Surely on this website I don’t have to explain what a sleeper is. I thought this was a common or garden-variety Mazda 626 until the oh-so-80s alloy wheels prompted me to check the right-hand rear of the car for that little word that adorned so many performance cars in the 80s.
But there it is. The subtle beige-ish paint, the tow bar (hitch), the worn-in looks; none of this would let you know that this was one of the quicker cars you could buy in 1988, with 108 kW or 145 bhp from its 2.2L 12-valve turbocharged engine. At just 1170 kg or 2580 lb that was enough to push it to 60 in the 7-sec bracket and on to a top speed of 125 mph or so. The only downside was some fairly harsh torque-steer.
Yet this performance lived within a cleanly- but anonymously-styled car, which has to be great for flying under the radar. Sales were no doubt limited by the $30k price, 60% more than an entry Toyota/Nissan/Ford midsize sedan (although the 626 sedan was $24k), and the herd has been thinned over the intervening 18 years by boy-racer types and the general hard living these cars would often have seen.
It may even be the case that the MX-6 coupe sold better than the 626 Turbo, because unusually it was actually cheaper by a few hundred dollars.
Surprisingly the 626 Turbo had little direct competition (in Australia at least), other than its slightly cheaper badge-engineered Ford Telstar Turbo cousin. A Holden Commodore SS was a couple of grand cheaper but significantly lacking in refinement. Anything European with nearly the same performance was much more expensive, eg the Peugeot 405 Mi16 was $10k more and a Saab 900 Turbo was another $10k.
The sunroof is another clue this was a top-spec car in its range. You can’t see much of the interior but it was also a nicely executed but unadventurous piece of work, unless you count the oscillating centre air vents as a major selling point! Did any other manufacturer get on that band wagon?
I am not sure whether this car has Mazda’s electronically-controlled four-wheel steering system (no mechanical connection that the Honda system had), which added nearly $5k to the cost of the car when new. The 4WS carried on to the following generation car but no more.
As a final comment on this car, it is surprising to see it bearing its original registration plates. There were a few years when there was a manufacturing fault that caused the reflective backing of the plates to peel to the point where there was a recall to replace the plates wholesale. My mother’s car at the time was affected, and she duly reported to the local office to receive a new set of plates, including a new registration number; they came from the normal ‘general issue’ pool no doubt because it was easier to do it that way.
If you wanted to keep your existing registration number you had to do a special order (and pay for!) the replacement plates instead, for most people this was more hassle than learning the new rego number.
The spiritual successor to this car is the short-lived Mazda6 MPS; perhaps they will do another in the future with the new 2.5 turbo engine from the CX-9?