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FIRST DRIVE: Mazda's 191kW hatch

2006-10-03 08:58

Wilmer Muller

Mazda3 MPS to be launched in South Africa in 2007

Like manufacturers such as VW, Opel and Ford, Mazda has a "wild child" too. It's called the Mazda3 MPS and it broke cover at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year.

Now the Japanese carmaker is gearing up to unleash its most potent hatchback yet.

This hotty comes with the same turbo-charged engine as the Mazda6 MPS, which is due to go on sale in SA in November.

The Mazda3 MPS has a lightweight five-door body and paired with its 2.3-litre engine, it has a top class power-to-weight ratio making it one of the highest performing front-wheel drive cars around.

And for the record the Mazda3 is not taking aim at the so-called "king of hot hatches", the Golf GTI. No, the GTI just doesn't quite have the same muscle as the Mazda.

In fact the MPS is actually showing its teeth for the GTI's more muscular brother - the R32. Other rivals include the Opel Astra OPC, BMW 130i and Alfa 147 GTA.

To justify why the Mazda deserve to be grouped with these high-performance hatchbacks, let's look at the scoreboard:

  • 2.3-litre turbocharged engine
  • 191 kW @ 5 500 r/min
  • 380 Nm @ 3 000 r/min
  • 0-100 km/h 6.1 seconds
  • Top speed of 250 km/h

    Yes, "wow" is the right reaction, dear readers. If you compare the Mazda3's 0-100 km/h sprint time, it sits right at the top in comparison with its rivals.

    It takes the OPC 6.4 seonds seconds to get to the 100 km/h mark, while the 130i does it in 6.1 seconds too.

    Ultimate zoom-zoom

    The driving experience is also on par with the competition as this Mazda is indeed the ultimate zoom-zoom. Boy racers will love it.

    Although it has sport suspension, the Mazda3 MPS doesn't have all-wheel-drive like its bigger Mazda6 MPS sibling. Power is transmitted via a 6-speed gearbox to the front wheels only.

    On the international launch in southern Bavaria in Germany, I got first hand experience of this pocket rocket's sporty talents. In the US the Mazda3 is badged as the "Mazdaspeed3" and this is very appropriate as this hatch is all about speed (and muscle).

    The 2.3-litre engine delivers power instantly and there is hardly any turbo-lag. When you put your foot down to pump all that muscle to the front wheels one does see the nose lift slightly. And then it takes off!

    Also when you wind up the turbo and drop the clutch you will burn some good rubber as you rocket forward.

    But the ride is composed and there is nothing rowdy about the Mazda3 MPS's road manners. The steering is precise and the car keeps its posture on the road with ease. Even at 250km/h on the German autobahns the Mazda never felt unruly.

    To keep the car stable, Mazda engineers beefed up the chassis and brakes. Body rigidity is good too and has Mazda has stiffened the MPS's body quite a bit to stand up to the demands of 191 kW of power. Suspension and brakes have also been specially tuned.

    Not only does the MPS performs, the Mazda engineers also did a good job to give it a sporty note. Mazda tuned the exhaust to give the car a lekker growl - and to optimise torque output.


    It is also easy to tame this beast as in city driving the MPS doesn't feel as if it is impatient to unleash all its horses.

    Some hot hatches are very edgy in slower traffic conditions, which is annoying as it takes effort to control the vehicle. Not with the Mazda - it seems quite happy in bumper-to-bumper conditions too and it is no hassle to restrain its power.

    Therefore it is a very drivable vehicle and offers a good compromise of power and practicality.

    For me it felt as this is a hot hatch that you can easily live with as it easily adapts to all driving conditions - in short, the Mazda3 MPS is a good every day car too. But when needed it transforms into a pure sports machine instantaneously.

    Subtle design

    The car shows its power too but in a less subtle way than its competitors. The hot hatch theme is present in its design but not too much in your face. Mazda says the car is designed to be "sporty, yet subtle".

    It is clearly still a Mazda3 but the MPS gets larger front fenders and a more bulging bonnet. There are also sportier bumpers and at the front the MPS features a big air intake with a honeycomb pattern. The 10-spoke 18-inch wheels look good but appear classy rather than sporty.

    At the back there is a big tailpipe lurking out of specially designed bumper, which is partly colour-coded with a black insert. It also gets a roof spoiler with integrated LED brakes.

    South African introduction

    Ben Pillay, the general manager of communications of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, told Wheels24 that the Mazda3 MPS is due for local introduction in the second half of 2007.

    When it arrives here power will be a bit less than the European spec model due to South Africa's fuel quality. Mazda says the South African model will probably kick out about 184 kW but torque will be unchanged.

    There is no indication yet of pricing too but according to Mazda it will be "very competitive. However, Wheels24 expect it to be in the region of R250 000 to R265 000.


    Mazda might not have invented the hot hatch segment but with the Mazda3 MPS it is making sure that its competitors and performance car fans pay attention to it. It will be a welcome addition to the growing hot hatch segment.

    In the meantime performance fans can look forward to the introduction of the Mazda6 MPS next month.


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