Brave distinctive styling, comfortable and smart interior, good dynamics, utter reliability, warm character
Room for improvement
Stripped post-'94 1.3 can seem noisy
WHEN Mazda released the 121 in November 1990, the short boot combined with tall, rounded styling polarised opinions and most people either loved it or hated it.
The unconventional styling provided lots of interior space and the high roof allows upright seating with plenty of head space and knee room. The large glass area adds to the feeling of spaciousness.
The 121 was available as a four-door sedan only with a single level of equipment. Standard features included a four-speaker AM/FM radio/cassette and intermittent wipers.
Air-conditioning was available as a dealer fitted option. Power steering was an option until mid-1991 when it was added to the standard equipment list.
A 1.5-litre version of the 121 was released in January, 1994. The new price of the 1.3-litre version was reduced and it became the entry level model with a downgraded equipment list.
Power steering returned to the options list while tilt steering and the tachometer were deleted. Wheel and tyre diameters went down from 14 to 13 inches and interior trim was downgraded.
A five-speed manual transmission was standard equipment with the option of a four-speed automatic. The automatic was only available with the 1.5-litre engine from January, 1994.
MacPherson struts and coil springs are used on the front suspension while a torsion beam with coil springs and trailing arms is used at the rear. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear.
The 1.3-litre, four-cylinder engine has a single overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. The power output is only 54kW but the engine does deliver good low and mid-range torque, which makes the 121 easy to drive in city and suburban traffic.
Fuel consumption in average suburban conditions will be 8.0 to 9.0 litres per 100km and 7.0 to 8.0L/100km on the highway. With a fuel tank capacity of 40 litres, the touring range is only about 500km.
Mazda covered the 121 with a three-year or 60,000km warranty, which was longer than usual in 1990 and demonstrated confidence in the product.
The styling may be controversial but under the skin the 121 is safe and conservative. Many of the mechanical components in the 121 are shared by other Mazda and Ford models.
Areas of potential trouble to look for are timing belts overdue for replacement and fluids, including coolant and brake, not regularly changed.
The conventional mechanicals and a relatively low level of complexity helps keep service and repair costs down to an affordable level. Parts sharing kept most 121 spare parts prices to reasonable levels.
The Mazda 121 is an easy to drive, sensible town car with low running costs and room for four.