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Wednesday 4th April 2012

Blood Brothers: Mazda 3 MPS vs Ford Focus ST

Wildly different on the surface the 3 MPS and Focus ST share a common core - but which makes the better used buy?



Making a hot hatch 'hot' used to be a pretty uncomplicated process - as anyone who has ever worked on an XR3i will tell you. Traditionally the transformation would require little more than a sprinkling of bodykit, a couple of engine tweaks, uprated brakes (if you were lucky) and, the finishing touch, some oversized alloys. Loud exhausts - equally essential - were often left to the owner to source.

Times have changed though and our level of expectation has grown massively. Fortunately so has the range of hot hatches on sale, with more manufacturers than ever offering their own individual take on the theme. So whether you prioritise a headline grabbing power output, a track-focused chassis, tons of gadgets and toys or a premium badge there's a hot hatch there to suit you.

Two of the finest exponents - Ford's soon-to-be-superceded Focus ST and Mazda's high tech 3 MPS certainly appear to cater for very different tastes, yet under the skin they're more closely related than you might think.



Family tree
Ford's 225hp Focus ST was the first to hit UK shores, with three specs - ST, ST2 and ST3 -available from October 2005. Competitively priced and amply equipped even 'base' £17,520 ST models boasted 18-inch alloys, a leather-clad steering wheel, a large rear spoiler, Recaro sports seats, a six-speed close-ratio 'box and a dash-mounted instrument pod showing boost pressure, oil and coolant temperature and oil pressure. ST2 models added handy Xenon headlights and ESP whilst ST3 owners could enjoy 10-way adjustable front seats and full leather trim.

Following in the footsteps of Ford's Escort XR3 and RS Turbo the ST wore its heart on its sleeve with lurid Electric Orange press cars grabbing the headlines and a woofling five-cylinder sound track luring buyers by the thousands. Referred to as a 'hero colour' by Ford, nearly a third of early ST sales were accounted for by the orange. Available as a three or five-door model the suspension, steering and braking systems were all developed specifically for the ST, and the 2008 'Kinetic Design' makeover coincided with an optional £1,120 Mountune Performance Pack which took power to 260hp and lifted torque from 236 to 295lb ft - without affecting your Ford warranty. In total Ford has sold over 20,000 STs - making it one of the UK's best-selling hot hatches.

The 2006 arrival of Mazda's 3 MPS in contrast was altogether more low-key. Despite claiming to be the most powerful front-drive hot hatch on the market at the time and having a mechanical limited-slip differential Mazda's first-generation 260hp 3 MPS found few fans - thanks in part to its dowdy looks. A cultural thing perhaps but the runaway success of Honda's Civic Type R showed that UK buyers expected tech to come with style too.

However, Mazda learned from its mistake, imbuing its second generation £21,500 2009 model with just as much go, but far more show. Performance was remarkably similar to Ford's Mountune ST and the chassis boasted a 41 per cent improvement in torsional stiffness compared to the first generation model. Other changes included pumped-up exterior styling with a large bonnet scoop and deep front spoiler, wider wheels, larger anti-roll bars, uprated brakes - making the 3 MPS far more hardcore. Yet Mazda wisely retained the car's upmarket interior feel throwing in sat-nav, a Bose premium sound system and a suite of airbags as standard. UK buyers have snapped up around 1,000 examples to date.



Brothers in arms
So just what is it that the very different-looking Ford and Mazda share in common? A good deal more than you might think. In fact, outside of the Volkswagen group, there are few cars sporting different badges that share more. Mazda was happy to confirm that its 3 MPS has Ford's global compact platform in common with the Focus ST. Developed in conjunction with Ford and Volvo engineers, common platform components include the front and rear sub-frames, many suspension, steering and braking components and even some of the same electrics. Ford was slightly less forthcoming, but did confirm the common development - whilst stressing that the two cars are very different. That said the Ford-backed Mountune Performance Pack raises the ST's peak power to exactly match the Mazda's. A coincidence perhaps?

There's certainly no doubt that both companies have ensured their own unique brand personalities shine through in the ST and MPS, which do feel very different from behind the wheel, but under the bodywork there are many similarities.



Family feud
Fast Ford history suggests that it's the rowdy ST, rather than its geeky Mazda MPS cousin, that most deserves the hardcore label. It certainly wears its heart on its sleeve and looks more dramatic than the first-generation 3 MPS. But delve a little deeper, live with the cars a little longer, and you realise that - in second generation form at least - it's the Mazda, not the Ford that delivers the more extreme driving experience.

The ST may claim greater badge kudos and is blessed with a ride quality and steering feel that front-drive hot hatches have no right to possess but with a lower driving position, lightning throttle responses (for a turbocharged motor) a brilliant torque-sensing limited-slip diff and better performance in standard trim the Mazda 3 MPS is a more dedicated drive. The first generation 3 MPS was far too dull and uninvolving, making the ST a clear winner, but this latest incarnation is the real deal. Sure the Ford is more forgiving if you make a mistake, or the road surface is against you, but in truth this second generation ST feels too wallowy by contemporary hot hatch standards - something the upcoming ST will hope to address.

These two sibling rivals go neck and neck in terms of reliability and cost to buy too, a gen one Mazda 3 MPS will set you back £6,200 to £10,000 whilst the latest 2009-on version is an £11,000 to £17,000 buy - exactly the same as the Focus ST. And if you're buying to tune, as many owners will be, it's the Mazda - with an exhaust, filter, remap, a fuel pump and some uprated hoses - which is slightly cheaper to 300bhp. Ford or Mazda owners looking beyond that figure will need to invest in a better intercooler and, above 330hp, a revised turbo as well.

But whether you fancy standard or tuned, both these takes on the hot hatch theme combine a thrilling drive with down-to-earth practicality. And buying and owning either one won't break the bank. But will Ford regain the upper hand with its all-new 2012 Focus ST?





MAZDA 3 MPS
Engine:
2,261cc 4-cyl turbo
Power (hp): 260@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@3,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1,385kg
Top Speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.1secs
MPG: 29.4 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 224g/km
Price: £10,995 to £17,450 (first gen £6,200 to £10,000)
Manufactured: 2009-on (second gen 2007-2009)
Love it: No one knows what it is, affordable tuning potential
Loathe it: Wimpy steering wheel and limited driver feedback
Spotted:2009 Mazda 3 MPS - £11,495



FORD FOCUS ST
Engine:
2,522cc 5-cyl turbo
Power (hp): 225@6,100rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@1,600-4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1,392kg
Top Speed: 152mph
0-62mph: 6.8secs
MPG: 30.4 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 224g/km
Price: £6,000 to £16,000
Manufactured: 2005-2011, facelifted 2008
Love it: Steering and ride are class-leading, charismatic exhaust note, tuneability
Loathe it: There's nowhere to hide in an orange car, feels its age
Spotted:2007 Ford Focus ST - £7,450


Photos: Michael Ward







 

Guy R Baker
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Author Discussion

MonkeyMatt

Original Poster:

5,144 posts

87 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Ive always quite like the Mazda! Much better looking car imo

StottyZr

4,650 posts

43 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
I prefer the Mazda. For some reason the ST is one of those cars I have no urge to own whatsoever.

PaperCut

640 posts

27 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
One has a happy face the other is grumpy hehe

Hub

2,574 posts

78 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
They are both used bargains, but also have in common quite high day-to-day running costs. I test drove a Focus ST before settling for a Golf GTI... I actually preferred the drive of the ST and the engine is really great - refined and with a lovely noise when you put your foot down. However, going from a diesel the widely reported woeful fuel economy put me off! I wouldn't have gone orange either... blue probably. They are quite colour sensitive as black/grey/silver look quite plain, but orange is too lairy!

I don't like the styling of the Mazda. It looks overstyled and messy, it doesn't come together at all. The previous one looked better, albeit very bland... but that appeals more! The MK1 had £460 tax, which probably contributes to the huge depreciation.

Edited by Hub on Wednesday 4th April 13:04

elvismiggell

1,243 posts

31 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Had a ride in the 2009 3 MPS on a track day at Thruxton. I can confirm that those things can definitely shift - certainly out-stripped my expectations when the instructor put his foot down.
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C2james

4,545 posts

45 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Thanks for this, I'm thinking about getting a focus st next year.

Hoygo

724 posts

41 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Id rather get an Megane r26 in their price range,but both good cars,respectable hot hatches for the price.

356Speedster

1,918 posts

111 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
The 5-pot motor is a gem and really makes the car. The ST is a hoot to own / drive and with a simple remap is a stonking daily car.

I had a Performance Blue ST as my company car and at the end of the lease bought it back and gave it to my wife smile I now drive a Mountune MP350 Focus RS daily, so I guess that shows how much the ST got under my skin! True, 23mpg from both cars isn't the best, but by god they're good fun on the daily commute.

I love hot hatches and coming from a Golf GTI background, the ST is a much more interesting proposition. The ST (in ST2 or 3 guise) is pretty well equipped and build quality is impressive.

IMO, the design peeked with the MK2.5 Focus, I'm not keen on the 5-door only Mk3 ST, but it may grow on me. That said, it'd be hard to swap the sonerous 5-pot for a 4-cyl now too frown

MonkeyMatt

Original Poster:

5,144 posts

87 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
What about this for a fraction of the price? Stilo GP

Marf

22,907 posts

121 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
MPS Please

1. You don't see 50 of them when you drive 10 miles.
2. It has a proper drivetrain.

Chicane-UK

3,200 posts

65 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
What are the Focus ST's like from a reliability point of view. Any owners here own any older / higher mileage examples and how have they found them? They're getting to decent prices now and that engine sure is tempting..

CraigMST

3,763 posts

45 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
I know you have highlighted the ride but I'd like to say the pictures show the pre face lift Focus ST and the newer Mazda 3 MPS.
I think the gen 1 of the Mazda looks absolutely hideous. No redeeming features what so ever for me however the gen 2 looks quite nice.
I think if the older generation Mazda was put up against the pre facelift ST then the Focus would look alot better.

BTW in the article when describing the Mazda you have put 'Manufactured: 2009-on (second gen 2007-2009)'
I'm assuming you mean first gen 2007-2009 instead of second gen?

oj121

1,546 posts

52 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
MonkeyMatt said:
What about this for a fraction of the price? Stilo GP
Really??? No thank you!

ST for me please!

MonkeyMatt

Original Poster:

5,144 posts

87 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
oj121 said:
Really??? No thank you!

ST for me please!
Very good car! dont cofuse it with the Abarth version

356Speedster

1,918 posts

111 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Marf said:
It has a proper drivetrain.
I was waiting for the FWD comment to come up wink If you drive in the snow / ice, then yes, 4WD makes sense, but here in the UK, it's of limited value and adds weight IMO. With a properly setup chassis, 4WD isn't a necessity in the UK at all. My wife's ST with c.270bhp puts it's power down very well. Keep the car std and you'll not have a problem at all. If you want to go for big power with one, an LSD works very well indeed.

RossP

1,106 posts

163 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
I had a new black ST-2 back in 2007 and loved it! Put a CODE RED map on it (275bhp)and did 60k+ miles in it over two years. Including 2 'ring trips. Bargain for the £17k I paid for it.

The really good bit was that 5-pot lump. Very characterful.

On the Mazda - yawn.....

Marf

22,907 posts

121 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
356Speedster said:
Marf said:
It has a proper drivetrain.
I was waiting for the FWD comment to come up wink If you drive in the snow / ice, then yes, 4WD makes sense, but here in the UK, it's of limited value and adds weight IMO. With a properly setup chassis, 4WD isn't a necessity in the UK at all. My wife's ST with c.270bhp puts it's power down very well. Keep the car std and you'll not have a problem at all. If you want to go for big power with one, an LSD works very well indeed.
FAIL wink

I wasn't commenting negatively on the fact that either car was front wheel drive. I was commenting that the MPS has a proper drivetrain, i.e. the front wheels are properly connected with an LSD, unlike the Focus. An LSD should have been standard fit on the Focus too. It's a worthwhile mod on an FWD car which has "sporting" credentials, regardless of power levels.

356Speedster

1,918 posts

111 months

[news] 
Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Chicane-UK said:
What are the Focus ST's like from a reliability point of view. Any owners here own any older / higher mileage examples and how have they found them? They're getting to decent prices now and that engine sure is tempting..
Got my ST as company car in 2006 and from then until now, it's had an alternator and a rear shock replaced only. No problems other than that at all. Reliability isn't an issue on std cars, but if you modify past a Mountune upgrade or simple remap, then you need to be chose mods carefully (but that's the same for any car, TBH), so as not to overstress anything.

Funk

14,402 posts

89 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
Chicane-UK said:
What are the Focus ST's like from a reliability point of view. Any owners here own any older / higher mileage examples and how have they found them? They're getting to decent prices now and that engine sure is tempting..
Ultra-reliable. Put 70k on mine in 3 years and it didn't miss a beat.

Dave Hedgehog

6,294 posts

84 months

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Wednesday 4th April 2012 quote quote all
not for me
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