A different Mini
On the face of it, Mazda Cars (UK) is cutting V its own throat somewhat in introducing another model in its quota-restricted range, but the incentive behind the new 121 “super-mini” lies in the attractive 28 per cent share such cars have in the British market place.
The 121 will inevitably affect sales of its elder brothers — the 626 and 323 — as it is expected to account for 40 per cent of the former’s quota, and 60 per cent of the latter’s.
Of even greater significance, however, is the role Mazda sees for it in attracting a younger breed of buyer. Currently, typical Mazda purchasers range between mid-forties and early-sixties, something the men at Tunbridge Wells are very keen to alter. The hope for the 121 is that it will act as a lure to first-time buyers.
Its principal advantage is that it is physically different to rivals which have developed similar appearance as the dictates of packaging and aerodynamics lead to homogeneity. The 121 is narrower and taller than others in its class, and manages to combine this with distinctive if not outstanding looks.
With its average-for-class length, it will accommodate four adults in better than class-average comfort, and a cunning rear-seat design permits a variety of luggage arrangements. The rear-seat backs are split and will either fold forward, in conventional manner, or backwards up to 56° to create a sizeable mattress when utilised in conjunction with the reclining front seats. The rear seats also slide back 180mm to increase legroom, although this is obviously at a premium to luggage space. When the low rear sill is taken into account, the 121 stands as a sensible proposition for drivers to whom practicality is paramount.
The design is based on Ford’s Festiva, executed by Mazda, so the concept is already proven. Transverse, single-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engines of 1.1 or 1.3-litre capacity are available, mated to five-speed manual transmissions.
Both engines have long strokes so they can run high compression-ratios and benefit from enhanced low-range torque, but nevertheless the driver in a hurry must make full use of the occasionally notchy gearbox. When thus pressed, neither engine is particularly sophisticated, and the strain is clearly audible.
Ford deliberately set the wheels as far out as practicality permitted, but though the track is thus relatively wide, the 5.5 x 12 wheels and narrow 165/70 SR12 tyres create a handicap to really quick cornering. The 121 lacks grip, but at least lacks it in a balanced manner, and its generally safe behaviour is backed up by satisfactory compromise on roll and pitch damping. Steering and braking effort is light, and the ride is acceptable.
The 121 boasts an impressive standard specification which includes stereo/cassette player, heated rear window, head restraints and twin outer-door mirrors, the 1.3 retailing at a competitive £6149 in LX guise.
Sun seekers will be interested in the 1.3LX Sun Top model, featuring an electronicallyoperated sunroof which measures 704mm by 693mm and thus allows front and rear passengers to experience open-air motoring, at a £700 premium. DJT