Think of the notable enthusiast-focused Mazdas, and a few candidates will be mentioned: MX-5, obviously, then probably RX-7, and perhaps even the 6 MPS, that mid-2000s curio caught somewhere between a 330i and a Mitsubishi Evo. But it would probably be a while before anyone mentioned the 3 MPS.
Launched back in 2006, the MPS was a curious cocktail: as visually stimulating as a recycling bin, yet with 260hp from its 2.3-litre turbo delivering the kind of performance that still keeps it competitive today. Bear in mind that Renault has only just dropped a 280hp version of its Megane, the i30 N has 275hp and even the very latest Golf GTI will only have 245hp and it's easy to see what a rocket ship the Mazda was.
Because while rivals like the Audi S3 and Golf R32 were harnessing their comparable power outputs with four driven wheels, the 3 MPS was still front-wheel drive. Which made it lighter, not only than those cars, but probably a host of newer hot hatches as well. Even allowing for the traction disadvantage, the MPS would hit 62mph in 6.1 seconds, with performance beyond that described as "prodigious" in the Autocar first drive.
So why, then, wasn't the MPS all that popular? After all, it had Ford Focus underpinnings - arguably the best-driving hatch of its generation - that towering performance and an enticing £18,650 entry price. The dour looks must have contributed, plus the fact that the MPS was not the dynamic equal of its Focus relation - too firm, too unyielding, not entertaining enough.
But, as well know, firm in the mid-2000s is borderline cushy these days, so the 3's dynamic shortfalls might now seem less drastic. Furthermore, a facelifted MPS - as this particular car is - is not only more exciting to look at, but also now cheaper to tax than the earlier model thanks to reduced CO2.
Look what you're getting for six thousand pounds: modern performance, very nearly all the technology we demand in a new car, rarity appeal, tons of tuning potential and five-door practicality. Of course, the 3 isn't flawless - replacing the timing chain is expensive, and turbo issues have been reported - but broadly speaking the MPS has proven reliable.
In fact, the biggest problem facing the mad Mazda is the wealth of alternatives out there, the early and mid-2000s being when the hot hatch really enjoyed its resurgence. This money could also buy a five-cylinder Focus ST, Renaultsport Megane R26 or Audi S3 in comparable condition, then, all of which have their selling points over the Mazda.
The MPS will always have a battle on its hands to convince buyers of its virtues. But those after something fast (really fast, in fact), tough, rare and interesting, could do an awful lot worse than a 260hp Mazda 3. Just be ready to explain to everyone exactly what it is now sitting on the drive...
SPECIFICATION | MAZDA 3 MPS
Engine: 2,261cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 260@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@3,000rpm
Price new: £18,650 (2007)
Yours for: £6,495