1992 Mazda MX-3
1992 Mazda MX-3 GS

The Mazda MX-3 Precidia came and went from the marketplace in something of a blur for most people. But if you’re looking for a used sporty coupe at a fair price, look for a V6 version of this front-wheel-drive sporty hatchback. You could do worse and many have.

The front-wheel-drive MX-3 Precidia, based on the 323 sub-compact platform and unveiled at the New York International Auto Show in the spring of 1991, hit showrooms that September as a 1992 model. Mazda Canada continued to sell it until 1996, although V6 versions were phased out before that, and only an over-matched four-cylinder (upgraded in 1994) was available.

For the record, from that era the used car buyer does have plenty of choice. There was Nissan's NX, Honda's CRX Si, Ford's Escort GT and the Toyota Paseo. Of them, the V6-powered MX-3 is my personal favourite.

Why? The 130-horsepower 1.8-litre V6 with double-overhead cams and 24-valves was willing to rev smoothly to 7,000 rpm and is well matched by the five-speed manual transmission. (The 88-hp. four-cylinder with the optional four-speed automatic is a poor pairing because of less power and slow downshifts; a later 105-hp four was better).

The V6 available in the top-of-the-line MX-3 was unusual for two major reasons. First, it made the MX-3 the first vehicle in its class to offer a V6 engine. And second, the 1.8-litre was at the time the smallest displacement V6 in mass production.

Why such a small V6 anyway? At the time, Tadayuki Hayashi, the head of the product design and development team responsible for the MX-3, said Mazda chose to develop this engine because a V6 runs more smoothly than an inline four-cylinder engine of the same size.

And he was right. In fact, some manufacturers, most notably Mitsubishi, Saab, Honda and Nissan, added counter-rotating balance shafts to reduce the inherent roughness of four-cylinder engines. Mazda simply took a different road to the same objective.

For the sake of comparison, consider the MX-3 versus a direct competitor, the NX 2000 from Nissan. Mazda's 1.8-litre put out 130 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 115 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. The NX 2000, powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with twin cams and 16-valves, developed 140 hp at 6400 rpm and 130 lbs-ft of torque at 4800 rpm. The engine in the NX 2000 has balance shafts, by the way. So, the Nissan had a bit more horsepower and torque, but that extra torque came at a slightly higher engine speed than the MX-3.

As for the MX-3's looks, the low front and oval exposed headlights helped achieve a sporty look. Clearly it was inspired by Mazda's own Miata and RX-7, Porsche's 928 and 944 and even Toyota's new Celica and MR2. The design also had a practical side. The MX-3 had a back seat and a large glass hatch that lifted to reveal a surprisingly practical cargo area.

Under the MX-3's skin the chassis boasted four-wheel independent suspension. MacPherson struts were in front and Mazda's Twin-Trapezoidal Link (TTL) arrangement were at the rear. Engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was standard. There were two choices for brakes, depending on the engine: four-cylinder cars came with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes, while V6 models had four-wheel discs.

On the road you'll find a fair bit of wind and road noise seeps into the MX-3's cabin - something that grows worse with age. But this car is agile and quick, with a manual shifter that boasts short, positive throws, a clutch that's smooth and light, and reliable braking. Drivers will find the seating position low, almost like sitting in a bathtub, but all the gauges and controls are easy to use and find.

Through the years the MX-3 has proven to be pretty reliable and prices on the used market are very affordable. Finally, Mazda Canada sold a total of 29,470 MX-3 Precidias in Canada, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find one.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada's web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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