motors: MAZDA'S A REAL DARK HORSE.
THE Mazda3 MPS is not so much a dark horse as a stallion.
It is effectively the Focus ST equivalent, but being a Mazda puts more in your pocket and more power under the bonnet than in your face.
The MPS stands for Mazda Performance Series.
Subdued styling and conservative colours mean the Mazda3 MPS allows you to make progress without attracting unwelcome attention.
Alternatively, you could spend another pounds 500 and get the sports styling pack including bigger rear spoiler, sports mirrors and lower suspension.
At the top of the hatchback range, the MPS brings not only enormous reserves of power but also is probably the best driving model in the range because you do not have to work it hard but it handles and rides with confidence and composure.
The powertrain is a proven combination which packs a punch but delivers it in a velvet glove as the easy revving, smooth, strong engine is matched to a precise, neat changing six-speed box with good ratios for rapid getaway, overtaking or relaxed cruising.
There is a good feel to the gearbox and a responsive nature to the engine and these are matched by delightfully balanced all-disc brakes with advanced antilocking, assistance and traction control, as well as a speed sensitive power steering which imparts excellent feedback and gives the car a sharp character.
The secondary controls are well laid out with the most commonly used switches close to hand and the compact instruments display gives priority to the speedometer while the tacho, levels and temperature gauges are also in direct line of sight.
There is good air conditioning, powered windows as well with one-touch closing, premium sound system with six-disk changer and remote controls, leather sports seats and stainless steel detailing.
It all looks very well designed and put together although my only gripe is that the unrelenting grey plastic drags down the sophisticated styling and details in the cabin.
Access is very good, with a decent sized boot, and visibility clear with low waistline, deep windows, big wipers and bright xenon lights to complement the performance potential.
The ride is slightly firm but not particularly hard and it soaks up bumps very well, only occasionally letting bad potholes be felt.
Handling is very good, safe and sure with a predictable nature and no nasty surprises.
It is not only quick off the mark but it has strong mid-range punch as well and without even trying I was nudging 30mpg, so the more light-footed would probably comfortably see another 5mpg regularly added to that figure.
I think it is one of the more distinctive of the hot hatchbacks on the market and it won't break the bank.
Price: pounds 18,995
Mechanical: 260bhp, 2,261cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 6spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.1 secs
Combined mpg: 29.1
Insurance group: 17
CO2 emissions: 231g/km
BiK rating: 33%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000, 3yrs paint,
STYLISH: the much improved Mazda 3 MPS
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Apr 8, 2007|
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