Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
A car that plays down its performance potential is always going to be cooler than one that overstates it. Sadly now the trend is very much toward the latter, factory standard hot hatches now boasting quad exhausts, cars of all shapes and sizes peppered with fake vents and intakes with filled-in artificial mesh and – worst of all – entire rear bumpers designed around vast, chrome trimmed exhausts, their gaping mouths blanked off while the real pea-shooter pipe skulks behind. And don’t get me started on ‘sport’ trim options for diesel repmobiles that pair 20-inch wheel and tyre combinations designed to cope with 500hp-plus on a car with barely a third of that.
Here is the antidote. A car so anonymous in appearance most people wouldn’t give it a single glance, let alone a second. It’s a mid-sized Japanese saloon, ergo it must be a minicab. Indeed, if I had a Mazda6 MPS I might go full undercover and stick a beaded seat cover, dimpled steering wheel trim and box of tissues on the parcel shelf just to complete the subterfuge.
The only real giveaway to the car’s potential are those big bore exhausts under the rear valance but then, given (see above) everything from a C180 CDI upwards fakes such things anyway even that probably won’t raise an eyebrow.
Be under no illusions though. The 6 MPS is a seriously rapid car. And just the job for discreetly making progress without anyone really noticing. Under that humped bonnet is a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with a burly 260hp/256bhp and 280lb ft, the latter at a very Japanese 3,000rpm rather than the sub-2,000rpm of most modern turbos. It drives through a typically snickety six-speed manual gearbox and four-wheel drive chassis with double wishbone suspension up front and multi-link rear, an electronic clutch able to send up to 50 per cent of the drive torque to the rear axle, a mechanical limited-slip differential distributing that across it. The steering is fast – just 2.6 turns lock to lock – and hydraulically assisted and it’ll do 0-62 in 6.6 seconds and top out at 150mph. Nothing revolutionary in any of that, just proper engineering with no penny pinching short cuts. And, being a Mazda, it won’t go wrong.
To all intents and purposes the 6 MPS is as fast, fun and all-weather capable as a Subaru Impreza WRX but without any of the bonnet scoop/big wing McDonald’s car park emotional baggage. It’s also fast enough to see-off all but the most serious German competition, this and the stealth factor more than enough to put your average try-hard S Line A4 TDI or M-Sport 320d driver firmly in their place.
These were cheap, fast and well-equipped cars new, costing just £23,950 new and packed with goodies like leather, Bose stereo, xenon lights and more. There aren’t many around but they’re still fast and stacked with toys but now seriously, seriously cheap – this one with decent miles and an honest sounding ad is just shy of four grand. £490 VED thanks to the 245g/km CO2 is a bit of a burden to bear but a price I’d pay for the satisfaction of driving a fast, interesting car most people will think is a slow and terminally boring one.
Images courtesy of Pistonheads