Mazda 3 MPS, £10,200: The letters stand for Mazda Performance Series, which you’ll have to get used to explaining every time someone asks why you’re driving a Mazda 3.
So why have so few heard of it? Largely because the MPS put all that power down through its front wheels, whereas its aforementioned rivals do so through all four. Granted, it has a mechanical limited-slip diff and a steering-angle-sensitive throttle damping system but torque steer remains a problem.
The car was launched in 2003 and expired in 2013. Aim for a post-2009 facelift car with its bonnet scoop, upgraded dashboard and heated seats. One like the 2012/12-reg MPS we found with 55,000 miles and full service history, for £10,200.
Things to watch for include a rattling VVT actuator and worn turbo seals. Ensure the oil has been changed every 9000 miles and the recall for a loose engine mounting bolt was actioned. The gearchange may feel notchy from first to second, a sign that fresh gearbox oil is needed. Check if the diff rumbles on full lock.
The original 215/45 R18 tyres are expensive so don’t be surprised if it’s wearing 225/40 R18s. On the test drive, listen for tired drop-links and anti-roll bushes, and for clunky suspension top mounts.
Surprisingly, rust can break out behind the bumpers and on the wheel arch and tailgate. Inside the car, the leather can crack around the driver’s seat bolster, but leather restorer should stop it spreading.