New cars -- Mazda MX-3

Chalk and Cheese

"Spa-Pita" and "StaGility" — two words that you will not have come across before in any language, and hopefully will not have to endure reading again. But if one was to believe the information blurb that accompanied a preview of Mazda's sports coupé, then these are going to be the "buzz" words. What the hell do they mean? Well, the former word is a "canny (sic) way the chassis and development engineers describe the MX-3's superb road manner" and are "phonetic expressions of the driver's action and the car's responsive behaviour." "Spa", so they go on, "is the sound of a knife cutting through an object," and the "phonetic Pita" is the way "it immediately stabilizes itself." The other word? That's easy, it's the bastardization of Agility and Stability.

But enough of this drivel! The car itself actually is rather a pleasant beast, and is somewhat a cross between a Honda Civic CRX and a Toyota Celica in looks, but being just 4220mm long, 1695mm wide and 1310mm high is nearer in dimensions to the Volkswagen Corrado. Although comparisons will inevitably be drawn with its own stablemate, the MX-5 convertible, the two cars are two distinct models, there being no question of a carryover from one to the other (despite the confusing order of appearance!)

Whilst lacking the cheeky appeal of the CRX, it is nevertheless quite a pretty car, although the rear end treatment, dominated by a virtually horizontal rear screen, is less effective. What Mazda have done, though, is to install rear seats which even have sufficient leg room for the average sized adult, the trouble is that the headroom is limited, a six-footer needing to bend his head to one side to sit in the seat. But since this is aimed at the youth market, by which Mazda mean everybody except the family man aged between 35 and 55 who have a growing family, a high mortgage and little money left over for indulgencies, rear seats, while useful to have as a marketing tool, are not really of prime importance. The rest of the interior is adequate, but lacks the feel of quality that the car deserves.

Since this a sporting coupé with a hatchback, luggage access is via lifting the large glass pane on gas struts. Luggage space is good for the type of car but the price of the shape and structural integrity is the high lip which the bags have to be hoisted over.

There is a choice of two engines, the 16 valve, single overhead cam 1598cc unit and a newly developed 24 valve, 1845cc V6 which Mazda proudly claim is the smallest V6 in volume production. Despite the 247cc difference in engine capacity, the two versions of the MX-3 are as different to each other as chalk and cheese. Whereas the V6, clad with low profile 205/55R15 87V Yokohamas, is responsive and lively and rather fun to drive, the 1.6, on 185/65R14 85H Dunlops, is lethargic and dull and, because the car does not live up to looks, a bit of a strain.

Power steering is standard on both models, but the steering ratios are different, the V6 having a 15:1 steering ratio requiring 2.7 turns of the steering wheel from lock to lock compared to the 17:1 ratio and 3.1 turns of the wheel of the 1.6.

ABS and discs all round on the V6 and front discs only on the other model are efficient and good, the ABS an option on the 16 valve.

The bad news is that this engine is scheduled to take up 60% of total MX-3 production, but the good news is that in their wisdom Mazda Cars UK are ensuring that of the 800 examples due to come to Britain from August until the end of the year, approximately 650 will be the V6 version, with the same 80% ratio kept for the 2500 due to arrive in 1992.

The price of both models has yet to be announced, but a ballpark figure of £15,000 for the 1.6-litre and £17,500 for the V6 should be expected. -- WPK