24 November 2004

Mazda plans to take on the VW Golf GTi with a 220bhp, 150mph MPS version of the Mazda 3 hatchback, extending the performance theme started by the 6 MPS (right). And Mazda is planning a return to top-level motor sport to push the Mazda Performance Series brand, which will also include hot versions of the RX-8 and forthcoming MX-5 and RX-7.

Due in 2006, the front-drive Mazda 3 MPS will share its looks with the MX Sportif concept of 2003 (pictured above), and use a detuned version of the 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the 6 MPS. Expect a similar 0-60mph time of around 6.5sec. The 3’s lighter weight and lower power means it can cope without the four-wheel-drive system of its bigger brother.

The engine shares its turbocharged, directly injected format with the 197bhp 2.0-litre Golf, but the 3 MPS will use its extra capacity to challenge the 222bhp Renault Mégane Renaultsport, currently the most powerful four-cylinder car in the class.

But Mazda’s engineering chief Joe Bakaj insists there will be no MPS version of the forthcoming Mazda 5 midi-MPV, and no hatchback or estate versions of the 6 MPS, because they cannot be made stiff enough. ‘We will only put an MPS badge on a car if it is credible,’ he insisted.

Bakaj and his team are examining electric turbos and superchargers to uprate the 228bhp Renesis rotary engine for MPS versions of the RX-8 and forthcoming two-seat RX-7. But he has ruled out using the Renesis in the new MX-5, due next year.

Mazda is also working on a hybrid version of the RX-8, and plans to build a small fleet for use by the Japanese government. An H2-powered RX-8 could go on sale as soon as there are sufficient hydrogen refuelling stations, likely to be first in California.

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