A few decades ago, Mazda took chances. From its iconic RX-7 with its witchcraft-spec Rotary engine, to its physics-defying Miata, Mazda was the automaker to go to if quirk was indeed your bag. However, there was another, less well-known option that made Mazda a bona fide triple threat - the amazing Mazda MX-6. Here are a few reasons why you need to buy one right this second.
There aren't many cars on the market today that you can get in great running shape for not much more than a LeMons budget, excluding the horrid Dodge K-Car and maybe the Hyundai Accent... if you modify the term "running" to mean "on fire." Thankfully, the Mazda MX-6, through depreciation and general public apathy, has reached the point where a smart buyer can purchase one in decent shape, both the first generation turbo and second generation V6, for less than $1,000. They're amazing first and second cars and at least twice as reliable as almost anything for sale today.
For example, here's the holy grail of second generation MX-6s: a five-speed manual V6 M-edition, going for the same price as a few weeks' worth of change found in your couch cushions. Any cheaper and the car will have to be missing major drivetrain components.
The Koenigsegg One:1 is a car that was built around lightness. It's a car constructed completely out of carbon fiber, magnesium, and every spared-no-expense rare earth metal that part-time Bond Villain and full-time insane person Christian Von Koenigsegg could get his manicured hands on. The weight of this multi-million dollar ode to lightness? 2,998 lbs. The second-generation Mazda MX-6, which is ten inches narrower than the One:1, but nearly ten inches longer, weighs in at more than 200 pounds less than the Swedish hypercar, without using one ounce of carbon fiber or titanium. How is this possible?
In the '90s, Mazda wanted to create a sporty coupe with great handling that was affordable for most young people, so they teamed up with one of the unequivocal superstars of car manufacturing at the time - Ford, to produce a chassis that spawned two cars- the venerable Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6. As Mazda did the legwork for chassis and engine design, they had a few tricks up their sleeve, mainly being simplicity. The car didn't have options you didn't need, and although came fully loaded in top-trim spec, employed the same weight-saving measures as the older MX-5 Miata, like having an all aluminum engine block and transmission, and in this case, making the car front-wheel-drive, eliminating the weight associated with a driveshaft and rear differential. It's the closest the world has ever come to a stellar and lightweight front-wheel-drive sports coupe.
(Photo by Grant.C on Flickr)
We all understand front-wheel drive can suck. You simply can't ask the wheels to turn and put the power of the engine to the ground at the same time - signals get crossed and people end up in ditches, with bruised egos and a mouth full of excuses. But when you have just enough power, enough turning angle and a well-set up chassis, you can overcome the wrong-wheel drive woes and have a blast at any twisty track. The Mazda MX-6, especially with its second-generation V6 variants, is in that just-right Goldilocks power zone. The stock 2.5 liter KL-DE produced around 160 horsepower. It's not bad for a naturally-aspirated, relatively low-displacement engine made in the '90s, but Mazda, being a Japanese car manufacturer, was obviously sandbagging and had something a little more potent up its sleeve. The JDM version of the engine - the KL-ZE - with the same displacement but with a better intake manifold design and ECU tuning, produced 200 horsepower, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. In a chassis that was as light as a Ford Fiesta, this made for a formidable competitor in autocross, circuit racing, or, with some more go-fast forced induction bits, the drag strip.
I'm not sure of any front wheel drive naturally aspirated V6 that could compare with the induction noise that this amazing car puts out:
And if you add forced induction, it can be your all-day guilty pleasure:
I'm a huge advocate for modifying cars. Apart from giving you an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, it has the potential to take a ho-hum car and turn it into something ridiculously terrifying, which is a virtue not often praised by the mainstream. It gives people the ability to perform automotive experimentation to the nth degree. It's an added bonus when that likely value-killing proposition comes with no liability to your bank account.
(Photo by weaksauce on Mazdas247.com)
For instance, the first generation MX-6, with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine can be upgraded with a larger turbocharger and injectors for next to nothing, the wheel lug pattern is that of every Japanese car made in the '90s, so options are plentiful and cheap. The car has fully independent suspension that lends itself well to modifications such as stiffer adjustable coilover suspension and sway bars, and countless body kits and lighting options are available. The community, although small, is tightly-knit and proves itself to be an indispensable resource when researching various aspects of ownership. It's the perfect starter car that you can really turn into a sleeper, track rat, or time capsule.
If you've never driven one before, I urge you to find a local owner, befriend them, and be pleasantly surprised. Or, if you have some spare change, buy one of your very own. You won't regret it.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.