Evolutionary: The Mazda3 has long been just a great little car

The Japanese automaker has been producing this little happy family car for generations — here are some highlights

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A forever bright spot in the compact car market, the Mazda3 brings a level of style and sophistication to what should be the entry-level end of the market. Whether it’s a sedan or hatchback, it looks great, has a punchy turbocharged powertrain and all-wheel drive, so it’s fun to drive. Masu – It’s fitting because it comes from a long line.

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In fact, this isn’t the first time Mazda has built a compact car with turbocharging and all-wheel drive. It’s also not the first time the company has created a car with more style than expected. Let’s take a look at the history of Mazda’s great little cars.

my family

Technically speaking, the modern car is Mazda’s Mazda3, which is a bit of a bite. But the original car, which debuted on the Japanese market in time for the 1964 Olympics, was charmingly direct.It was a family car designed by Italian designer Giugiaro Gigaro, hence the name Familia. .

1975 Mazda Familia sold in North America as the R-100
1975 Mazda Familia sold in North America as the R-100 Photo: Mazda

Overseas, the Familia nameplate lasted until 2003, but Canadians knew the car by a variety of names (we’ll get to that in a moment). Early cars were small with small displacement engines, two-thirds of which were commercial vans. Cars were a luxury item in Japan in the mid-1960s, but that will change.

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In the North American market, the Familia was simply the Mazda 1200 or R-100. The former referred to displacement, while the latter was powered by Mazda’s revolutionary rotary engine. R-100s are very rare today, but they do show up in vintage races from time to time.

GLC: Great little car

The early Mazda was successful for the same reason many Japanese imports were. His 100-horsepower rotary-powered R-100 was interesting from a technical point of view, but not the most efficient product. When the gas crisis of the 1970s hit, Mazda may have been in trouble.

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But the aptly named Misers helped keep the forts in check.The Familia’s fourth-generation successor, called the GLC in North America, was the success Mazda needed. It was rear-wheel drive, powered by a 1.3-liter engine producing just 53 hp, and was available as a hatchback or wagon.

Having driven a well-preserved GLC, I can say that these cars aren’t particularly sporty, but they are more fun than you might expect. The hatch or wagon layout was very practical and fuel economy was excellent. Mazda marketed her GLC as a “Great Little Car”. For many satisfied customers, that was exactly the case.

Dial 323 for meetings.

The Familia line-up moved to the next-generation front-wheel drive layout known as the 323 in most markets. In North America, we kept the GLC moniker because it is familiar to our customers. There was also a bit of overlap where you could buy his GLC wagon with rear-wheel drive or his GLC hatch with front-wheel drive.

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But skipping ahead a bit, something really good has arrived in the next generation of the car, called the 323, which puts it in line with Mazda’s other export markets. I decided to join the , so I needed a homologation special based on the short-wheelbase Familia.

Only sold for two years in 1988 and 1989, the GTX was a serious rally-bred performance. Under the hood he had his 1.6L turbocharged engine producing 132 horsepower and was desperate to unlock more boost. A 5-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive put power to the ground, and the chassis rails have been reinforced to withstand more impact. His 14 years in the WRX, the hot little Mazda was ready to kick the gravel in front of his rivals.

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Protects against Zoom-Zoom

A bit like the R-100, the 323 GTX was advanced and fast, but not the most rational choice. Mazda had to sell a lot of regular 323s to actually keep the lights on. It’s also worth noting that turbocharging and all-wheel drive carried over to the next-generation 323, but not for North America.

The sedan version of this next-generation 323 was called Protégé. The idea is that this compact has learned a lesson from the comfortable midsize family sedan. This and later protégés could drive faster than his modest 4-cylinder engine.

2002 Mazda Protege5 Wagon
2002 Mazda Protege5 Wagon Photo: Mazda

I need to pause here and tell you about a vehicle you’ve probably never seen or heard of: the Mazda Protégé Neo. His two-door coupe with a glass hatchback, a sort of Mazda version of the mid-1990s Honda CR-X, was marketed primarily in Europe as his 323C. Canada got a few on the 1995 model, including just over 100 with his more powerful 1.8L engine and manual transmission. Featured rare car!

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A common sight on Canadian roads is the Protégé5, one of the pinnacle of Mazda cars from the early 2000s. The Protégé 5 was a very practical four-door hatchback, a lot of fun to drive and stylish looking. The chassis could have handled more power, but the 1.8L four-cylinder engine could have run more efficiently without the complexity of turbocharging.

wild things grow

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Launched in model year 2004, the Mazda3 replaced the Protégé and was a huge success from the start. With his 2.3L engine available and great looks, the Honda Civic was the car of choice if you wanted to stand out from the crowd. The hatchback version seemed very popular with younger buyers.

Mazda realized that and decided to give those customers all the Mazda3 it could handle. There was a turbocharged version of the Protégé called the Mazdaspeed, but this new Mazdaspeed 3 is going to be a much noisier machine, producing 263 hp of peak power and 280 lb-ft of torque, with a meager The stimulation made his front tires spin. The first car was a bit of a sleeper, but the second generation doubled the aggression with a giant hood scoop.

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But Mazda management quickly decided it was time to show a little more maturity.get out fast and furious We’re trying to upscale the Mazda brand with something like the Subaru WRX. The Mazdaspeed 3 is a car for kids, and it’s time to put away the childish stuff.

2023 Mazda Mazda3
2023 Mazda Mazda3 Photo by Brendan McAleer

That’s not to say the company hasn’t capitalized on the fun with its less-hooligans package. Third generation cars require drivers to offer their own smiles.

The Mazda 3 is still the car that helps me do that. Steering is satisfying even in basic trim, and the turbocharged model rides a wave of torque forward. Its torque is now much better than the older Mazdaspeed models, but it’s still impressive.On premium fuel, the 2.5L turbocharged engine puts out 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. But keep in mind that not all Mazda customers want speed, the engine can be downgraded slightly to 227 horsepower on 87-octane fuel.

This kind of torque-rich powertrain feels like Mazda is trying to prepare its customers for a future Mazda3 with electric or plug-in hybrid power. It will probably be named the Great Little EV in the end.

Brendan Mcaria painting

Brendan Mcaria


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