The Mazda Motor Company was founded in 1920, some 99 years ago. The name Mazda comes from a combination of Ahura Mazda, the God of Light, and the founder’s name, Jujiro Matsuda. Currently ranked at number 15 of the world’s biggest automakers by production numbers, Mazda has come a long way from its three-wheeled trucks.
Initially, Mazda produced these trucks while Mitsubishi marketed them. While Mazda’s percentage in the American market has fluctuated, its Zoom-Zoom marketing campaign that started in 2000 seems to be solidifying its base in the US. That said; it still has a hit or miss history, so here are 5 of their best models along with 5 of their worst.
10 Had To Be Killed: Mazda MX-3
Despite all the faults this car may have had, it still made it to the Fast and Furious franchise. And it did look undeniably attractive. The problem came when Mazda overhyped this car and called it the “greatest roadster ever”.
So yes, it had good handling and its variable-length intake manifold did provide a decent amount of torque. The problem came with its 1.8-liter V6 that was a little too small for a roadster and did not provide enough horses. The maximum speed for this was 136mph, and 0-60mph was a slow 8.3 seconds. Even passenger cars in the 90s managed these numbers if you pressed them hard enough.
9 Made A Killing: Mazda RX-8
The Mazda wasn’t quite ready to give up its rotary engine in 2004, and the RX-8 entered the fray with that acclaimed engine under the hood. The 1.3-liter two-rotor engine may sound far too small, but it came rated at 247 horses, without a turbocharger at that. For America though, this was reduced to 189 horses with improved fuel efficiency and emission standards.
It came with four seats and had rear half doors for passenger comfort at the back. Beautifully balanced with a suspension and transmission that could handle that high-RPM rotor, driving the RX-8 was an absolute dream. Much awarded, production was ended in 2012, with the RX-7 succeeding it.
8 Had To Be Killed: Mazda Tribute
People joked that the Mazda Tribute was a tribute to the Ford Escape because it resembled the latter so much. It was bit utilitarian, and priced below the Ford Escape and its sibling, the Mercury Mariner; and the 2000 Mazda Tribute looked just the same and offered nothing better.
A hybrid SUV was also launched to perk up sales, but even that failed to make an impression with buyers. With no style, it also did not match Mazda’s lineup of snazzier models, so production ended in 2011. While the Tribute had replaced the equally sorry Navajo, it was finally replaced by a sportier and better-looking model – the CX-5.
7 Made A Killing: Mazda RX-3/Savanna
The Mazda RX-3 was based on the Mazda Grand Familia/808, a car that came in a two-door coupe, a four-door sedan, and station wagon variants. It sold in Japan as the Mazda Savanna but in the US, it was the RX-3.
While the Mazda 808 came equipped with a 1.6-liter inline-four with 70 horsepower, the Mazda RX-3 was all about the rotary engine. Japan and Europe’s RX-3 were powered by the 105-horsepower 10A two-rotor engine, but America got the bigger 12A with more horses. Used often in racing, the RX-3 was legendary during its 1971-1977 stint – and remains one of the greats up until now.
6 Had To Be Killed: Mazda Navajo
When the Ford Explorer was launched, Mazda wanted an Explorer of its own. But they decided to launch a Kei car version of the same, and promptly came up with the Navajo. If naming a truck after an indigenous tribe wasn’t bad enough for a car with Japanese culture, they made the Navajo a two-door truck rather than a four-door one.
While being smaller meant the Navajo was cheaper than the Explorer, somehow a confining truck did not catch on. Plus it was made with a German engine, Japanese parts, and was trying to sell in America named after an indigenous tribe. Yep, we’d be confused too.
5 Made A Killing: Mazda Cosmo
Call it a JDM, or call it the Mazda that started it all for rotaries. The Mazda Cosmo came in for the 1968 model and was extensively exported to Europe. The L10A model had a 1.0-liter two-rotor engine that churned 110 horses, and then the L10B came along ponying up to 128.
This may not sound like much, but with a curb weight of under 2000 pounds, the Cosmo was light enough to be rocketed by its rotary engines. The aerodynamic shape was also a big help, though only three of these made it to US and Canadian shores. With production lasting from 1967 to just 1972, the Cosmo is a rare being.
4 Had To Be Killed: Mazda 5
The Mazda 5 was an MPV – a multipurpose vehicle that looked more like a compact van. Sadly, it was launched at a time when vans were no longer a viable premise. The family station wagon and the soccer mom van were being edged out by the SUVs, crossovers, and pickups.
So the Mazda 5 did not do well, though it wasn’t all that bad. The small size and good handling made it easy to drive. An early-2004 recall for the Mazda 5 also spoiled its market, considering there was a risk of exhaust system fires due to a manual shifter that got stuck in second gear position.
3 Made A Killing: Mazda MX-5 Miata
Miata in old Germanic means high rewards, and you will consider yourself well-rewarded if you have one of these in your garage. Introduced as the 1990 model, the Miata has been alive and well for almost 30 years now, and is still going strong. Four generations old, the Miata is all about convertible road fun.
There have been so many special models that its rather difficult to figure out your favorite one. The Mazdaspeed MX-5 deserves a special mention, as it was the only production turbocharged model of the Miata. Highly awarded with almost every car award on its roster, the Miata is the perfect roadster for those who love driving and drive fast.
2 Had To Be Killed: Mazda 626
In Japan, the Mazda 626 was called the Capella, a namesake of the sixth-brightest star in the night sky, and the brightest in the Auriga constellation. Available from 1998 to 2002, the Mazda 626 failed to spark any interest in itself, mainly because it was boring as hell.
Not too big for families, and far too slow for any sports car enthusiast; the 626 fell through the cracks of the car bazaar, relegated to the rank of the unwanted. The design was unattractive and the car handled heavy and sluggish – there were simply better sedans out there for the 626 to sell well in the US.
1 Made A Killing: Mazda RX-7
The predecessor of the last of the rotary-engined RX-8, the RX-7 tops the Miata in our list, though production stopped seven years ago. The RX-7 debuted in 1978 with an engine that defied convention. It was revolutionary because it was a rotary engine, not an engine sports cars usually used.
In 1986 alone, 86,000 RX-7 were sold because this sports car used variants of its rotary engine in both naturally aspirated or turbocharged formats. This gave the RX-7 a boost of power when it needed it the most. At its time, it could outrun many far more expensive sports cars, so it became the world’s darling – until it was finally replaced by the RX-8.