Mazda 3 MPS Buyer’s Guide & History

When it launched in 2006, the Mazda 3 MPS (Mazda Performance Series) was one of the hottest hatches available. It produced some seriously impressive performance figures and was even practical when compared to many of its competitors.

Unfortunately, the MPS didn’t sell quite as well as Mazda had hoped, and production ended in 2013 when the company introduced the third generation of the 3.

Today, the Mazda 3 MPS is somewhat forgotten when compared to the likes of the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf R32 and the Ford Focus ST from the same period. Still, the car has become somewhat of a cult classic and we have put together a complete buyer’s guide for it.

How To Use This Mazda 3 MPS Buyer’s Guide

There is a lot of information in this guide, so we have put together a handy table of contents below so you can skip to the section you want to read.

At the start of this article we will be covering the history and specifications of the Mazda 3 MPS. After this we will be diving into the buyer’s guide section of the article and then we will look at importing one from Japan.

Note: In North America the Mazda 3 MPS was known as the Mazdaspeed 3 and in Japan it was known as the Mazdaspeed Axela. In this article we are just going to use the Mazda 3 MPS name.

The History of the Mazda 3 MPS

Mazda first introduced the 3 (Axela in Japan) in 2003 as a 2004 model. It replaced the Familia/323/Protegé model line-up and was well received by the automotive press at the time.

However, despite its impressive performance for a family car, many motoring enthusiasts and journalists wanted more. Mazda answered those calls in 2006 when they launched the first generation of the 3 MPS at the Geneva Motor Show.

The first generation of the MPS was based on the five-door version of the Mazda 3. The biggest change when compared to the standard model was the engine. Mazda fitted the 3 MPS with the same turbocharged 2.3-litre MZR L3-VDT I4 engine that they installed in the Mazda 6 MPS (Mazdaspeed 6 in NA and Mazdaspeed Atenza in Japan).

In the Mazda 3 MPS, the engine produced as much as 263 horsepower (196 kW) and 380 Nm (280 lb ft) of torque. All this power was then sent through the front wheels rather than all four like on the Mazda 6 MPS. Australian models had a slightly lower power output of 255 horsepower (190 kW).

Mazda mated the mighty 2.3-litre engine to a six-speed manual transmission and a GKN limited slip differential. To reduce wheel spin, boost in the first gear was limited to produce a maximum of 230 horsepower (172 kW). Mazda also limited boost in the second gear as well. The amount of boost reduction was determined by the gear selection and the steering angle. No boost reduction was put in place for the other gears.

With one of the most powerful engines in its category, the Mazda 3 MPS could accelerate from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in just over six seconds and could go on to a top speed of around 250 km/h (155 mph).

Along with a more powerful engine, Mazda also added structural bracing to the car’s chassis and body to improve overall stiffness and cornering ability. Braking performance was improved via Volvo sourced 320 mm (12.6 inch) front and 280 mm (11 inch) discs.

Rather than going for a bolder styling design like some of its competitors, Mazda decided that a stealthier approach was fitting for the 3 MPS. They did give the car 18-inch wheels and a roof spoiler, but at a glance the MPS could easily be mistaken for the standard Mazda 3.

This conservative styling continued on the inside of the car as well. There were part leather seats, red leather stitching, and a few discreet MPS badges here and there, but overall, there wasn’t much else that set the vehicle apart from its peers.

Critical reception to the first-generation Mazda 3 MPS was generally very positive. Reviewers praised the mighty 2.3-litre engine for its excellent power delivery and lack of turbo lag (an issue that plagued many of its competitors). The biggest complaint that many reviewers had was that the ride was too firm, and that traction wasn’t as good as some of the other hot hatches on the market.

Trim Levels for the First-Generation Mazda 3 MPS

Mazda offered the 3 MPS in a couple of different trim levels, the Grand Touring (GT) model, and the Sport. The main visual differences between the two were the leather and lycra weave logo-embroidered racing seats and the LED tail lights on the GT. Additionally, the GT also featured a Bose stereo system, automatic Xennon headlights with manual levelling control, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Second Generation Mazda 3 MPS

A new version of the Mazda 3 MPS was produced for the 2010 model year and was based on the second-generation Mazda 3. The new car retained the 2.3-litre turbocharged engine, but it received a few ECU tweaks to make the power curve more useful.

Mazda also altered the 6-speed manual transmission to make the gear ratios wider from 2nd through to 5th. A torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential also came as standard. Other changes included larger diameter stabilisers with longer mount spans, electric-assisted steering, Bluetooth connectivity, a blindspot warning system, sat-nav and wider Dunlop 18-inch tyres.

Visually, the second-generation MPS was a bit different as it was based on the BL Mazda 3 platform. The biggest visual difference was the functional bonnet/hood scoop that allowed for a denser charge to be mounted on the top of the engine.

Despite gaining a little bit of weight, the second-generation Mazda 3 MPS performed roughly the same as the first gen. The top speed was around 250 km/h (155 mph) and the car could go from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in just over six seconds.

Mazda 3 MPS Specifications

ModelNissan 350Z
Year of production2006 – 2013
LayoutFront-engine, Front-wheel drive
EngineMZR L3-VDT petrol I4 turbo
Power255 – 263 hp (190 – 196 kW)
Torque380 Nm (280 lb ft)
Transmission6-speed manual
Weight1,483 kg (3,269 lb)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)6.1 seconds
Top speed250 km/h (155 mph) – limited

Mazda 3 MPS Buying Guide

Now that we have got the history and specifications of the Mazda 3 MPS out of the way, let us take a look at what you need to know when buying one.

It is always a good idea to physically inspect a Mazda 3 MPS yourself or get a reliable third party to do so for you. Another tip is to bring a friend/helper with you to an inspection as they may spot something you missed.

We also recommend that you try to arrange an inspection in the morning when the engine is cold and the temperature outside is cooler. The main reason for this is that warm engines can hide a number of issues that could cause serious expense down the line.

Inspecting a Mazda 3 MPS in the rain or when the car is wet is not a good idea as the water can hide problems with the bodywork/paint. If you do happen to inspect an MPS when it is wet, try to arrange a second viewing before you make a purchase.

How Much Should I Pay for a Mazda 3 MPS?

This is a question that can have so many answers. There are so many variables that go into the price of a car from location, to the condition of the vehicle and the year it was made. For these reasons, we are not going to tell you how much you should pay for one.

However, if you do want to get a rough idea of how much to pay, we recommend that you check local auction/classifieds websites or dealers for Mazda 3 MPSs for sale. This way you can get an idea of how much you need to spend in your local area or country.

Mazda 3 MPS Inspection Guide

In the next section you will find everything you need to know about inspecting a Mazda 3 MPS. The MPS is a fairly reliable car, however, poor maintenance can lead to some pretty nasty and expensive problems.

Checking the VIN

We always recommend that you take a look at the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) as it can tell you quite a bit of information about the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting. Enter the VIN one a VIN check-up website or service and see what comes up (you could even do this on your phone while you are inspecting the car).

You should be able to find the VIN in the following locations:

  • In the engine bay
  • On a plate attached to the cowl panel (near the windshield)

Engine & Exhaust

To begin your inspection of a Mazda 3 MPS’s 2.3-litre engine, open the bonnet/hood and take a good general look at the engine bay and surrounding components. Keep an eye out for any damaged or broken components, leaks, modifications, or signs of overheating.

If the engine bay is spotless it is usually a sign of a very well-maintained car. However, it may also be a sign of an owner who is trying to cover something up (leaks, etc.)

Remember to make sure that the engine is cold. If it is not and the owner has not driven to the inspection point, it may be a sign that they have pre-warmed the engine to hide an issue.

Following this you should check the fluid levels to make sure they are at the correct height. We suggest that you check the fluid levels both before and after a test drive to see if they remain the same (however, a slight change in some of the fluid levels is to be expected).

Fluid levels that are too high or too low are a sign of a poorly/incorrectly maintained vehicle. If the fluid levels are not at the correct height it can lead to premature component wear or even total engine failure.

When Should the Oil/Oil Filter Be Changed on a Mazda 3 MPS?

The engine oil and oil filter should be changed at or before the recommended service interval. Check the service history to see if this is the case for the Mazda you are looking at. If the oil is not changed regularly it can breakdown in the presence of contaminates and become diluted. Below we have put together some information on when to change the oil.

Engine Oil

Depending on where the car is located and how it is driven, Mazda states that the engine oil should be replaced every 8,000 – 12,000 km (5,000 to 7,500 miles) or every 6 – 12 months. Some enthusiastic owners will change the engine oil much earlier at every 5,000 km (3,000 miles), which is a sign of a meticulous owner. Mazda also recommends this much more frequent service interval for cars that are subject to particularly harsh conditions/driving styles.

Best Engine Oil for a Mazda 3 MPS

Mazda recommends that you use a good quality fully synthetic engine oil. The oil weight will depend on what climate you live in, however, a good quality 5W-20, 5W-30 or 5W-40 engine oil such as this one from Castrol is recommended for most environments.

Heavier weight oils tend to perform better in warmer environments, whereas thinner oils are usually better for cooler climates. We recommend that you check with the owner to see what engine oil they are using in their car.

Oil Filter

It is usually recommended that you replace the oil filter with every oil change. Generation one MPS models came with a cartridge oil filter, while generation two cars came with a screw in filter. You will need a special tool to get the filter off a generation one MPS. Some generation one owners have installed an adapter that lets them use screw in filters on their cars.

It is recommended that you use a genuine Mazda oil filter, however, some aftermarket options will work as well. We suggest that you take a look at for oil filters for the Mazda 3 MPS.

Inspecting the Oil

Don’t forget to check the condition of the engine oil. Metallic particles or grit in the oil is a big problem, and you should move onto another Mazda 3 MPS if you see this issue. Additionally, a frothy dipstick can be a sign of a head gasket failure/leak.

Are Leaks Common on These Cars?

Leaks are not common on these cars, so be cautious of any Mazda 3 MPS with the issue. A small leak can often be much more serious than it first appears, so check the car thoroughly. If the MPS you are inspecting has a large leak, move onto another car. Walk away if the owner states that a leaking Mazda 3 MPS is normal.

Sometimes oil leaks can be something simple like an incorrectly fitted or bad oil filter, or a dipstick that has not been put back properly. On the other hand, a leaking engine seal can be a major problem that can be expensive to fix.

Inspecting the Cooling System on a Mazda 3 MPS

It is important to inspect as much of the cooling system on a Mazda 3 MPS as possible. A problem with the cooling system can lead to total engine failure, so don’t forget to do this!

Remember to check the service history and with the owner to see if the cooling system has been regularly maintained. Here are some of the main components that make up a Mazda 3 MPS’s cooling system:

  • Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
  • Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
  • Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine
  • Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
  • Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system

Don’t forget to check the system both before and after a test drive. The reason for this is because problems can start to occur as the car heats up. Another important thing is to check the coolant height to make sure it is not too low (or doesn’t change significantly after a test drive). If the expansion tank is warped or cracked it may suggest that the vehicle has overheated at some point.

What Coolant for a Mazda 3 MPS

Using the wrong coolant can lead to some pretty serious issues and it may even cause total engine failure. As this is the case, remember to check what the owner/seller uses in their Mazda 3 MPS.

Mazda states that FL22 coolant/antifreeze needs to be used in the MPS. This FL22 coolant concentrate from Ravenol is perfect for the Mazda 3 MPS. FL22 is also available from Mazda dealerships, however, it is usually premixed.

Some other coolants will work, but it is always best to stick to the recommended coolant. Additionally, do not mix coolants if you decide to change the coolant type (flush the system first).

Mazda states that the coolant should be changed at 193,000 km (120,000 miles) or 10 years and then every 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or every 5 years after that. However, many owners like to change it earlier for peace of mind.

One other thing to check is the appearance of the coolant. Brown or muddy coolant is an indication of poor maintenance. If you see any oily bubbles in the coolant you should move onto another Mazda 3 MPS.

Timing Chain & VVT Actuator

Checking the timing chain and the VVT (variable valve timing) actuator are two of the most important things you need to do during an inspection.

The lock pin inside the VVT actuator has a defect in it, so overtime the actuator can no longer lock when needed. This defect stretches the timing chain at an accelerated rate, which can ultimately lead to total failure (and a very expensive bill to fix it).

To identify this problem, listen out for a rattle from the actuator on the right-hand side (driver’s side on right-hand drive cars) of the engine. Additionally, if the timing chain is loose after 20 minutes of driving it will need to be replaced immediately to avoid catastrophic engine failure (the timing chain should be extremely tight after 20 minutes of driving).

The VVT actuator usually lasts about 80,000 – 120,000 km (50,000 – 75,000 miles) before it starts to fail, however, it can last much longer. There is no need to change it unless the rattling noise starts to occur (if it does get it changed asap).

When the VVT actuator is replaced, the following should also be changed:

  • Tensioner
  • Timing chain
  • Chain guides
  • Other bolts and gaskets

The service is quite expensive and should be done by Mazda or a reputable Mazda specialist as they can source all of the OEM parts. If the owner has got the work done elsewhere, try to find out who it was and check their reviews. Remember to check the service history to see if the components above and the VVT actuator have been replaced at any point. If they have not and the car’s mileage is starting to get up there, try to get a discount.

Note: Second generation Mazda 3 MPS models should not suffer from this problem. However, it is still very important to keep an ear out for the issue. Models produced in 2010 with VINs lower than JM1BL******295247 still have this issue as they are fitted with the earlier L3T engine.

In theory, the timing chain should not need to be replaced unless the VVT actuator fails. However, in reality this is different and you may need to replace it at some point (even if the VVT actuator is fine). Regular services with good quality oil will extend the life of the timing chain. Once again, a rattling or slapping sound will indicate that the chain needs to be replaced.

Inspecting the Spark Plugs

If possible, try to get a look at the spark plugs. The condition of the spark plugs can tell you quite a bit of information about the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting and how it has been looked after. We recommend that you check out this spark plug analysis guide.

When do the spark plugs need changing on a Mazda 3 MPS

Mazda states that the spark plugs should be changed every 120,000 km (75,000 miles). Some owners like to change the spark plugs earlier, but this is what is recommended in the Mazda service schedule.

Check the service history and with the owner to see if the spark plugs have been changed. If the car has travelled further than the distance stated above and has not had the plugs changed it is a sign of poor maintenance. Additionally, remember to check that the spark plug wires are in good condition.

What spark plugs does a Mazda 3 MPS Use?

Many owners use NGK Laser Iridium Premium ILTR6A-8G or Denso ITV22 Spark Plugs in their Mazda 3 MPS. Another popular choice is NGK LTR7IX-11 plugs.

Checking the Exhaust System on a Mazda 3 MPS

Remember to get under the car and take a good look at the exhaust system. Exhausts can be expensive to repair/replace, so make sure it is in good condition. Keep an eye out for the following issues:

  • Black sooty stains– Indicates a leak which may require expensive repairs
  • Corrosion– May or may not be a problem, but watch out for it. Any signs of significant corrosion are a major problem and you should probably walk away from the vehicle. Rust on the exhaust may also be caused by accident damage
  • Cracks or accident damage– Can be a sign of a careless owner
  • Dodgy repairs– Bodge jobs on the exhaust are a major issue, and they can be expensive to put right

Loss of power when driving and strange noises – A leak can lead to loss of power and possibly even some strange noises (ticking, etc.). The exhaust system and heat shields should inspected every 72,000 km (45,000 miles) as part of the service schedule.

Aftermarket Exhaust on a Mazda 3 MPS

There are a range of different aftermarket exhaust options available for the Mazda 3 MPS from the likes of Best Mufflers. Some owners like to go with full customs options as well. If the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting has an aftermarket exhaust, try to find out the brand or who made it, and check reviews.

Smoke & Vapour from a Mazda 3 MPS

It is important to check what is coming out the back of a Mazda 3 MPS during an inspection. Do this before, during and after a test drive.

A small amount of vapour on engine start-up is usually fine and is typically caused by condensation in the exhaust (especially if it is cold outside). If you see lots of smoke or vapour move onto another Mazda 3 MPS as the one you are looking at is probably not worth your time. Here are what the different colours of smoke mean:

White smoke – This is usually caused by water in the cylinders and could indicate a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant.

Blue smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. A blue/white smoke can also indicated a failing turbo/turbo seals (more on that later).

Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.

Overheating and Blown Head Gaskets on a Mazda 3 MPS

Overheating is a problem on any car, so if you notice any signs of it during your inspection of a Mazda 3 MPS or the owner mentions it, be very cautious. Past overheating issues that have been repaired are also a cause for concern as well (many repairs are carried out poorly and on the cheap). Watch out for the following:

  • Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • An engine that overheats
  • Oil that is white and milky
  • Fouled spark plugs
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Engine oil that smells of coolant
  • Sweet exhaust smell

Don’t forget to check the temperature gauge. If it is on the low side, there may be an issue with the thermostat. If it is on the higher side, it indicates that the cooling system is struggling.

Engine Mounting Point Recall (2006 – 2007 Mazda 3 MPS Models)

There was a problem with a bolt that secured the engine and transmission assembly to one of its mounting points. In the worst-case scenario, if the bolt came out or broke, the engine and transmission assembly could have dropped. The driveshaft could also detach, making the car undrivable.

This problem affected models produced from 22 May 2006 to 14 May 2007 with a vin range of JM0BK103200300010 to JM0BK103200358229. Check the service history to see if this recall was actioned on. If it wasn’t and you still want to purchase the vehicle, we suggest you give your local Mazda dealer or service centre a call to see if the work can still be done.

Start Up & Idle Speed on a Mazda 3 MPS

We always recommend that you get the owner/seller to start the vehicle for you for the first time. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. You can check if any smoke or vapour exits from the exhaust
  2. If the owner revs the car hard you know to move onto another Mazda 3 MPS

When the key is turned in the ignition the car should jump into life. Hesitation or failure to start indicates a problem that could be something simple like a bad/flat battery or a much more serious issue.

What Is the Correct Idle Speed for a Mazda 3 MPS?

Once the car warms up the idle speed should be around 750 – 900 rpm. Don’t worry if the idle speed is slightly higher when the engine first starts. Additionally, you should also turn on the air conditioning, electronics and lights to see what happens to the idle speed. You will probably find that it increases slightly, however, the car should not stall.

Rough idling or poor starts are usually caused by a bad or clogged up EGR valve. Replacing or cleaning the valve will usually fix the issue. You can view a video of the process below.

Valve Clearance on a Mazda 3 MPS

The engine valve clearance should be inspected every 120,000 km (75,000 miles) and adjusted if necessary. A tapping/ticking noise may indicate that the valve clearance needs to be adjusted.

Checking the Turbo on a Mazda 3 MPS

Along with the timing chain and VVT actuator, the other major failing point of a Mazda 3 MPS’s engine is the turbocharger. The seals in the Borg Warner K04 unit can quickly become worn and can fail. Replacement parts are cheap, but labour can be expensive if you get somebody else to do it for you.

What are the Signs of a Failing Turbocharger

Listen out for any weird whistling, rumbling or high-pitched metallic sounds when the turbo is at full boost. If the turbo is making these sort of sounds it is well past its prime. However, the turbocharger will probably completely fail before making these sort of sounds. Here are some signs of a failing turbo:

  • Distinctive blue/grey smoke – This usually indicates that the seals are worn, however, it can also be a sign of a cracked turbo housing (pretty unlikely). To check for smoke, leave the car idling for 10 minutes, and then rev it. If the seals have failed a blue/grey coloured smoke will exit the exhaust.
  • Burning lots of oil– Its hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner.
  • Slow acceleration– If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why we recommend that you test drive a few different Mazda 3 MPSs to get an idea of how fast they are.
  • If the boost pressure comes on late– Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger.
  • Check Engine Warning Light– The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.

Note: Some of the issues above can be the result of problems with the pipes going to the turbocharger.

Most turbo failures on these cars are usually caused by oil contamination. Regular oil changes with good quality oil will dramatically improve the life of the turbo seals.

Getting a Compression Test Done on a Mazda 3 MPS

While not completely necessary, a compression test can tell you quite a lot of information about the condition and history of the Mazda 3 MPS you are looking at. However, compressions tests can only indicate that a problem is present, and they don’t necessarily tell you what that problem is.

Compression readings should be around 180 psi. The most important thing with a compression test is that the numbers between the cylinders don’t deviate too much (all within 10% of each other). Here is a video of a compression test being done on a Mazda 3 MPS.

Buying a Mazda 3 MPS with a Rebuilt Engine

Owners get their car’s engines rebuilt for a variety of reasons from wear caused by high mileage to performance reasons. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a rebuilt engine on a Mazda 3 MPS as long as the rebuild has been done by a competent Mazda specialist. The main thing to watch out for is rebuilds that have been done on the cheap for a quick sale.

For those looking at a Mazda 3 MPS with a rebuilt engine, find out who did the work and see if you can find any reviews/feedback about them. If the owner has done the work themselves you should be extra cautious. While there are plenty of competent home mechanics out there, there are even more who have no idea what they are doing.

It is usually better to buy an MPS with a rebuilt engine that has done a few more miles. For example, a rebuild that has already travelled 10,000 km is a safer bet than one that has only travelled a couple of hundred kilometres.

Mazda 3 MPS Transmission/Differential

Overall, the transmission is fairly reliable, but there are a few things to watch out for. The change from first to second can get notchy overtime and the limited-slip differential can grumble when the steering lock is on full.

Changing the transmission oil can often fix these issues, so see when it was last replaced. Many owners like to change the transmission oil every 40,000 km (25,000 miles). Below we have listed some of the popular choices of transmission oil for the Mazda 3 MPS:

  • Redline MTL 75W-80 (75W-90 is another common choice but can cause grinding)
  • Castrol VMX80
  • OEM transmission oil (many owners state this is not as good as the two listed above)

Remember to test the transmission at both low and high engine speeds to make sure it is smooth. Synchro wear is a possibility, especially on cars that have been driven hard. Some owners install a “short shift plate” that can make synchro problems worse.

Testing and Inspecting the Clutch on a Mazda 3 MPS

Below we have listed some ways to check the condition of the clutch on a Mazda 3 MPS. The lifespan of a clutch will depend on a number of factors from how the car has been driven to what sort of power it is running.

Clutch Engagement – The first thing to check is the engagement. To do this put the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.

Clutch Slippage – The way to check for this is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. Once you have done this, plant your foot on the throttle and watch the revs. If the engine speed goes up but the car doesn’t accelerate the clutch is slipping. Here are some things that can cause slippage

  • Worn clutch
  • Clutch covered in oil
  • Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly

Clutch Drag – Get the MPS on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the Mazda hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Getting the clutch replaced by Mazda or a mechanic can be expensive, so make sure it is in good condition! If it is not, ask for a discount on the vehicle if you intend to buy it.

Body & Exterior of a Mazda 3 MPS

Bodywork problems can be just as, if not more expensive to fix than engine or transmission issues. Here are some things to watch out for.


Unfortunately, rust is a problem on these cars, especially on first generation models. Corrosion problems can be more apparent on Mazda 3 MPSs that have experienced one or more of the following:

  • Spent time in countries or areas that salt their roads
  • Spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Lived by the sea for significant periods of time
  • Always been kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)

We wouldn’t necessarily rule out a Mazda 3 MPS with rust, but it is always a much bigger problem than it first appears. Walk away from a car with major rust issues.

Where Does Rust Occur on a Mazda 3 MPS?

Rust usually occurs in the following locations, however, it can still appear in other places as well, so check the body thoroughly.

  • Rear arches where the arch liner holds dirt and water
  • Behind both the front and rear bumper
  • Around the tailgate
  • Chassis
Rust Repairs

While you are inspecting the bodywork, you should also keep an eye out for rust repairs. Look for any areas that may have been resprayed or repaired and check the service history. Additionally, check with the owner, however, remember that they may not be 100% honest with you.

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Accident Damage on a Mazda 3 MPS

Accident damage is a major issue on fast cars such as the Mazda 3 MPS. Many people purchase them and then make contact with things they shouldn’t. Replacing body panels and repainting the car is not cheap, so don’t rush this. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Inspect the doors, tailgate and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting may have been in an accident or may have some sort of other problem.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – This is a good indication of crash damage or rust repair.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This is usually a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident and that the owner is careless. This problem can be fixed but is a pain to get right.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car –Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations – indicates that the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting has been in an accident or has some other problem.
  • Paint runs or overspray – This could be a factory issue or a sign of a poor repair.
  • Missing badges or trim – can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
Stone Chipped Fog Lights

The front foglights on first generation models are more prone to stone chips than those fitted to later cars. These lights are only available as a complete unit, so they are quite expensive to replace. Used replacements are available, but make sure they are in good condition.

Suspension & Steering on a Mazda 3 MPS

Don’t be surprised to find worn suspension and steering components on cars you inspect as many of them are now getting up there in terms of mileage. The main things to watch out for are tired drop links, anti-roll bushes and suspension top mounts.

Renewing the dampers and bushes is expensive, so try to get a discount if the MPS you are inspecting has ones that are showing signs of wear. Here are some things to watch out for when checking the suspension and steering components:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping during turns
  • High speed instability
  • Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging rear suspension – usually caused by bad bushings in the rear
  • Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (don’t forget to drive in a tight figure 8)
Wheel Alignment

During a test drive remember to check that the vehicle drives straight without you having to correct the wheel. If you do have to correct the steering wheel it indicates that the wheel alignment is out. Alternatively, it may be a sign of other issues such as accident damage.

Mazda 3 MPS Brakes

There is not much to worry about when it comes to the brakes on a Mazda 3 MPS, however, if they feel weak then there is a problem. The brakes should be more than adequate for road use, but an upgrade may be in order if you want to regularly track the car. Look out for the following during an inspection of a Mazda 3 MPS.

  • Pad life (use a little mirror or you may be able to use your phone)
  • Pitted, scored or grooved discs
  • Corrosion
  • Modifications
  • Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
  • Brake fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir
  • Brake fluid changes every 12 – 24 months
While Test Driving an MPS

It is important to test the brakes under both hard and light braking conditions to make sure they are functioning properly. If the car pulls to one side it may have a sticking/seized caliper. This can occur if the car has been sitting unused for a long period of time. If the caliper has seized on the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting, you may hear a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.

You should also watch out for juddering/shaking through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied. This is usually a sign of warped discs/rotors and often becomes first apparent under high speed braking.

Loud bangs, knocks or other strange noises when the brakes are used should be investigated closely as they may signal some expensive bills on the horizon. Weak feeling brakes or brakes that struggle to stop the car signal an issue.

Wheels & Tyres

The original alloy wheels on the Mazda 3 MPS can corrode, so check for poor repairs. Additionally, curbed or scuffed wheels are a sign of a careless owner and can be annoying to get fixed. If the wheels are aftermarket, check with the owner/seller to see if they have the originals. Check the tyres for the following:

  • Amount of tread
  • Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
  • Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)

The inside of the tyres can wear badly and they are not cheap to replace (215/45 R18 size is rare).


Overall, the Mazda 3 MPS’s interior is tough but considered to be cheap by some. When you check the interior, look out for any rips, stains or tears on the seats. Additionally, look inspect the plastic trim pieces for cracks or scuffs.

Most of the interior components can be easily sourced as they are just carried over from the standard Mazda 3 (however, seats can be expensive to repair or replace). If the interior is in poor condition is suggests that the car has had a hard life.

Watch out for seats that move during acceleration and/or braking as it is incredibly dangerous and will lead to an MOT/WOF failure. The seat bolsters wear, but they aren’t too expensive to get fixed

Remember to lift up the carpets and check around the windows for any leaks or dampness. Additionally, check the steering wheel, gear shifter, pedals, and other trim pieces for wear as they can indicate how far the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting has travelled.

Excessive wear for the mileage could be a sign that the vehicle’s odometer has been wound back (or the car may have just had a very hard life).

You can tell if a smoker has owned the vehicle by taking a goof whiff of the interior and by looking at the headliner above the driver’s seat. If there is a stain or it is a slightly different colour than the rest of the headliner, then a smoker has probably owned the car at some point.

Electronics, Air Conditioning and Gauges

The electronics on the Mazda 3 MPS are robust and reliable, so there is not much to worry about there. However, remember to check that all of the warning lights come on when the car is turned on. If the warning lights do not appear the owner may have disconnected them to hide a problem.

Additionally, don’t forget to check that the headlights, rear lights, indicators, etc. work as intended. You will need to get out of the car when you are doing this or get somebody to help you.

If the air conditioning doesn’t work (no cool air) don’t let the owner convince you it just needs a re-gas. While a re-gas will often fix air conditioning problems, it could be a much more serious that could be very expensive to get fixed. There are no known faults with the air conditioning system, but just keep this in mind.

Aftermarket components need to be inspected closely to make sure they work and are installed correctly. Poor workmanship here can be a sign of a careless owner.

Common Modifications for the Mazda 3 MPS

Below you can find some common modifications that you may come across when inspecting a Mazda 3 MPS:

  • ECU Remap
  • Exhaust (downpipe, etc.)
  • Air filter
  • Oil filter adapter for first generation models
  • SRI (Short Ram Intake)
  • Turbo inlet pipe
  • Aftermarket springs and dampers
  • Upgraded turbo (Garrett ball bearing)

First Generation vs Second Generation MPS

It is generally recommended that you go for a second-generation Mazda 3 MPS if funds allow. This Is not only because they come with a few more features, but also the rust and timing chain/VVT actuator issues are less common/fixed. Additionally, in some countries the second-generation model is cheaper to tax.

General Car Buying Advice for a Mazda 3 MPS

How to Get a Great Deal on a Mazda 3 MPS

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research, research, research – Prior to starting your hunt for an MPS, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Is a highly modified Mazda 3 MPS okay or are you looking for something completely original? Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far?
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Don’t limit yourself to one dealer or platform (or even location). If you open up to more shopping options, it will make it easier to find a good Mazda 3 MPS.
  3. Test drive multiple cars – Don’t just take one MPS out for a test drive and then buy it. Drive as many Mazda 3 MPSs as you can get your hands on. This will give you a good idea of what makes a good and what makes a bad MPS.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time looking through all the different MPSs available and then go check out the promising looking ones
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple Mazda 3 MPS, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. There are lots of low mileage, poor condition Mazda 3 MPS out there, so don’t discount a one with a few more K’s.

Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good. Short distance trips are not kind to the engine in a Mazda 3 MPS as it does not have time to warm up properly and get lubricated.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!   

Service History and Other Documentation

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. The service history will give you a good idea of how the Mazda 3 MPS you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any Mazda 3 MPS and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced (engine, catalytic converter, etc.)?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point?
  • Have the turbo seals been replaced at any point?
  • Has the VVT actuator been replaced (along with the timing chain and other components)?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • Has the car been used for track use at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Mazda 3 MPS

Here are some things that would make as walk away from an MPS. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems
  • Significant Crash Damage
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Mazda 3 MPS (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the Mazda 3 MPS and the model they are selling?
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another MPS.

Where to Find a Mazda 3 MPSs for Sale

Auction/Classifieds Websites

Websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, TradeMe, Piston Heads and GumTree are great places to start your hunt for a Mazda 3 MPS. You will find a range of Mazda 3 MPSs for sale at different prices and in different conditions. You can easily compare the price, specs and condition of different MPSs and you will be able to select the ones that look the best

Dealers and Importers

Most dealers and importers will have an online presence, so make sure you check out their website for any Nissan 350Zs for sale. Dealers tend to be a bit more expensive than private sellers, but sometimes you can get some extras thrown in or better protection.

Social Media

Websites such as Reddit, Facebook and even Instagram can be excellent places to find a Mazda 3 MPS for sale. Check out some of the many enthusiast groups or subreddits and let other users know you are interested in buying an MPS. Additionally, social media groups are often great places to find spare parts or get advice from other owners.

Owners’ Clubs

This sort of ties in with the above, but many owners’ clubs have their own website or they may not even have a website at all. Look to see if there are any Mazda clubs in your area as these are often great places to find cars for sale or ask for advice.

Importing a Mazdaspeed Axela (Mazda 3 MPS) from Japan 

If you are struggling to find a suitable Mazda 3 MPS or Mazdaspeed 3 in your country, you may want to look at importing an Axela from Japan. Many Axelas were sold in Japan, so it is a great place to find them for sale.

Exporting vehicles from Japan is a big business as it keeps the country’s motor industry moving and older vehicles become more expensive to run. Below we have outlined everything you need to know about importing a Mazdaspeed Axela from Japan.

How to Import a Mazdaspeed Axela from Japan

While importing an Axela from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search “import Mazdaspeed Axela”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for Axelas based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.

Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.

Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:

JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.

Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.

Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.

Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!

Use a Private Importer

While the websites above are handy to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Mazdaspeed Axela, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect Axela for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.

You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.

How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work? 

The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles

They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.

Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.

While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.

Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.

Use the grade to whittle down the number of Mazdaspeed Axelas you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you.

The Auction Check Sheet 

Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a Mazdaspeed Axela and where any problems are located.

Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.

What Does the Number Grade Mean? 
  • Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
  • Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
  • Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
  • Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
  • Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
  • Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
  • Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
  • Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
  • Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
  • Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade

As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.

The Car Map 

The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

Our Guidelines for Importing a Mazdaspeed Axela from Japan 

  • Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
  • If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
  • Try to go through a private importer
  • Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
  • Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
  • Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
  • Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
  • Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
  • Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
  • Avoid cars with unknown mileages
  • Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
  • Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents

Know Your Country’s Importation Laws 

Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.

Concluding This Mazda 3 MPS Buyer’s Guide

Compared to many other hot hatches from the period, the Mazda 3 MPS is a great buy. Prices are still pretty good and many of them are still in excellent condition. This buyer’s guide should give you pretty much everything you need to know about purchasing a Mazda 3 MPS.

Useful Links


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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