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The 1990s Mazda MX-3 Was a Prophetic Picture of Mazda Today

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author photo by Will Kinton March 2018

The Mazda MX-3 is one of the more obscure Japanese cars of the early 1990s -- but it's worth remembering. It was Mazda's entry into the front-wheel drive sport compact market, and it competed with legends like the CRX. The MX-3 was overshadowed by its competition, and Mazda only sold it in the US for four years before killing it -- but despite these failures, the MX-3 could be seen as a prophet of sorts that foretold what sort of company Mazda would be today.

First, a basic overview: The MX-3 was a sporty little front-wheel drive hatchback, sized like a Honda CRX and offered from 1992 to 1995. Offered with a 4-cylinder or a tiny V6 (we'll get to that in a second) and featuring four seats, it was sort of a Miata for people who wanted extra practicality.

And, indeed, that was Mazda's exact take on it. When Mazda released the MX-3, it was touted as the front-wheel drive counterpart to the Miata -- a more usable vehicle for those who needed more than two seats, but wanted something that was fun to drive. Mazda backed up those claims by ensuring it was pretty quick in the top GS trim level, with a zero-to-60 time of 8.5 seconds (not bad for 1992!), a top speed of 130 miles per hour, and the ability to hit 0.89g in the turns. In that sense, Mazda's approach to the MX-3 is basically their current market strategy -- where they claim every car and crossover they make has a bit of the Miata's sports car DNA in the design. Even if it has four seats and a hatchback.

The engine of the MX-3 was also very interesting. Mazda wanted the MX-3 to have a relatively powerful engine option, but Mazda also wanted to get around the hefty Japanese tax on cars with high-displacement engines. Instead of settling for one or the other, Mazda's engineers created a tiny 1.8-liter V6 -- which is the smallest production V6 ever created, and quite possibly the coolest sounding one as well. The V6 was much smoother than an inline four, and it made up to 144 horsepower.

This unique engine choice echoes Mazda's current strategy as well. Faced with corporate fuel economy standards and a desire for sporty performance, Mazda has developed cutting-edge engines that have high compression ratios on regular gas, allowing them to get better fuel economy. It's a bold choice for them to develop a new engine technology when they could go with turbocharging or hybrid power -- just like it was a bold choice to create a tiny V6 for the MX-3.

All in all, the Mazda MX-3 certainly wasn't a success -- but it did allude to the company's future in a really interesting way. Even though Mazda surely would never consider bringing it back, an MX-3 successor wouldn't seem out of place in their current lineup. Who would've thought such a failure could be so significant?

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The 1990s Mazda MX-3 Was a Prophetic Picture of Mazda Today - Autotrader