Mazda3 MPS 2012 Review

Mazda3 MPS 2012 Review

It’s interesting driving the cars that you know are going to be coveted by the future generation of performance-hungry young drivers. Because of our fairly cheap insurance in New Zealand, people under 25 can afford to insure cars that would be uninsurable in many other countries. As we have a sister title, NZ Performance Car, I’m acutely aware of the type of cars that will be making their way to the next generation once they’re a few years old.

Mazda’s MPS is one of them. OK, it’s front-wheel drive, which makes it a bit annoying for drift kings and track day heroes, but it’s a hot hatch with enough

wallop to win the traffic lights grand prix and it comes with a six-speed manual which means you have to be a proper driver.

This top-of-the-range Mazda3 packs 190kW which it attempts (sometimes unsuccessfully) to transfer through the front wheels. Half the time this works really well. But, you know how New Zealand roads are not renowned for being smooth. Here is the Mazda’s downfall. On the expressways of Tokyo the MPS would be stellar; on the back roads of Titirangi it’s as untidy as your nephew’s bedroom.

Second gear is where most of the action happens. It’ll give a solid kick as the turbo comes on boost, then the recipe of rubber, tarmac and horsepower is served up as a gigantic main course of torque steer. Still, it’s a lot of fun and once you’re aware of when this is about to happen, you can back off slightly and make some fairly rapid progress.

For all its fire and brimstone performance, it is incredibly economical, and I’ll give you an example. Back in 1998 I owned a WRX STI Type R (version 4). It had 205kW and a 2-litre turbo boxer engine. If I drove it economically I might have almost made it from Auckland to Napier (420km) on 60 litres of premium unleaded. But I daren’t. I always stopped at Taupo to fill up. While the MPS isn’t quite as quick to 100kph (6.1s vs 5.2s), it has a 2.3-litre turbo engine with slightly more torque (380Nm vs 350Nm) and it, too, has a 60-litre fuel tank and takes premium. However, the trip computer assured me that I would do 657km from full while I was driving the motorway journey from Mazda HQ to Parkside HQ.

Mazda’s official figure is 9.9l/100km on the combined cycle, so you should easily see 650km on an open road trip. That is quite significant and really shows you how far engine technology has come in the past 14 years because the Subaru was also 200kg lighter as it wasn’t encumbered with dual zone air conditioning, 10-speaker premium Bose amp (with subwoofer in the boot), five doors, 18-inch alloys with 225/40 tyres, 6 airbags (I don’t think it had any, from memory), and a slew of electronic aids to help keep you on the road (my Subie didn’t even have ABS!)

The Mazda MPS has some other tricks, too. It features Mazda’s Adaptive Front-lighting System which swivels the lights up to 15 degrees in the direction you are steering when on low beam. It has a torque-sensing limited-slip differential (it would be a nightmare without it) and the suspension has been tuned to give a more sporty feel over a standard Mazda3.

Despite this extra stiffness, driving it is not uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. Unless you elect to use ‘traffic calming measures’ as jump ramps, and as long as you respect railway crossings, the Mazda strikes an excellent balance between taught and compliant. Sports seats are supportive and the leather is accentuated by red stitching. A good driving position is easy to achieve with the adjustable steering wheel.

On the outside, the most noticeable feature of the MPS over lesser models is the letter box on the bonnet. Subtle MPS badging, the 18-inch alloys, a rear spoiler and some extra bulges complete the picture.

So what we have in the Mazda3 MPS is a more fun version of the very capable Mazda3. With the manic engine it’s a small family car where you probably want to leave your family at home and instead explore the scenic route – it’s the perfect recipe for a hot hatch.


  • Value for money thrills
  • Good balance of handling vs comfort


  • You just can’t put that amount of power through the front wheels without some side effects
  • The mirrors leave blind spots

Price: $49,195

Vehicle Highlights
Price $49,195 + ORC
Style 5 door hatch
Tank capacity (Litres) 60 litres
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded (min. 95 RON)
Fuel consumption – combined 9.9 litres per 100 km
Engine type 2.3 litre Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI) turbocharged in-line 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC
Capacity (cc) 2,261
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Maximum power (kW) 190 @ 5,500 rpm
Maximum torque (Nm) 380 @ 3,000 rpm
Throttle control Electronic (drive by wire)
Transmission 6-speed Manual
Number of seats 5
Doors 5
Overall height (mm) 1,460
Track – front/rear (mm) 1,535/1,520
Overall length (mm) 4,505
Overall width (mm) 1,770
Wheel base (mm) 2,640
Kerb weight (kg) 1,470
Towing capacity – braked (kg) 1,200
Towing capacity – unbraked (kg) 550
Cargo room volume (VDA) 268 litres
Steering Electro hydraulic power assist
Tyre size 225/40R18 88Y
Rim size 18 x 7.5 J
Wheel Type Alloy
Brakes – front Ventilated disc
Brakes – rear Solid disc
Air conditioning Dual-zone (front) climate control
Cabin Air Filter Ventilation pollen filter
Bluetooth® handsfree phone connectivity Yes
Steering column – adjustable Yes
Cruise Control Yes
CD player Single CD (MP3/WMA compatible)
Auxiliary input 3.5 mm MP3 player compatible and 12 volt power outlet
Speakers 10
Premium Bose® amplifier and speakers 242 watt
Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls Yes
Cup holders Yes
Interior illumination Cargo room lamp, ignition key surround, map reading spot lamps, power window switch (driver)
Leather wrapped shift knob Yes
Leather wrapped steering wheel Yes
Seat trim Leather/cloth
Multi Information Display 3.5-inch
Windscreen wipers – front 2 speed with rain-sensing function
Windscreen wipers – rear Intermittent function
Door handles Body coloured
Mirrors Power mirrors
Aerial Roof mounted
Headlamps (Bi-Xenon) with Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) and automatic on/off function
Windows Powered with one-touch function (driver)
Fog-lamps Yes
Body kit Signature MPS body kit including sports bumpers, side skirts, roof spoiler and badged-sports grille
Smart keyless entry Yes
Push button engine start Yes
Genuine Scheduled Servicing 3 years/100,000km (whichever occurs first) of Mazda Genuine Scheduled Service at no extra cost
On Road Assistance 3 year unlimited kilometre Mazda On Call Roadside Assisstance
Warranty (years/km) 3 year unlimited kilometre Mazda Genuine Factory Warranty

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

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