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Mighty Mazda!

Whoosh and you're gone

by Julian Edgar, pics by Mazda

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At a glance...

  • Driving the Mazda3 MPS bullet
  • Fascinating car - good and bad!
  • And ChipTorque's has even more grunt than standard...
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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 damn’ strong!

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 computer.

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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 is fitted.

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.

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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.

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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.

The ChipTorque 3 MPS

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The 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... standard everything.

The 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.

On 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.

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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 conditions.

But is the MPS fun? You betcha. And the ChipTorque modified MPS just adds more to that....

Contacts:

www.chiptorque.com.au

www.xede.com.au

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