Interesting how some cars, no matter how good they are, simply slip under the radar. There are not many cars that are unknown to car enthusiasts like us, however, since purchasing a ’56 plate Mazda 6 MPS, and having travelled 3000 miles in it since it was purchased, it is quite hard to think of another performance oriented car that brings such anonymity to motoring life.
You may argue that a Mini Cooper S looks enough like a Mini One to offer some sense of subtlety, although we all know the difference when ogling one in the street. We can also perhaps say that a Golf Gti or Audi S3 look enough like their less sporty siblings that they may go un-noticed, if that is what the owner is looking to achieve. Problem is, fast Golf’s and A3’s are still recognisable cars with many aspirational owners out there.
Now look at the Mazda 6 MPS. The difference between this car and the standard car, in technical terms at least, is significant, and is perhaps even bigger than that between a Mini One and Cooper-S.
For example, the engine, a whopping 2.3 litre turbocharged unit offers a huge difference when compared with the more common 1.8 or 2.0 litre naturally aspirated engines in lesser Mazda 6 models. The 2.3 turbo in the MPS pumps out 256 bhp in standard form, which, however, only tells half the story, with a strong torque curve pushing 290lbs ft of twist from very low down the rev range.
What makes this car special however, is how it puts this power down, via its intelligent four wheel drive system, which differentiates this from the front wheel drive Mazda 3 MPS (which, interestingly, is often mistaken for four wheel drive by individuals and traders alike). Auto Express testing the 6MPS when it was launched and printed a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds, no doubt thanks to its ability to launch off the line. Having been in the trade however, I expect this was a ‘fettled media car’, with a more realistic 0-60 time being 6.5 seconds.
The Mazda four wheel drive system uses Mazda’s active torque split computer based control to actively send up to 50% of power to the rear wheels, depending on driving conditions. To accentuate Mazda’s sporting intentions for the MPS range, the car is only available with a manual ‘box, which makes a refreshing change to the various manufacturers fiddling with automated, manual, flappy paddle nonsense. With a nice feel to the ‘box, it can be notchy when cold but always feels sporty, with appropriately stacked gear ratios the next gear is only a snap of the wrist away.
Driving the car, it is obviously a bit of a leviathan, and do not be fooled by those numbers – the 6 MPS is not a giant slayer in the same league as an Impreza or Evo, it is simply too heavy, too comfortable, and too good for it to fall into that category. Let me explain.
Imprezas and Evos are terrific cars, however to a certain extent they are victims of their own success, being too manic, with too many used and abused examples with questionable modifications and histories. This pushes up insurance premiums to the point where it makes little sense spending £5-£7k on one when you have to pay the same again to insure it (being based in London, insurance is always a barrier to entry worth considering strongly).
The Mazda 6 is a world away from the more established Japanese rally weapons. Full leather interior with memory seats, climate control, built in sat-nav, cruise control, thick car mats, convenient storage everywhere, here is a car that is well thought through, comfortable, and hugely adept at covering ground. On the Autobahn, with two passengers and a lot of kit whilst on a recce for The Real Gran Turismo, it hit 150mph without struggling, and will cruise comfortably and quietly at 135mph where conditions allow, of course.
On the twisties, thanks to its intelligent four wheel drive, it helps find traction where the 3MPS would struggle, and is also willing to brake an inside wheel to help the rear of the car pivot round and make it safely round a corner. With active yaw control it does an excellent job of flowing along classic B-roads and certainly shrinks around the driver, which, for me at least, indicates a rewarding and engaging drive.
There are not many 6 MPSs on the used car market, which explains why nobody has a clue what it is – Mazda simply could not flog them, and now the engine no longer conforms with the latest emissions regulations, it now qualifies for the highest tax bracket in the UK, so watch out.
However, if you can stomach the high tax bracket and 20-25mpg around town, this car will serve you extremely well in pretty much any condition. What’s more, you have what might just be the best ‘sleeper’ car on the road. More updates to follow.