Delivering driving delight
Mazda’s sparkling MPS sedan is much more than a once-over-lightly sporting upgrade of the popular Mazda 6. You don’t need much time behind the wheel to appreciate what a great driving machine it is. Fail to be enthusiastic about such a genuine high performance four-door that packs so much punch into a package that costs less than $60,000, and you must be lacking in imagination.
The less powerful Mazda 6s have been recognised in the New Zealand market for what they are – fine medium cars with a subtle edge that’s made them strong sellers. But the MPS is in a different realm – a fact of life that goes a long way towards explaining the $19,155 difference between a naturally-aspirated 2.3-litre Mazda6 GSX sedan manual and the $59,950 turbocharged, all-wheel drive MPS. The local sales potential for such cars might be limited, yet people who commit to buying the flagship Mazda 6 will come away with something of a performance bargain.
The GSX and MPS have identical capacity four-cylinder powertrains under the bonnet but they’re very different animals. It takes time and a deserted, winding country road to begin to appreciate the virtues of this most powerful Mazda 6. Initially I felt the car had a wooden, almost unsympathetic feel. The clutch was sudden, the mechanicals felt harsh around town. The firm slow-speed ride was a pain. Was this an unfulfilled promise?
After a few days and exposure to some quiet open roads, I came away with a very different opinion. Assessing a product without giving it time and the benefit of the doubt can be highly dubious. There’s a real unison between a fine road and this Mazda. Clearly if you enjoy your driving and spend a lot of time on rural highways, it might just be the medium size stormer for you. However, if your territory is more restrained and mainly restricted to urban running, then the MPS isn’t going to deliver. The car will simply be wasted.
Tune into the highly responsive engine, knuckle down to the real driving experience and the machine will surely delight.
The 190kW 2261cc direct injection motor turns in its peak power at 5500rpm, a solid 56 percent increase on the standard Mazda 6 GSX. There’s an even greater differential where engine torque is concerned – and it shows. The MPS produces a remarkable 380Nm of torque at 3000 revs, or a solid 84 percent improvement over the standard Mazda.
Engineers at Mazda’s Hiroshima head office elected to use direct injection and a single, lightweight turbo to generate the best possible torque, 85 percent of which is available from just 2000rpm, and even experts will struggle to detect any turbo lag. The 9.5:1 compression ratio is comparatively high for a turbo motor, and the spin-off is better fuel economy. Even so, our average consumption over mainly open roads of 11 litres/100km (25.7mpg) indicated this isn’t a car for people conscious of fuel costs.
Start massaging the car over a busy country road, and the amazing responsiveness and flexibility delights the driver. There is rarely a need to work hard because the engine is so willing and the transmission so agreeable. Massive torque reduces the need for constant gearchanging, and considerable performance awaits even the lazy driver who is tardy about using the gearbox.
The 16-valve, double overhead camshaft engine, with drive-by-wire throttle control, zings the car to 100km/h in 11.6 seconds but the mid to medium range performance is where the MPS really excels. At 100km/h, the Mazda is literally straining at the reins, waiting to unleash its might. Slot the gearbox down to fifth, and the revs rise from a lazy 2400rpm in overdriven sixth to 3100rpm. But such is the strength of the turbo engine that you may find yourself missing the odd gear or two without a sign of protest from the car. To keep the transmission compact, the car effectively has two separate final drive ratios, with one accommodating the first four gears and another looking after fifth and sixth. The bottom three gears employ triple cone synchronisers. Fourth gear has a double-cone synchroniser.
Not that you’d ever know, of course.
Drilled holes in the foot pedals may be fake but the pedals are superbly positioned for heel and toe changes. If you’re serious about performance driving, heel and toeing is definitely an integral part of this car. There’s no such thing as an automatic gearbox for the Mazda, a clear sign of the MPS intentions.
Low mechanical noise, high stability and sharp manners underscore a level of open road refinement to be envied. The body has been stiffened and the active torque all-wheel drive system applied to give the car a handling and security edge. A diagonal brace has been fitted behind the rear seatbacks, and there are additional crossmembers in the floor to support the heavy-duty shock absorbers.
Heavy-duty body mounts to support the front suspension and engine are also unique to the MPS, and the front double wishbone suspension has been re-tuned. This is all serious stuff that translates into an equally serious performance machine.
Front to rear wheel torque distribution is adjusted between 100 percent front and a 50/50 ratio, and a limited slip differential optimises the torque between the right and left rear wheels for better traction. Grip is superb, aided by the 215/45 tyres fitted to 18-inch diameter spoked alloys. These tyres are always going to be performance oriented rather than offering ride comfort, and it’s a compromise any MPS driver is going to have to make. Dynamic stability control is standard and the uprated four-wheel disc brake system restrains the extrovert performance.
Though the MPS is a great drive, perfection remains elusive. The trailing edge of the bonnet adjacent to the windscreen intrudes on vision. Indeed, visibility is poor all round, but that’s not a problem restricted to the Mazda. However, the lower body kit and bootlid spoiler are discreet and the large twin pipes hark at what stirs within. The red instrument lighting is difficult to read in bright sunshine, especially while wearing sunglasses. Fumes were still entering the car in the recirculating mode, and we experienced problems controlling the air-conditioning temperature.
Specification levels are high, with an up-market seven-speaker, 200-watt Bose sound system, headlight washers, cruise control, a multi-purpose steering wheel, leather upholstery and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat.