Thanks to it having no real history to draw on, a complete lack of any kind of successor and a lukewarm reception from the press, the Mazda 3 MPS (or Mazdaspeed 3) is a largely forgotten hot hatch. But, does it deserve a little more attention?
We caught up with Aydan Thomas, who kindly let us drive his 2011 example, and asked him about his ownership experience. After that, we spoke to Neil Mckay of Mazda tuning specialists BBR GTI, to find out exactly what you need to look out for when buying one of these things, and what to modify.
Here’s what we learned:
Based on contemporary reviews of Mazda’s last hot hatch, I was led to believe it’d be an unruly, torque-steering beast that would feel determined to wrench my arms out of their sockets. The reality however is a little different. Yes, you do get some pull from the steering, but it’s easy to tame, and in line with a lot of more recent powerful hot hatches.
Aydan agrees. “I find it manageable, I was quite surprised,” he notes. And even if you don’t have much experience with powerful front-wheel drive cars: “You’re going to get used to it quite quickly,” he concludes.
As with a lot of inline-four turbocharged cars, there’s quite a big difference in fuel economy when you’re on a gentle motorway, and when you’re giving it a damn good spanking. Aydan notes that he can do 80 miles with the fuel range barely dropping, but, “If I put my foot down, I do 8mpg. It’s a thirsty car!” It’ll do 29mpg on the combined cycle according to the official figure, and emit 224g/km of CO2.
There’s no escaping it: the Mazda 3 MPS isn’t all that nice inside. A lot of the plastics feel low rent, the design is just a bit meh, and other than a smattering of fake carbonfibre bits, there isn’t much in there to tell you that this is a more special car than your average 3 hatch.
For Aydan, it’s his least favourite part of the car. “It’s a great car to drive but it’s not like being in a German car,” he says, adding, “It has all the gadgets you’d want, but if you’ve been in other hatchbacks like GTIs, you do think you’re in something inferior.”
If you’ve decided you definitely want a 3 MPS, what’s the number one thing to look out for? Neil warns to be “Careful of tuned cars, particularly if not from a reputable business”. If someone’s been careless, it could end up being costly, as “it’s very easy to bend the con rods due to the long stroke,” we’re told.
However, don’t let the previous point put you off tuning, as it’s amazingly easy to safely unlock more power. A simple Stage 1 remap will get you to 300bhp, and more power can be extracted by taking that to Stage 2, which involves modifying the intake - as it’s particularly restrictive from the airbox to the turbocharger - and changing the downpipes.
After that, you’ll be limited by the stock fuel pump, so that will need to go. The MPS “has a cam-driven high pressure fuel pump and it can only flow a certain amount of fuel at lower revs,” Neil explains.
Upgrade that, and you can either opt for a hybrid turbocharger which involves installing a larger compressor wheel and turbine wheel within the stock housing. That’ll give your MPS 350bhp, or if you’d prefer, a Garrett ball bearing turbo will be good for 380bhp. This is as far as you should push it on stock internals.
While you’re at it, you may want to beef up the suspension with aftermarket springs and dampers, although the standard parts in Aydan’s car still seemed to be up to the task when we drove it.
Even if you don’t modify the MPS, you should find it plenty fast. The 256bhp offered up by the 2.3-litre turbo four-banger seemed absurd at the time of its launch, and it’s still a healthy output 11 years on - that’s more than you get from a modern VW Golf GTI Performance Pack for instance. Stepping straight from a 271bhp Hyundai i30 N and into Aydan’s car, the straight-line performance still felt suitably dramatic. Plus, it makes the 3 MPS seem like even more of a bargain - you’re getting the current hot hatch bang for a fraction of the buck.
It’s laggier than newer hot hatches, granted, but once it’s on boost, you’d better watch out. “It’s quicker than you think. You do keep up with the S3s, the Golf Rs if you drive it right,” Aydan says. He also mentioned hammering it down an airfield, having to back off with it still pulling at 162mph due to a lack of room. Impressive.
The timing chain on the 2.3 will need changing after around 60,000 miles. You’ll be able to tell when it’s on the way out, as you’ll hear a rattling noise on the driver’s side (on right-hand drive cars) of the engine.
Changing it is “quite a labour-intensive and expensive job parts wise,” Neil says, so you’ll need to budget about £1200 to fix that.
Non-timing change services are - mercifully - significantly cheaper. The interval is 9000 miles.
Another common issue with the 3 MPS is turbocharger failure, although Neil reckons around 90 per cent of the blown turbos he sees are due to oil contamination. “Provided it has a clean oil supply, it’s quite reliable,” he says. Look after it, and it should last.
Prices for the early models start under £4000, but you probably want to budget over £6000 to bag a post-facelift car. Mechanically there’s little difference, but the newer cars (arguably) look better, are less prone to rust and are cheaper to tax: they’re £315 a year, as opposed to £540.
Whichever 3 MPS you buy, you’ll be getting a serious amount of car for the money.