(first posted 9/29/2012) Leave it to Mazda to enter the highly-contested compact sporty coupe market with something quite out of the ordinary. Mazda’s timing was a bit curious too, as the fwd MX-3 arrived shortly after the huge splash of the new MX-5 Miata, which sat on a totally different RWD platform. Might a Miata coupe have made more sense? But the real shocker was what sat under the hood of the GS version: a 1.8 L V6! Wikipedia exclaims right near the top of their entry that The MX-3 was notable for having the lowest displacement V6 engine ever fitted to a production vehicle with its 1.8 L V6. True or False?
Let’s keep the suspense to the end, and ponder a bit why Mazda chose to put such a small-displacement V6 into this little coupe in the first place. Because they could? Or to unwittingly create a cult classic, since any of the bigger versions of Mazda’s new K-Series V6 would slip right in?
If we still trust wikipedia, this is a picture of an MX-3 with a 2.5 L KL-ZE implant, which made 199 hp in stock form. This one looks to have been warmed-over some. Given the GS’ weight of some 2580 lbs, performance undoubtedly…is.
Here’s the stock engine. Same external dimensions, just smaller bore and stroke: 3.0″ ( 75 mm) by 2.74″ (69.6 mm). Thanks to Mazda’s Variable Resonance Induction System (VRIS), the tiny six’s torque curve is helped about as much as possible, but one can only do so much with 300cc per cylinder (all things being roughly equal, a similar sized engine with more cylinders will have its torque peak higher and later in its rev band). The K8 was rated at 130hp in US trim, and had a 7500 rpm rev limiter. Torque was 115 ft.lbs @4500 rpm, which surprisingly is a bit lower than some of the larger displacement versions of the K-Series family. Maybe they were tuned for an even higher specific output. Or Mazda knew how to break the laws of nature.
Putting that power peak to good use (and with happy sounds to accompany it) resulted in a 0-60 time of 8.4 seconds, and a top speed of some 126 mph (202kmh). Not bad, for 1992. And the MX-3’s handling was considered among the best in its class, as was its performance.
There was a four cylinder base model to, the RS. I shot this car a while ago, and had forgotten to check which version it was then, so I kept my fingers crossed when I took a crop of the front fender emblem: Good Score.
Given this shot I found on the web of a very plain MX-3 RS, It appears there are other external differences between the RS and GS. I may have forgotten about those details, but I do remember the splash the MX-3 made in the buff books, and being a bit surprised at its displacement.
Now this might well not be a 1992. If not, it could only be a 1993 or 1994, because the GS disappeared from the US market after three short years. The RS model got a more powerful DOHC version of the four, and the substantial premium for the V6 just wasn’t justifiable for most buyers.
It would be interesting to know just how many GS were sold here in those three years. It probably makes this one a bit of a rare bird nowadays, especially a totally stock one. Most of the remaining ones are probably in the hands of MX-3 enthusiasts.
OK, so on to the question posed at the top. The answer is no. And who better than to disprove that claim than one of the very finest cars made in the whole post-war era, the brilliant Lancia Aurelia.
Update: thanks to commenter B3Quattro, it turns out that the Mitsubishi 6A10 V6 was even smaller, with 1597cc. It was the smallest version of their 6A1 V6 family, and the 1.6 L version was built between 1992 and 1998, and used in the Mirage and Lancer. Certainly not in the US; maybe Japan only? Or other markets?
The first version of the Aurelia in 1950 not only had a smaller displacement (1754 cc) than the Mazda (1845 cc), but had the very first production V6 engine ever. Yes, there had been a few half-hearted attempts back in the stone age, but the inline six ruled until Francisco de Virgilio designed the superb Lancia 60° alloy V6. Somewhat curiously, it was built in 1.8L, 2.0L and 2.5L versions, just like the Mazda K-Series. The Aurelia GT’s fastback even has a certain similarity to the MX-3. Was all this deliberate, or just a happy accident? Only Mazda knows the answer to that.
Seems kind of a pointless exercise of minimum displacement. Was it any better than a Rotary RX7 (that a friend had), or a 4 cylinder Miata (that I have had X2) ?
There was a lot of potential, but why bother??
It should have had less power and have been less smooth, but better fuel economy without the rotary engine (less expensive, too). It should have been smoother and more rev-happy than if it had the Miata’s engine.
Better fuel economy than the rotary, but still not great by class standards. I know someone who owned a GS, who was less than impressed by having four-cylinder power with six-cylinder gas mileage.
I owned two MX-3’s the first a 1993 RS that met an untimely death with a telephone pole (I skidded into it sideways) during a brutal montana winter. It was a black base model, with tinted windows, a 4cyl 5speed, that turned heads. The second one (after the insurance check came in) was a 1992 GS V6. It had a power sunroof, all power options, leather seats sunroof, it was a limited edition which only came in PURPLE, but my Dad was kind enough to have it repainted a glossy black. I was 17 and being 6’6″ and 220lbs, people who sh*t talked me at red lights about its “speedy-ness” were quite surprised when I stepped out to set them right. I had the windows blacked out and put a nice thumpin system in. That car got me a lot of ass and I drove until I was 21, when I graduate college and was given a brand new Honda Prelude SH for graduation. The MX3 had 151k on it when my Dad took her off to be traded in, and only had 35k on when I received it my Senior year of high school. It was damn quick for only producing 130 hp but at the time, it just looked sharp, fluidic, and sharp. I miss that ol girl. As a 36 year old guy, I now drive a 2012 Mercedes Benz E550 4Matic AMG and I still would give anything for one last drive in my ol MX-3
The idea of the small V6 was an economy sports car. It’s performance for 1992 was quite respectable, and its styling was incomparable in it’s class. V6 instead of an I4 widens the power band in an engine this small, and these engines are known for longevity, perfectly happy reving high on a daily basis. They didn’t sell well because they were just too expensive. Now 20 years old, rare, unique, and beautiful cars, they make great little classics you can pick up for a song if you canf find one. I have a 93 GS with 193k miles on it that I have used for daily drive and interstate travel for four years and it runs perfectly. Still gets better than 25 mpg. It gets new paint next week!
amazingly some automotive decisions have nothing to do with the US market. in many countries in the world, including Japan, the annual road tax on cars is based on engine displacement. in short if you own a car with an over 2 liter engine you get a massive big bill when its time to renew your registration
This car I like! Wonder if they were exported to UK….
From memory they didn’t sell especially well but yes, they were sold here in the UK and you still see them around now and then.
Mazda was in a very strange (and wonderful) place at this time- they also had that V12 Amati luxury car under development, which was canceled and the triple rotor Cosmo coupe!
A 3.6 liter V12 would have been something!
I remember seeing some some pics of it that looked like a four door Cosmo with a Eunos 500 “face”. Here is a bit about the engine. http://www.mazdaworld.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=671
Actually it was a w12 not a v12 mazda appears to have been on crack at the time. I have a 1992 mazda racing 2.5 klze mx3 gs at home that’s Making 241hp and 210 torque. Hits 75 in 3rd gear without overheating. Also rhe cool thing with mx3s is that the back wheels turn when you turn the car making it feel like 4wd when it’s only fwd
Gimme. I’ll take the MX-3, the Lancia, and the 2+2 Miata Fixed-Head Kammback shooting brake that they should have started making 20 years ago.
Good article…I saw an MX-3 down here in Houston, but didn’t have my camera with me…it was in way worse shape than this one.
I can’t think of a smaller V6, but there were 1.5L Ferrari V12’s!
Ferrari made a 208GTS in the early eighties, a 2.0 litre V8 version of the 308 sold in Europe only.
More specifically in France and Italy where the displacement taxation hurts the most in the wallet for the engines larger than 2 litres.
An early 208 GTB/GTS must have been pretty miserable to drive – 113 kW was respectable for a 2.0-litre in its era, but hardly enough to do justice to the heavy-ish car. That undoubtedly improved with the 1982-on turbo model, though, and its 162 kW is fairly respectable for a 2.0 turbo even today.
At the time these were produced, I recall at least one of the car magazines wondering why Mazda didn’t offer this engine in the Miata.
Several have built Miata V6s themselves. This ad shows a particularly nice one. I haven’t seen a Miata with the 1.8 L engine, this has the 2.5 L which fits just as well as you said.
Photo from the ad.
Damn this software.
The MX-3 was quite popular in Canada, although I gather it was less so stateside. I knew a couple guys in high school who had these, including one who had the GS!
I always liked the look of these cars; visibility out was another thing.
I also thought the shape in some ways was a logical evolution of what the gen 3 CRX should have looked like if it hadn’t been Del Sol-ed!
You still see these around quite often here.
On my side, I taught of a mini-GM “F-body” Camaro/Trans-Am but I agree with you about the gen-3 CRK that should had been. 🙂
I would had liked to see that V6 under the Miata as well as the Protege sedan and to a latter extend under the hood of the Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer.
Ask and receive.
Interesting little cars I think I’ve only seen a few in person during my life.
La Aurelia, elle est magnifique! (Sorry no Italian). Not so much Mazda, but then I’m a fan of 50s Italian/British design.
So, have you corrected Wikipedia with this new info?
As if I don’t have enough on my plate. Anybody else have an account there?
But did you see the latest comment below? It turns out Mitsubishi made a smaller V6.
since the article’s about the MX-3 I just binned the inaccurate claim. Now if we knew what model used the tiny Mitsu V6…
(this is why editing wikipedia sucks days of your life away. If you let it)
Wikipedia has the answer to that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_6A1_engine
Hopefully it’s correct.
That would be the Mitsubishi FTO coupe
How trashy cars like the Geo Storm looked next To this, that;s what I remember.
I test drove one in ’94 and it was a blast. The I-4 was okay, but sure paled in comparison. A guy was trying to talk his girl out of getting the V-6; “Oh sure, don’t worry about the insurance!” My buddy told the salesman to call him when they got a red one. He’s still waiting for the call. The Dodge salesman finally called with a red Neon after six months; luckily he had already bought a Camaro.
It was a seller’s market in those days.
These came and went here without anyone hardly noticing, the one in the article is the first one I’ve seen in years.
There’s another thing about the Aurelia’s V-6 that really set it apart: the sound! It really is music
Mitsubishi actually has them beat, here. Their 6A10 displaced only 1.6 liters, which I believe is the smallest production V6.
I’ve owned quiet a few Mazda products with the larger KL version of this engine. Very smooth, sweet-sounding, and reliable. Don’t forget about the KJ-ZEM version of this motor, too. 2.3 liter Miller Cycle, supercharger, and 210HP. It was used in the Millenia S here in the states.
Bingo! I kept wondering if I’d missed something obscure like that, but I just don’t remember reading about that one. This is what CC is all about: the search for truth! Or just better understanding, anyway.
Thanks for enlightening us; I will update this post stat.
Well it all depends on what you mean by vehicle, and by production. If things go as planned the answer will probably change soon anyway. Laverda made a 996cc v6 in 1977 and raced it in Bol d Or in 78. One assumes that homologolation means it technically was production. I would hate to hang my hat on that.
Horex is making a 1200 cc VR6 clone that is scheduled to make it to production next year. If it does the answer is definitely no. Neither of your cars will be the smallest production vehicle. Plans are sort of like opinions and certain body parts. Who knows what will happen. I am sure we all wish them well.
Going back to Grand Prix days Honda made some six cylinders that were very small but not in a V configuration. I think Guzzi had a V8 back then but not a V6. I expect the V8 was also smaller than the Mazda or Lancia but then, nobody asked.
Unless otherwise specified, we mean cars (and their engines) here at CC. I think that there are some very small RC scale airplane engines in production too, but the subject is car engines.
I actually see MX-3s fairly regularly around here, at least regularly enough for me to exclaim “oh so that’s what it’s called, an MX-3!” when I saw the title lol.
That supercharged XR7 in the background is very distracting.
I’m sure part of the reason they built this car was the development cost probably wasn’t very much being that it shared the same platform as the 323/Protege/Escort of the same era. Sporty coupes like this were big sellers early in the 90’s so I’m sure they wanted in on that. Part of why they didn’t sell though was because of how good their other cars were. Imagine going to a Mazda dealer in the 90’s looking for a sporty car. If practicality or space wasn’t an issue they had the Miata, and if it was you could get the much larger and roomier MX6 for what I don’t think was much more money. It’s true though that these sold much better here in Canada and in fact we got them for more years than what America did. I still see lots of these around here.
I think the big killers of cars in this class were the rising value of the yen relative to the dollar (which really hurt the larger Celica/MX-6/Prelude-class cars, where a well-equipped top-spec model was pushing $30,000 in 1990s dollars) and particularly the insurance premiums. I never did any kind of quantitative study, but two-door coupes tended to be a lot more expensive to insure than four-door sedans, and I think there were some pretty heavy surcharges on anything that resembled a performance model. It meant that the people who wanted cars like that couldn’t afford them unless well-used.
That was an interesting moment for Mazda. They turned out an impressive array of new offerings but just didn’t have the capacity to support their marketing and sales. So the bubble burst.
The baby V6 Mitsu Galants are in NZ they arrived ex JDM used and of course the little V6 Mazdas landed here too in fact think of any wierd or strange make and model we have them the badging may differ but it all washed up here eventually
I came very close to buying one three years ago when I was looking for my ‘toy car’. Wonderfully small, handled delightfully, that motor could definitely . . . . . er . . . . . . motor. A wonderful almost-sports car. And why didn’t I buy it? Because the next day I was offered my Porsche for $800.00 more. And as nice as the Mazda handled, the Porsche was still slightly better.
Wow, I had totally forgotten about this car. It always looked like it wanted to be an RX-7 when it grew up
Big fan of these cars, but they should have just offered them with the 2.5L 165 hp version. It couldn’t possibly have cost any more to build.
But then it would beat the MX6 in acceleration. (when new) Which typically is a bad thing in automaker’s eyes. (More expensive model is slower than the cheaper one)
Same reason why GM decided not to produce a 2.8 Chevette.
Plus, it’s a drop in affair today (even better JDM KLZE with DE valvesprings) 😀
One of these engines, well actually a 2.0 litre KFDE, works very nicely indeed in my 1968 Vauxhall Viva bolted up to a rx7 gearbox. It sounds fantastic and is getting an easy 35mpg. See here for the build up…
Nice Viva I had a couple of those including a deluxe wagon unfortunately only Viva powered so not very quick.
ive got a mazda mx3 im gonna fix her up. this is my baby.
Had one back in 1998 and loved it. Was the GS 1.8 v6. Drove it stock for a year then started my build. Dropped it 3 inches first then added a aftermarket Toyota supra bodykit. Which was costly due to all the modding to make it fit. Then painted it pearl white. Then rims and other basic stuff but I loved that car. Sold it about 10 years ago. Should have never done that. I’ll dig up some pics and post. Didn’t have these nice smart phones back then where you can store all your photos on a cloud. But a couple months back I would say in October of 2013 I found one near by and bought it… Was in pretty bad shape but I’m slowly working on it… $800 bucks isn’t bad with a new motor already installed. Transmission is shot well at least the synchronizers are. But the pics below are when I bought it. Hood is going to be removed and back to a factory. Rear bumper is getting a aftermarket 350z. Front bumper is new I just added made for a mazda mx3. Got a garage full of parts since October.. Springs, all new factory seals for windows etc…even going old school with purple led under car lights…I’m ricen
Here is my ’92 GS with 182,000 miles on it. I have CAI and cat delete and it sounds sweet. When I drive up the road people turn and look because of the unique exhaust note. I also get a lot of people asking about it. I really love the car.
I got parts for sale. I’m looking for a 1992,1993 dash board also.
What parts ya got?
After market hood and spoiler. Used aftermarket headlights and tail lights.
I like the stock spoiler, what does the hood look like? Can you post a pic?
Yea same here on the stock spoiler. That’s why I took off the aftermarket one. I bought a stock GS spoiler of of ebay last week for $58 with free shipping. It’s in great shape looks new. There’s a pic about 3 post up of a white mx3 with a black hood. That’s the same hood just primed. My post is a couple up also. It has a pic of the mx3 I just bought.
Here’s some pics.
Pretty cool what are you asking formit?
$100 plus shipping. I’m in fort walton beach florida. It’s north west florida. Where are you at?
My first mx3 was a 92 GS. Loved that car that’s why I picked up this one. If you plan on dropping it get some coilovers off of amazon. There cheap like $80 for a set of four. There fine no matter what people say, fine for every day driving not drifting or major stuff like that. Me and a handful of friends never had any issues for years with these styles
I’m in Pensacola, you ever bring it out to bayfront on Saturday night? I really want to do some performance mods on it, but I can’t find anything for it.
That’s kool your close. I use to go out there when I had my other mx3. This one is in the garage for about 7 months. Best thing to do is to swap it to the 2.5. Then you have a lot more options. There’s a lot of those motors around here. I’m looking for a factory hood so if you wanted I would just trade even for yours.
You can also have my rear bumper to in the trade.
A 1992 Mazda MX3 GS. It has 129k miles and the body has no dents. It was donated to our Charity. We need to sell it and would like to know how much I should ask for it.
Please email me at HelpKidsToday@yahoo.com
The correct name is Francesco De Virgilio (Francisco would definitively sound spanish, not Italian).
He was usefully joined up in his successful effort by Vittorio Jano and Ettore Zaccone Mina, who don’t need further credentials.
Maybe Lancia Aurelia’s V6 isn’t the smaller ever of its kind but certainly the first to go into mass production.
My oldest daughter has a Mazda like this. Her first was totalled out when she was rearended by a bigger car. She bought another with a low restriction muffler. Both were 6s. She must really like these cars she fixed the second one after she ran into a curb.
I’ve seen many of those over the years as an owner of a car with a K-series V6 (1993 KLZE powered Probe GT). These engines are so smooth and sound great when reved up. The engine in the top picture looks like a ZE, but the only way to be sure is to examine the internals as the parts from those family of engines are interchangable. The KLZE came with one of two intake manifolds, one popular with MX3 swaps and the other for the rest of the swaps. I the always loved these cars.
Additional late notes: Mitsubishi really went in for small V-6s in a big way in the ’90s. They actually had two completely different 2-liter V-6s — the 6G71, which was a de-bored version of the familiar 3-liter 6G72 that Mitsubishi and Chrysler put in nearly everything, and the 6A12, which was a bored-out version of the 6A10/6A11. Displacement was identical, but the bore and stroke dimensions are different. That means Mitsubishi had V-6s in five different sizes from 1,597cc to 2,972cc, in two different families, most offering either SOHC or DOHC heads.
The 6A10 was optional in JDM Lancers in the ’90s, making 140 PS (138 hp) and 108 lb-ft of torque. I think there may have been only a DOHC version, which was actually more powerful than the 1.8-liter but SOHC 6A11 and only slightly less powerful than the 2-liter SOHC 6A12. The 6A11 and 6A12 were offered in the JDM Galant of the early ’90s and also in the Emeraude (Galant-based hardtop). There were SOHC, DOHC, DOHC variable-valve timing, and DOHC turbo versions of the 6A12, albeit not all on the same models.
Emmerauds are quite common round here and yes they have a variety of tiny V6s aboard they seem to go ok but how you get on for parts is anybodies guess, one of the hazards of ex JDM cars, no parts backup.
I have a red 1993 Mazda MX-3 GS with just 100,000 miles – I’m the original owner. It runs great and I use it for just short trips around the neighborhood. Needs a new paint job but at $800 not sure it’s worth it as the resale on the car is so low. Anyone have any suggestions? Is there a Mazda mx-3 club?
Well, actually, Ford Germany had a V6 smaller than Mazda’s as well.
Released 1965 it’s displacement was 1812 cc, fitted to the 17-20M range. That very engine later on growed and growed up to 4 liters, and was also found in US-Fords.
Look for Ford Cologne and you will see.
Curbside Classic: 1992 Mazda MX-3 GS – Smallest Production V6 Engine Ever?
No. A motorcycle has a “production engine”. The 1998-2003 Honda Valkyrie has a 1520cc flat 6. Okay, not a “V”6, but its got 6 cylinders, 6 carbs, and six pipes.
Because of their crankpin layout, Ferrari called their 12 cylinder boxer engine a “180 degree V-12.”
More details here: https://www.autoevolution.com/news/there-s-a-big-difference-between-a-boxer-and-flat-engine-85305.html
These were sold as the Mazda MX-3 Precidia in Canada, and were quite popular at the time.
As a two-Mazda family at the time, I remember visiting Montreal in 1996 and noticing a lot of them.
I like the white mercury cougar behind the mazda.
I have driven for over 10 years (til the shop bricked it) a 2000 Corolla with the 1.8 l four. I am very familiar with it and how it accelerates, how it handles, and of course how it sounds. I have to wonder how it would be if in a fantasy world one put a 1.8 v6 in it, not altering it otherwise to account for any characteristics of the V6?
Interesting that the 1.6 Mitsu was a factory car you can never be sure it wasnt fitted by someone locally after the car arrived, one was for sale recently and I’d forgotten about this post, damn should have saved a pic.
Way back in the late 1980s or so I lived in the L.A. area and was part of a marketing clinic for the car that would later be revealed to be the MX3. The car was shown along with its competitors the Honda CRX, the Toyota Corolla Sport Coupe, and the Nissan Pulsar. The prototype we saw differed from the production model in that the upper grill opening was in either in the hood, or else between the front bumper and the hood, and NOT in the front bumper as in the production model.
At the time, I owned a CRX and now that I think about it, there were a lot of Mazda 323 2-door hatchbacks in the hotel parking lot where the clinic took place. The participants generally like the MX3. We were told about the V6 engine and it was positively received, although I’m sure we all thought that it would be more powerful than it actually was. The marketing participants generally all like the car.
I wouldn’t want to be involved in a head on crash in one of those tin cans. Even at a low speed an offset crash would be deadly.
I have a 1993 mazda mx3 special edition. Top speed is 148mph at 7800 rpms. They are claimed to be specially tuned. It runs 0-60 in about 7 seconds as well. It has no rust, 121,000 miles, and is all original.