In 2007, Mazda released the Mazda 3 MPS at the Geneva International Motor Show.
It went by several names – such as the Mazdaspeed 3, the Mazdaspeed Axela in Japanese markets, and Mazda 3 MPS – and marked the first hot hatch from the company since the BG Familia GT-X of the early 1990s.
MPS – short for Mazda Performance Series – was to Mazda what AMG is to Mercedes: the best version of what their cars can be.
The MPS was the first model which this division of the company released and it was a sporty, performance-focused version of the popular 5-door Mazda 3 hatchback.
The 3 range was a staple for Mazda at the time, as they had produced more than two million units of the first generation.
First announced in 2006, the Mazda 3 MPS was an attractive and sporty hot hatch which had impressive figures and stood out from the crowd in terms of looks and performance.
It took the shape of the normal hatchback range at the time, and featured three ring lights in the headlight housing, a rather large air intake grill for its dimensions, and a front lip which formed a smile of sorts as it angled toward the fog lights on either side.
The bonnet and sides had faint accent lines due to the more conservative car styling trend at the time, and the car sat flat and ready on its 19-inch, ten-spoke wheels.
At the rear there was a large exhaust tuned to resonate low frequencies, a large diffuser, and a pronounced spoiler to give it the performance look.
The first generation was pleasant to look at and pleasant to drive, based on reviews, which aided to its popularity.
Below the bonnet, an MZR 2.3-litre DISI Turbo engine was fitted which produced 184kW of power and 380Nm of torque – sent straight to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox.
The modified manual transmission was the only option available on the vehicle and was used to take advantage of the wide torque range.
It gave the MPS a 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds – which is still hot hatch territory 15 years later.
A specially-tuned suspension improved roll stiffness by up to 60% over the standard variant, and upgraded brakes were fitted to handle the increased power that this new type of vehicle delivered to the tar.
The MPS was therefore quite the impressive package on release, and pulled ahead of its competitors as the GTI of the time produced over 30kW less.
The interior, however, was not as comparable to the Mazdas and hot hatches of today.
Semi-bucket front seats with leather bolsters were fitted, and the doors received a fabric insert.
The vehicle’s dashboard was made of plain plastic with round and rectangular buttons placed in the centre, the pedals were constructed out of aluminum, a stainless steel scuff plate was placed inside the door opening, a leather wrapped gear shifter was added in the middle, and red detailing further outlined the car’s dynamic personality.
It wasn’t particularly good-looking, but was functional and served its purpose well.
This second-generation Mazda 3 MPS featured an updated exterior and interior compared to its older sibling, and pushed out more power from the same engine.
The new design had sharper lines, which gave the front end an even friendlier appearance than before.
The most noticeable upgrade was then the addition of a large scoop on the bonnet, and more accent lines which modernized the first-generation’s design and once again set it apart from its non-facelifted competitors.
As standard practice on the MPS, a dual exhaust system, more pronounced wheel arches, a wider chassis for improved stability, improved suspension for better handling performance, and special tyres for extra grip were fitted.
Performance was obtained from the same 2.3-litre turbocharged engine – but was now uprated to 191kW of power and 380Nm of torque.
This achieved the same 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds as before, but still put it ahead of the GTI – this time by 0.8 seconds.
Interior wise, however, the Mazda was still behind.
As with the first generation, the same principles were followed in the second as it also received the two-tone semi-bucket seats, the plastic dashboard with various dials, and MPS details such as the alloy pedals.
It was a newer look, but was far behind its competitors as they started to offer automatic transmissions, larger infotainment screens, as well as full leather interiors at this point.
What happened next
Despite its enthusiast following, and the apparent success of the first generation, the Mazda 3 MPS did not make it – and the second generation Mazda 3 MPS was the last of its kind.
The reason for Mazda stopping production was provided by a Mazda spokesperson during a question and answer session to the media – which was reported on by CNET’s automotive page Roadshow.
In short, the spokesperson alluded to the fact that Mazda was moving away from their “Zoom Zoom” days, and onto more mature audiences, and tried and true models.
This meant less racer-inspired designs, and that the brand was actively pursuing their Skyactiv technology engines in order to improve performance and efficiency across its range.
Mazda now favours the side of offering a consistent experience across the whole company line-up, rather than a punchy and unpredictable performance model of selected variants.
This does not spell the end of fast Mazda hatchbacks, though, as the new Mazda 3 in Astina trim still packs 121kW of power and 213Nm of torque in a tidy package.