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Could it be true? Mazda 3 Turbo edges closer to Australia to compete for hot-hatch crown against Hyundai i30 N, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R

While almost identical to the up-spec Mazda3 Astina, the Turbo version does score substantially more performance and AWD.

Mazda has confirmed that it is working hard behind the scenes to make the Mazda3 Turbo available elsewhere a reality for Australian hot-hatch fans sooner rather than later.

Speaking to CarsGuide earlier this month, Mazda Australia marketing manager Alastair Doak revealed where the Japanese brand is at in its effort to return to the small-car performance arena against the VW Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS and coming all-new Subaru WRX.

“MPS isn’t going to come back any time soon… we’ve asked for (the Mazda3 Turbo), we would like it, we think it would be great for the range,” he said.

“The program manager is very aware of our desire… and he has promised he will do his best to get it for us, but there is nothing beyond that at this point. And will that satisfy (the need for a Golf GTI rival)? To some degree, yes. Absolutely.

“Give us some time, we’re plugging away.”

As reported, the delays in bringing the Mazda 3 Turbo revolve around justifying the expense of developing right-hand-drive (RHD) for what is likely to be a niche seller.

“There’s a packaging issue with RHD that then requires additional investments in engineering and resources,” Mr Doak explained. “Then it comes down to ‘this cost versus how much you would sell it in your market’, and as it’s only for Australia and a couple of other RHD markets, (it’s been difficult) to justify the investment.”

Mr Doak added that Mazda’s capacity is limited and there are lots of parallel programs currently keeping its engineers occupied, including the development of a fresh rear-drive architecture to serve larger sedans, SUVs and crossovers, as well as new inline six-cylinder engine family. 

Both are anticipated to debut in the all-new CX-50 premium SUV sometime next year.

“You’ve seen the stuff that we’re about to launch,” he said. “That sucks up a huge amount of resources. It’s all about priorities and just getting the business case and we’ll continue to work on it.”

Unveiled in North America more than a year ago, the Mazda3 Turbo employs a variation of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that serves the CX-9, CX-5 and Mazda6. In US-spec guise, it delivers 186kW of power and 434Nm of torque – some 16kW and 14Nm higher respectively than what the other models offer in Australia.

Unlike the rapid but unruly Mazda3 MPS (for Mazda Performance Series), whose 190kW/380Nm 2.3-litre four-pot turbo sent power to the front wheels only in both the original BK series from 2006 as well as its 2009 BL successor, the Mazda3 Turbo is purely all-wheel-drive (as well as six-speed auto-only to boot).

Independent testing in North America has seen the newcomer streak to 100km/h from standstill in about 5.7 seconds, which is nearly half a second quicker than the old Mazda3 MPS (0-100km/h: 6.1s), and on a par with the Honda Civic Type R.

Visual differences between the Turbo and current Astina X20 flagship are subtle, limited to a front lip spoiler, extra gloss-black trim, larger exhaust tips and badging.

Considering that the latest Golf GTI starts from $53,100 before on-road costs, Mazda3 Turbo pricing is likely to cost similar money. As Mazda is increasingly moving upmarket in terms of design, engineering, interior presentation and technical specification, a halo hot hatch is the next logical move for the popular small-car series. It's also in keeping with the series' traditionally rich model mix.

The history of high-performance Mazda small cars is nearly as long as the brand’s presence in Australia.

It began with the fitment of a rotary engine in the engine bay of the second-generation Familia-based R100 Coupe of 1969, then quickly followed by the Capella RX-2 (1970) and RX-3 (1972). From 1987 to 1989 the 323 was topped by the SS Turbo and Turbo AWD, while the 1994-1998 BA Astina offered a 2.0-litre V6 option.

When will the next chapter be written with the Mazda3 Turbo? Watch this space…