Mazda 3 MPS: driven

* New aggressive looks * Insanely fast * Costs £21,500...

Mazda 3 MPS: driven

The biggest problem with the old MPS was its tame appearance. Despite the ferocious power that lay within, its looks were too similar to a regular Mazda 3's. However, Mazda has given the new MPS the visual bark to match the bite under the bonnet.

A huge, gaping bonnet scoop dominates the new front end, and there's also a fresh bumper, grille and foglamps, plus sparkly bi-xenon headlamps. The back end gets a new bumper, spoiler and LED tail lights, and the whole thing sits on 18-inch alloy wheels. Love it or hate it, the new styling certainly gets the message across.

Good job that the MPS is still insanely fast, thanks to its 256bhp turbocharged 2.3-litre engine. Granted, throttle responses could be quicker and acceleration isn't devastating below 3000rpm, but tap into the MPS's monumental mid-range punch and you'll be hurled towards the horizon.

You'll need forearms like Popeye's to keep everything pointing in the right direction, though. All that power going through the front wheels makes the steering wheel writhe around violently in your hands.

This can affect the handling, too. Apply too much throttle in the middle of a corner and, once again, you'll feel the front tyres spin and the steering wheel wriggle.

Get it right, though, and you'll be treated to immense grip and great body control. It's just a shame that the steering, although responsive and accurate, doesn't have a bit more feel. You have to put up with a decidedly firm low-speed ride, too, but you can live with that in a hot hatch.

Should you buy one?

Well, if you've £21,500 to spend and want as much power and equipment as you can get, it's definitely worth a look. Sat-nav, Bluetooth, climate and cruise controls, a CD changer, keyless entry, part-leather seats, parking sensors, metallic paint and a heated windscreen are standard.

However, despite being better than the previous version, the new 3 MPS is still flawed. It feels distinctly crude next to the best hot hatches, and you can have more fun in cheaper rivals.

Our verdict

Good if you want power; not if you want poise.