Curbside Classic: 1992 Mazda MX-3 GS – Smallest Production V6 Engine Ever?

(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?

image: wikipedia

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.