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Future models - Mazda - 121 - hatchback

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Mazda might: Neospace concept car (top) provides clues regarding the appearance of the next 121, while V-RX V6 is a hot version of the current 626 wagon.

From whitegoods on wheels to marques on mags - Mazda goes back to the future

20 Feb 2001

THE "whitegoods on wheels" era for Mazda will come to an end next year with the arrival of a reborn 121 micro car and 626 mid-size sedan and wagon.

The company now has a four-wheel drive, a groundbreaking new mini people-mover and a 2.0-litre SP version of its 323 in its Australian stable, with a turbocharged MX-5 SP set for release at the Melbourne motor show next month or shortly thereafter.

But it is the all-new 121 and 626 that will demonstrate the new direction Mazda is taking now that Ford is loosening the tight rein it has held on the Japanese concern since 1996.

While the forthcoming RX-8 will give Mazda the hero car it desperately needs, the all-new 121 is expected to spark interest at the entry level with a swoopy design and uprated performance to better compete with the Toyota Echo and other compact rivals.

It seems Mazda will finally get some style back into 121, something missing since the cute rice-bubble sedan was replaced by the boxy - though practical - Metro hatch just over four years ago.

Mazda Australia product manager Scott Williams confirmed the new 121 would have a more aggressive stance, featuring curvaceous lines and flared panels while retaining the Metro's excellent interior room and versatility, such as the pioneering sliding rear bench seat.

It will be powered by a new four-cylinder engine, possibly with variable valve timing and derived from one of the new Ford-Mazda global inline engine plants now up and running in Japan, North America and Europe.

Mr Williams said a production version of the 121 would be based on the Neospace concept car and could be shown - along with the all-new 626 - at either the Frankfurt or Tokyo motor shows later this year.

He said the new 626 would also arrive here in 2002, ahead of the hot twin-turbo MPS version due around 2003.

According to Mr Williams, the 626 will be kept suitably restrained in its appearance but feature more interior space and improved engine performance, handling characteristics and refinement to take on European mid-sizers such as the Volkswagen Passat.

He said there was a possibility an all-wheel drive model would make it into the line-up.

Mazda currently sells an all-wheel drive version of the 626 sedan and wagon in Japan and only last Friday released a V-RX Sport AWD 626 wagon powered by a 147kW, 2.5-litre V6 and featuring an aggressive front end complete with black inserts on the bezel portion of the headlamps, and carbon fibre inserts throughout the interior.

The 626 MPS version shown at the Geneva show last year revealed further potential for 626, with an aggressive "Nissan GT-R" appearance and a high-output (206kW) twin-turbo version of the 2.5 V6.

Mazda Australia managing director Malcolm Gough said the company was now focussed on returning key attributes such as engine performance and exciting, innovative design to the model range.

He said the V6-powered Tribute 4WD would help counteract the loss of the 626's 2.5-litre V6 in 1997 and that the RX-8 would revive both rotary engine power and desirable looks that disappeared with cars such as the RX-7 in 1999.

"When Mazda went through its difficult financial period in the early 1990s, they went back to basically cutting things out of cars that people actually expected to be in a Mazda," said Mr Gough.

"We're starting to move back into the area now where those things are coming back into it."

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