What's it about?
Hot hatches are en vogue again, and Mazda's offering is the most powerful one to date - its Mazda3 MPS has 190 kW of unadulterated power on tap.
The second to receive attention from Mazda's in-house performance arm (the Mazda6 was first to be blessed with Mazda Performance Series treatment), this hatchback has transformed from a docile dud hatch to a seriously fiery one.
The entire Mazda3 range of hatchbacks and sedans is also recently revised, and with the latest changes a 2.3-litre naturally aspirated engine was added. Without the trimmings inherent to the MPS version, this is a fiesty number in it own right and does offer an interesting alternative.
But bang for buck, the 3MPS is already a find and its styling kit so unobtrusive that the more you look at the 2.3 model, the less it makes sense.
Under the bonnet
Nevertheless, the Mazda3 MPs is powered by a turbocharged version of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder unit sourced from big brother Mazda6.
This motor is mounted transversely and equipped with Mazda's DISI (direct injection spark ignition) technology. This allows for better combustion and an engine with power comparable to that of a six-cylinder, but with the fuel efficiency and weight advantage a four-cylinder affords.
The turbocharged unit develops 190 kW at 5 500 r/min and has a peak torque figure of 380 Nm at 3 000 r/min.
The engine runs smoothly and turbo lag, though evident, is hardly noticeable. It does tend to run out of puff quite early (around the 6 000 r/min mark) but with that much torque from that low down, revving the thing senseless is not even necessary.
Mazda quotes a top speed limited to 250 km/h and a 0 - 100 km/h sprint time of 6.1 seconds.
Compared with what would be some of its key competitors, Opel's 177 kW Astra OPC and the Ford Focus ST that punches out 166 kW from its turbocharged 2.5-litre unit, the Mazda appears to be in good company.
And then there's always VW's 147 Golf GTI, which does not necessarily compete with the Mazda on engine capacity or output, but is likely to be drawn into these hot hatch comparisons anyway...
On the whole, the Japanese powerplant is a willing performer and in-gear acceleration, particularly in third and fourth gears, is good.
The short-throw six-speed manual gearbox feels notchy, but this translates to decisive shifts at speed. The clutch takes fairly low down and ensures a few red-faced stalls the first few times behind the wheel, but its light action does become easier to live with and it does make for slick snap changes.
With a large amount of torque available at such low revs, the 3MPS is a very drivable machine in most conditions. It's likely that most specimens will spend their time battling the daily traffic jam, but that's okay - this MPS just takes it in its stride.
But strip it of its DSC mechanisms and it becomes an instant animal. In other words, if you value your life, think twice before deactivating it, particularly in the wet! However, the good news is that should a track be hard to "track down", just activate the DSC and have some (safe) fun anyway.
Unlike the Mazda6 MPS with all-wheel drive, the Mazda3 MPS has its full power quota channelled to the front wheels via a limited slip diff.
This could translate to suicidal torque steer, but the Mazda engineering boffins have come up with a way around this by developing a Torque Control System (TCS) that is incorporated into the DSC system and alleviates most of its effects.
The system is not intrusive at all and allows you to really test your limits without even raising a sculpted eyebrow. But for those that need the reassurance, the 3 MPS is fitted with ABS matched to a performance braking system, EBA, EBD, airbags for the front occupants and with side and curtain 'bags along with the safety nets mentioned before.
A reinforced McPherson strut and multi-link suspension arrangement translate to a ride that is firm yet compliant with superb grip levels.
But since this hot hatch is likely to spend most of its life in urban and suburban surrounds, comfort should be an important consideration too.
The car's cabin, though very true to that of the standard Mazda3 is made to look sportier with sombre black materials and metallic accents used throughout.
The driver and front passenger have the relative luxury of partial leather semi-bucket seats (with lumbar support and height adjustment for the driver) that are finished in black with contrasting red stitching.
The MPS insignia is drizzled across the cabin and is also seen in the instruments' metal surrounds and drilled pedals.
In terms of its styling, the 3 MPS looks remarkably similar to the rest of the recently facelifted range.
It adds a raised bonnet, revised grille with larger air intakes, a special front bumper and fog lights and wider fenders at the front.
The car rides on 18-inchers, but at the rear is distinguished by a spoiler with an LED brake light, rear diffuser and a monster of a tailpipe. Of course, the MPS badging on the rump also signals that this is no ordinary Mazda3.
And its exclusivity is further cemented by owners having only four colours - red, black, silver and blue - to choose from.
Its performance figures ensure the Mazda3 MPS is the most potent of the current crop of pocket rockets. With 190 kW channelled to the front wheels, this car also has a superb set of systems to keep everything in check. And while it is a brute when unleashed, the car is also very capable around town.
But the recent upgrading across the Mazda3 range also means the performance model looks far too similar to the average 1.6-litre variety. That's a pity.
Impressive power figures
Price presents great value in a tightly contested segment
Unassuming exterior styling
Equally bland interior