I've never been a great Mazda6 fan. Not that there was anything wrong with the car mechanically; I just found it to be rather dull, that's all.
The kind of car chosen by those realising that the kids are growing older and it could possibly be the last proper family car owned - so it had better last.
Conversely, this is exactly what makes the Mazda6 MPS such a fantastic machine. For the most part it moves about under an invisibility cloak, but stick it in third, give it juice and watch the jaws drop as you blaze into the distance, the light gleaming off those fat twin tailpipes... Fantastic.
What's it about?
The Mazda6 was one of the first of the new generation Mazdas to spearhead the brand's "zoom-zoom" philosophy which has seen a dramatic about-turn in the manufacturer's fortunes. The announcement of the next generation Mazda6 can not be too far off, and in keeping with accepted practice, the Japanese manufacturer has released a swansong in the form of the fiery MPS version.
In standard form, the Mazda6's styling is inherently sporty, though the MPS does tend to take this one step further. Though the boot spoiler is more discreet than that offered on Exclusive models, there's no mistaking those oversized twin tailpipes or the large front airdams leading to a menacing front spoiler.
Inside the cabin, the MPS is luxuriously equipped. Full leather interior is provided with the two front occupants enjoying the comforts of special MPS emblazoned sport seats. The instrument panel and centre hangdown section are tastefully finished in a shiny hard plastic (that almost resembles carbon fibre) and brushed aluminium trimming on the hangdown section and instrument surrounds.
Core functions - such as six CD audio system and climate control functions - are manipulated by using the large dials and buttons to the left of the driver. Satellite audio controls are housed on the steering wheel along with controls for the fantastically easy to use cruise control system.
Quality is good throughout the cabin, with most surfaces - even the hard, shiny plastic finishes which at first glance seemed rather delicate - appearing resilient and hard-wearing.
As expected, the racy 6 is equipped with a raft of safety features too, including airbags all round, DSC, ABS and perforated brake discs.
Under the skin
Developed in-house by the Mazda Performance Studio, the hot 6's rocket-like ability can be attributed to its turbocharged, direct injection 2.3 litre unit with 191 kW on tap at 5 500 r/min and a peak torque figure of 380 Nm at 3 000 r/min. This four cylinder engine is mated with a six-speed manual transmission.
For the first time on any of its performance derivatives, Mazda has abandoned a conventional rear-wheel drive arrangement in favour of an active torque split all-wheel drive system.
The Haldex-type system varies torque distribution from 100% front-wheel bias under normal circumstances to a 50/50 split via three settings controlled by the ECU.
On the road
Where I had always considered the MX-5 and RX-8 to be the most entertaining of the current Mazda line-up, who would have guessed that one could have this much fun in a family sedan?
You'd better make sure the babies are securely strapped in before embarking on any journey in this car. It surges ahead at the slightest encouragement, too quickly hitting 3 000 r/min when all that torque delivers a sucker punch to the midsection.
And point it at a crooked stretch and feel the MPS wind itself up. Unleashed, the family racer remains as calm as ever though. Apart from the slightest protests as the burly 18-inchers fight for grip, the MPS goes about its business of ripping up the tarmac without so much as breaking a sweat.
But stick it in a section of urban stop-go traffic and the MPS immediately switches to its docile family-loving personality, with the driver only having a tender left calf to show for the time spent pumping away at that heavy clutch.
The suspension also tends to stiffen rather nicely when involved in more athletic pursuits, but remains comfortably firm for day-to-day conditions.
Insipid styling makes this car the ultimate super sleeper
Fantastically responsive motor
Faultless all-wheel drive system
Good quality finishes
Exterior styling starting to show age
The standard Mazda6 may not be the world's most exciting piece of machinery, but when it dons its MPS livery it certainly makes an imposing prospect. Don't let the dull exterior deter you, the engine more than makes up for this while the 6 is hauling.
A more exciting prospect perhaps, is that this engine is also being shoehorned into the smaller Mazda3 MPS, which arrives here towards the end of the year.
With its smaller hatchback configuration is bound to be a rocket of note, and if the pricing structure is as keen as that of the Mazda6 MPS (which costs around R320 000 fully equipped), the five-door could become a lot more popular. Incidentally, the revised Mazda3 will be shown at Durban Motor Show later this month.
Bring on the zoom-zoom!