1 October 2004

Mazda sent a clear signal of intent to other makers, when it finally took the covers off the road-going version of the MPS, a 6-based sports-saloon with four-wheel drive, 256bhp and aggresive looks.

It was under the same Paris roof two years ago that the Japanese maker unveiled its MPS concept car (see gallery). The production version of the performance saloon bears a striking and faithful resemblance to that car, and goes on sale in Europe in mid-2005.

There are few differences between the concept and the production car’s specifications. The concept’s 276bhp turbocharged engine has been reined in slightly; the production car’s 2.3-litre DISI Turbo is directly injected, and now develops 256bhp at 5500rpm, as well as a useful 280lb ft of torque at a low 3000rpm.

Coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox and an active four-wheel-drive system that can channel up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels, Mazda claims its new performance car can crack 62mph in 6.6sec and 150mph. Outwardly, it’s the most aggressively styled Mazda saloon ever, with its yawning air intakes, 18in wheels, a bootlid spoiler and a rear diffuser. Although the MPS concept was based on the Mazda 6 five-door, its production equivalent will only be available as a saloon, for added body rigidity. Talking exclusively to Autocar, Peter Birtwhistle, chief designer at Mazda’s European R&D centre in Frankfurt, said that he was pleased with the translation from the MPS concept he worked on. ‘This is more subtle and sophisticated than the Evos and Imprezas that we’re used to, more visually akin to Audi’s S-badged models. That’s quite unique for a Japanese maker.’

Outside the UK, the MPS will be badged differently. In America it will be called the Mazdaspeed 6, and in its native Japan the Mazdaspeed Atenza. However, its ‘Mazda Performance Series’ badging still seems to indicate there will be other hot Mazdas to follow. ‘We want to establish MPS as a brand in its own right,’ said Mazda’s design general manager Moray Callum – and following promises of more surprises at the forthcoming Detroit and Geneva shows in 2005, a Mazda 3 MPS hot-hatch concept could be shown within months, furthering the maker’s credentials as a manufacturer of driver’s cars. Production of the hot 6 will start in the spring, with the first models arriving in the UK by the autumn. While there is no official word on price as yet, Birtwhistle said: ‘It’s a Mazda – it will be competitive.’ Expect that to translate into a price tag well below £25k.

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