Fastest Draw In The West

by : A Candy

Taking my terrier for a walk is never a relaxing experience. It's go, go, go all the way, with no time to sit back and admire the scenery or even slow down for a second.

Much like taking the Mazda3 MPS hot hatch for a spin, really. With a jaw-dropping 256bhp from a turbocharged 2.3-litre turbocharged four engine, there's an almost obscene amount of power to tap into for such a modest-sized five-door.

And performance is equally as devastating - a lightning 6.1 seconds from standstill to 62mph, making this the quickest hatch around and a limited 155mph top speed that's comfortably more than double the legal limit.

Yes, the Mazda3 MPS is very, very quick ad it also proves itself a compulsively attacking drive - this is one car that doesn't really want or deserve to trundle around town and belongs out on the open road.

Flooring the accelerator and lifting the clutch is a brave thing to do on a car like this and I was rightly wary of the power blitz this unleashes. The initial disappointment is that there just isn't enough steering feedback dialled in at lower speeds, which distances the driver from what's happening between tyres and tarmac.

But steering does firm up better at higher speeds and there's the bonus of a lightning-quick, springy six-speed gearbox to whip through the changes as you progress.

But with traffic as it is on our roads, I rarely got the chance to sit the car comfortably in top gear for long without having to change down, though this would obviously be a bonus on a long-haul journey.

Manoeuvring the little Mazda is a consistent pleasure. The hatch tackles everything with supreme confidence that you can throw at it and relishes the opportunity to snap through bends while remaining stubbornly horizontal rather than dropping a shoulder. There's a huge amount of reassuring grip, and the balance is there to add to the driving experience.

Ride is generally good for this type of car - bumps are more heard than felt - and firm but comfortable, supportive sports seats are finely adjustable, shoring you up in all the right places.

Inside, the MPS is sportily themed without going overboard into boy racer territory. A bulky but low-lying black dashboard is adorned with a grey and silver centre stack and hooded main dials are well protected from light pollution, Alfa style.

Like all Mazdas, most displays are neat, simple and easy to follow, though some of the heat-ventilation markings are confusing and set low down.

The worrying thing for Mazda is that although it's hottest of the hot, today's opposition has some really high-grade contenders, many of which actually look more impressive.

The Focus ST, Golf GTI and Astra VXR all have more presence than the Mazda, which has rather unconvincing side skirts, fussy bumper adornments around the foglamps, a rear spoiler and big-bore exhaust. And there's no three-door version, usually favoured by hot hatch purists.

On a purely practical note, the Mazda 3 MPS has a wide, unobstructed and useful boot and an easy-release system ensures the rear seat tip forward easily to free up more space.

But there's no double-tumble action, so the load space ends up almost flat rather than horizontal.

As an understated hot hatch with the most, the Mazda3 MPS is a firebrand that can see off all class rivals on the road. But its low-key image could prove a curse rather than a blessing in a market where image really counts.


* Mazda3 MPS sports hatch, £18,995 (£19,495 with Sports Aero Kit).

* BOSE sound system standard on all MPS models.

* Most powerful front-drive car on the market, with 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds and electronically-limited 155mph top speed.

* Powered by 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine with a turbocharger and advanced direct-injection spark ignition.

* Class-leading 260PS and 380 Nm of torque.

* Stiffer springs, larger anti-roll bars and high-performance dampers.

* MPS-branded sports seas, leather-wrapped steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake.

* Climate control air-con, high-power Xenon headlamps, auto lights and rain-sensing wipers.