before you hand your money to the Germans.

2006 Mazda 3 facelift model test at www.honestjohn.co.uk/road_tests/index.htm?id=233

For prices, specifications, engines, transmissions, dimensions and performance figures, please click the tabs.

More at www.mazda.co.uk

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