Radical looking when new and still stylish now
Mazda’s 1992 MX-6 sports coupe was one of several daring designs launched in the early 1990s by the well-regarded Japanese marque. Others included the MX-5 roadster, the rear-drive 929 executive sedan and the retro-look, bubble-shaped 121, a car which now looks dated and dare we say it, dowdy.
The MX-6 ushered in cabin-forward styling, which gave the front-engined, front-wheel drive car looks reminiscent of a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive Group C sports racing car. The car is very low and has a low noseline and a tall cabin for good forward visibility. It’s an interesting example of how tastes in automotive design shift or wax and wane.
A few years back, I thought the MX-6 was starting to look a little dated. Now, I think it looks just fine, with a harmony of line that still resonates 16 years down the track. The MX-6 was very much a child of its times, a radically designed coupe that was intended to bury forever any notion of Mazda as a builder of fuddy-duddy cars. In 1992 it looked sensational. Though I have some reservations, notably about the high roofline, the MX-6 is a striking and handsome car with strong appeal as a used buy - a once premium car at give-away prices.
The heart of the MX-6 is Mazda’s sweet, high-revving 2.5-litre V6. It has twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank (quad cams), electronic fuel-injection and ignition. It’s powerful enough - 121kW at 5600rpm, which was a respectable figure 16 years ago. The peak torque of 213Nm looks meaty enough on paper, but it’s developed at a high 4800rpm. And that’s one of the engines drawbacks. There’s not a lot of torque low in the rev range, so you need to keep the motor revving. The situation is even more pronounced in MX-6s powered by the 2.0-litre V6. They were never sold here officially by Mazda, but have come in as Japanese used imports. The 2.5 is the better bet.
NZ-new MX-6s were launched initially with a five-speed, but a four-speed automatic gearbox soon joined the mix. Suspension is by MacPherson struts on all four corners, with stabiliser bars front and rear.MX-6s rode on standard 15-inch diameter, 6.5-inch wide alloy wheels shod with meaty 205/55 R15 tyres.
The big talking point was the electronically-controlled four-wheel, speed-sensitive power steering system which gave on on-rails cornering feel at speed and outstanding manoeuvrability in tight spaces. Initially, though, it could catch you out in tight spaces, and it’s quite easy to get too close to – or even hit – walls when you’re parking. The four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear) are supplemented by an ABS anti-lock system.
Standard equipment was comprehensive, and included cruise control, climate-control air-conditioning, central door-locking, front foglights, power windows, radio antenna and door mirrors, a six-speaker sound system which had a Compact Disc player and tape cassette deck (still a rarity today to have both), tinted side and rear glass, and an electrically-operated steel sunroof. In 1994 the MX-6 got a six-disc CD stacker.
MX-6s sold new in New Zealand came in a range of eight colours, five of them metallic or mica. You could have the interior in any colour so long as it was black.
NB: Features described are for cars sold new by Mazda New Zealand.
On the road
Mazda’s MX-6 handles crisply and has excellent balance. Understeer is minimal and the car retains a neutral feel – though of course it will ultimately understeer. The car is right at home on a winding road and delivers real driver satisfaction.
The sports-style seats are well shaped and provide good lateral support during the high g-force cornering the car is capable of.
The engine is a free-revving unit and needs to be revved to get the best out of the car during brisk driving. There’s not a lot of torque low in the rev range which means more gear-changing. But that’s not a problem in the five-speed manual, which shifts quickly and smoothly with relatively short gear throws. One of Mazda’s strengths is the excellent shift quality of its manual gearboxes, and the MX-6’s is well up to standard. We haven’t driven an auto MX-6.
Visibility front and rear is very good.
The steering is communicative, nicely balanced and very quick, at 2.5 turns of the steering wheel, lock-to-lock. The turning circle is a very tight 9.6 metres.
Locating a good MX-6 and hanging on to it may be a cheap way of acquiring a hassle-free classic performance car.
What goes wrong?
Like most of its stablemates, Mazda’s MX-6 is relatively trouble-free. However, the V6 engines are quite complex – especially in the valve train – and can be expensive to repair. If you’re contemplating buying an
MX-6, listen carefully for any noise in the top of the motor. It may indicate worn cam gear and an expensive repair – probably uneconomical unless you’re investing in a long-term classic.
The V6’s cambelt drives one camshaft which uses a system of gears to drive the other. “It’s a split gear with tensioners to stop backlash,” says a Mazda expert. “The tensioners go and get quite clattery. It’s fairly expensive to get repaired, so it’s important to listen for top-end noise on these engines.” He says it’s important, too, to change the water pump and some other ancillaries when the cambelt is being replaced.
“That can be quite expensive, but otherwise there’s no one thing that gives issues. Just be very careful about top-end engine clatter.”
Our man says he hasn’t encountered problems with the Mazda MX-6’s steered rear axle. The only one he’s had problems with had been incorrectly reassembled after rear-end accident damage was repaired.
The MX-6 also featured Mazda’s static electricity earthing system, which was designed to prevent unpleasant shocks from static electricity build-up when occupants were getting out of the car and touching metal panels. The electricity is generated by the interaction of clothing and the car’s cloth upholstery.
Mazda had small panels on the inside of each door. The idea was that occupants touched the panel lightly before climbing out. The panel absorbed the built-up electricity and the passengers avoided an irritating jolt.
Did it work? Well, sort of.