Reckon cars are getting a bit boring, a bit
predictable? Miss the wheel-wrenching excitement of the MX6 Turbo or boosted
Pulsar ET that you drove ten or fifteen years ago? Well, welcome to the Mazda3
MPS – and more specifically, the ChipTorque tweaked MPS!
The paper specs read 190kW and 380Nm, but on
ChipTorque’s Dyno Dynamics, a standard MPS churns out 160kW at the wheels! The
relationship between at-the-wheels power and flywheel power on these dynos can
rage endlessly, but let us tell you one thing – no cars with only 190kW at the
flywheel can develop 160kW on this dyno... In short, Mazda kilowatts are pretty
Priced from a whisker under forty grand, Mazda
suggests the Mazda3 MPS is the quickest car in their fleet – yep, quicker than
the all-wheel drive Mazda6 MPS and the rotary RX8. And the MPS isn’t just a
bare-bones racer – it’s got stability control (more on that in a minute!), six
airbags and full electrics. Pay a bit more – like AUD$43,690 – to take the car
up to the Sports pack model we drove and you can add a 222W Bose sound system,
xenon headlights and different alloys. Unfortunately, neither model gets a trip
All the power is channelled through just the front
wheels. They wear 215/45 RE050A Bridgestones – which seem a pretty sticky tyre –
but when the torque wallop hits, well... Mazda isn’t stupid, so with the
smorgasbord of electronics now available to control FWD behaviour, they’ve been
busy. Boost pressure and throttle opening are gear-specific and also based on
steering angle. Electronic stability control (which incorporates traction
control) helps regulate the throttle opening. In addition, a torque-sensing LSD
But in the mid-range, the 2.3 litre
direct-injection engine is a torque monster. Rolling around in the city,
changing gear at 2500 rpm, the car’s completely docile. Grandpa and Grandma
stuff. But bury your foot and as the tacho hits the middle figures, the car just
rockets off into the distance. But is it a seamless, smooth shove in the back?
Not if you’re the driver.
If there’s even the slightest hint of a traction
problem, the power dies away, to be brought back (sometimes quite
forcefully!) when the electronics again gives the okay. With boost limited in
the lower gears, you’ve gotta wait until third before you can plumb the endless
barrel of torque. In a rolling acceleration run, the 1403kg MPS is blisteringly
fast – almost supercar quick. Mazda quotes the 3rd gear 50 to 100km/h time as
just 4.2 seconds.
Trouble is, you don’t want to wait for the redline
to change gear as by then power has died big time. In fact, to get best
performance, a change-up point of about 5000 rpm is best. Which, um, leaves a
powerband of just 3000 rpm...
And despite the electronics and LSD, the conflict
between the wheels doing the torqueing and turning remains – sometimes, there
are just too many Newton metres. But hey, as we said at the beginning, there’s a
whole generation of car nuts who’ve grown up with turbo front-wheel drives and
maybe even now miss the wheel-wrestling.
The rest of the car comes together well. The ride
is excellent and body roll minimal. Over the standard car the MPS runs stiffer
front springs (rears remain the same rate) and increased sway bar stiffness
front and rear. The result is a roll stiffness of 2.2 degrees/G, some 37 percent
stiffer than the cooking model. On the road the car can be power understeered or
lift-off throttle oversteered – all with the stability control left switched on!
The mid-range performance is just so strong that good brakes are essential –
this is one car where it is easy to reach a corner much faster than you
intended. So it’s just as well that front discs are 320mm, rears are 280mm and a
larger master cylinder is also fitted. Steering is excellent – well-weighted,
direct but not nervous.
The high waistline and dark colours of the test
car made the cabin feel oppressive. But in fact room is good in all directions,
even the back seat where passengers can place their feet under the front seats.
A spacesaver spare is fitted. We found the instruments excruciatingly hard to
read – orange on black will do that. External appearance is, as always, in the
eye of the beholder. Styling-wise, the MPS has different front and rear bumpers,
side skirts and a rear roof spoiler.
ChipTorque 3 MPS
ChipTorque mod is simple: just install one of the company’s Xede interceptors
and dyno tune with more boost (up from about 13 to 16 psi) and revised fuelling
and ignition timing. Drive in, pay AUD$1490 and then drive out. On the car we
drove there were absolutely no other mods – standard exhaust, standard intake...
first thing noticeable is when you crank the key. With the Xede fitted, the
engine takes longer to start as the interceptor needs to have time to pick up
the correct engine rotation signals. However, the delayed start is really only
noticeable when doing a back-to-back comparison.
the road the bottom-end remains standard – off-boost behaviour is unchanged. But
get into that torque mesa mid-range and you get more and more and more of what
the Mazda previously delivered! The mid-range power – up by 12 per cent but it
feels more like 20 per cent – shoves you back in the seat and the power rush
also continues for longer. What was previously the peak power (160kW at the
wheels at 5600 rpm) is now available at 6400 rpm! The absolute max power still
occurs early in the rev range (at 5250) but the meatier top-end is obvious. Peak
power is up by 14 per cent but the power lift is over such a wide spread of the
graph that this figure understates the real on-road benefit.
The Mazda3 MPS is one of the most fascinating cars
we’ve experienced for a long time. Sophisticated and urban one moment, down and
dirty the next. Although we didn’t get a chance to try, we think it’d be a
bloody hard car to drive fast on a wet, winding country road – whereas the
brother-chassis-under-the-skin Ford Focus XR5 Turbo is very composed in the same
But is the MPS fun? You betcha. And the ChipTorque
modified MPS just adds more to that....