The Mazda6 MPS arrived in South Africa late in 2006, eager to take on the established performance sedans from Germany. Sadly, nobody noticed. It's their loss...
Mazda, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has historically always done things either very differently (rotary engines, RX-8 design etc.), or very boringly (most front-wheel drive 323s etc.). It's rare for the Hiroshima-based brand to launch a car that is a bit of both, but in 2006 it did just that with the Mazda6 MPS, a car with surprising charm and ability, once you got past the humdrum exterior.
While the period Mazda6 was by no means an ugly car, a serious performance derivative should show some muscle. Think about how an M derivative is distinguished from run-of-the-mill BMWs, for example. Or an RS... or an AMG. In any event, if you looked closely, you could indeed make out a bulging bonnet, smart multi-spoke alloy wheels, revised front and rear bumpers and an oh-so-subtle wing on the bootlid.
Inside, too, it was hard to distinguish the MPS from its lesser siblings. Sure, it had all the equipment, including a pumping BOSE sound system, but drilled pedals and semi-bucket seats are simply not enough to make it feel special.
Because special it actually is. Underneath that "power dome" bonnet was a 2.3-litre, direct-injection turbocharged engine (MZR-DISI) that delivered a meaty 191kW at 5 500 rpm and 380 Nm of torque at 3 000 rpm. At the time, Mazda quoted an impressive 0-100kph time of 6.6 seconds and a 240kph top speed.
But it wasn't only the engine, the 6 MPS actually featured all-wheel drive (with active torque split sending as much as 50% of the power to the rear), so it was an amazingly swift machine on inconsistent road surfaces or changing weather, with oodles of grip, good turn in (for an all-wheel drive car) and great power out of the bends. It was even a pretty advanced car for its time, in that it offered three driving modes; Sport, Normal and Stability, the latter being for slippery surfaces.
It was one of the ultimate sleeper cars of its generation, with the ability to not only scare the performance sedans it was positioned against, but also genuine sportscars such as the Nissan 350Z.
These days, you can pick up a neat Mazda6 MPS, with less than 100 000 km on the odo, for as little as R130 000. And that's very tempting...