Mazda3 MPS hatchback (2009-2013)
“The Mazda3 MPS is fast and great value for money, but it’s not as fun as a Ford Focus ST and costs a lot to run.”
- Extremely strong performance
- Great value for money
- Lots of standard equipment
- Not as fun as rivals
- High fuel consumption
- Heavy depreciation
The Mazda3 MPS is the high-performance hot hatchback version of the excellent Mazda3 hatchback, although it is based on the previous model. The standard car was already pretty sporty for a hatchback, so adding a 256bhp turbocharged 2.3-litre engine has really made it fly. It now sports a wild-looking body kit and has upgraded suspension – all part of Mazda targeting the rival Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST hot hatchbacks. Thanks to a relatively low list price and loads of standard equipment, the MPS is actually excellent value money and a real challenge to the segment. However, it must be said that it's not as fun to drive as the Focus, and it suffers from high running costs that sadly do offset the attractive purchase price somewhat. The MPS comes in three main specifications – entry-level Tamura, mid-range Venture and top-of-the-range Sport Nav.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The MPS sticks to the convention of high-performance cars never being very cheap to run. So, fuel economy for the powerful turbocharged engine is fairly bad, even when compared to similar performance-focused models, such as the Ford Focus. The MPS returns only 30.1mpg and emits a hefty 219g/km, which is actually an improvement on the pre-2012-facelift model, which returned 29.4mpg and emitted 224g/km. But it will still cost you a lot in tax and fuel, and is worse than the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Renaultsport Megane and the more powerful Vauxhall Astra VXR.
Engines, drive & performance
You get a powerful 256bhp turbocharged engine in the MPS, and it totally dominates the driving experience, able to accelerate from 0-62mph in only 6.1 seconds, on up to top speed of 155mph. Which is to say that, yes, it is fun to drive. As is the case in the less sporty Mazda3 models, you get plenty of strong grip and precise steering that serves you well round tight bends, along with a reactive and smooth six-speed gearbox and powerful, responsive brakes. However, on bumpy roads the MPS does become something of a handful, as the forceful (maybe excessive?) power can cause the wheels to spin, making it hard to keep the car exactly where you want it on the road ahead.
Interior & comfort
As a performance model, the MPS has stiffer suspension than the standard-model Mazda3, but not to the degree that ride comfort suffers too much. You will feel bumps and potholes more than in the standard car, but you’re not crashed about when you do. Plus, the interior is nicely insulated from road, wind and tyre noise, while the front seats are very supportive, hugging the body enough to keep you firmly in place when cornering at speed. However, when driving at higher speeds, the exhaust does make a whooshing noise that is a little bit intrusive. Interestingly, the noise disappears when driving on the motorway. Standard equipment includes cruise control, which does help take any real strain out of long-distance journeys.
Practicality & boot space
It’s safe to say that the MPS matches the standard model Mazda3 for practicality, with a reasonably sized interior that can technically seat five adults. However, the MPS’ larger sports seats do reduce the legroom in the back somewhat, but if you limit yourself to only four adults then it should still be comfortable. You also get a versatile hatchback boot that only suffers from a limited luggage capacity. With only 300 litres of space – which is 50 litres less than in the Volkswagen Golf – it can just about serve a small family. On the plus side, the standard-fit split-fold rear seats make it easier to carry some larger items.
Reliability & safety
Mazda climbed an impressive 13 places up the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey’s manufacturers rankings to place fourth, narrowly missing out on a place on the podium. Its highest-scoring category was reliability, so you can be sure of Mazda’s pedigree and the dependability of its cars. Also, the old Mazda3 that’s the MPS is based on managed to climb five places up the top 100 cars rankings, to come 53rd – not bad for a car that’s been in the market since 2009. And again, reliability was its highest-scoring category, so you can’t get a more ringing endorsement than that, really. The 2.3-litre engine is tried and tested, and you can trace it's origins back to the previous generation 3 MPS, while fit and finish of the interior is very precise, which suggests that the MPS will be every bit durable as the very solid Volkswagen Golf. The standard-model Mazda3 secured the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with a full complement of six airbags, plus electronic stability control, traction control and blind spot warning all fitted as standard.
Price, value for money & options
If you assess value purely on performance per pound you pay, then there aren’t many other cars out there that can rival the MPS. It competes with but manages to undercut the likes of the VW Golf GTI, SEAT Leon Cupra, Renaultsport Megane and Vauxhall Astra VXR on list price. It also comes fitted with plenty of standard equipment – a lot of which would cost extra if you go for the Golf – including sat-nav, Bose stereo, rear parking sensors and heated, part-leather seats. Optional extras include xenon headlights, climate control and a heated windscreen. Resale values of the MPS on the used car market aren’t very strong, either, with the Mazda only holding on to approximately 35 per cent of its value after three years of ownership. On the positive side, servicing costs should be relatively reasonable.