Car reviews - Mazda - 121 - Metro 5-dr hatch
Practical, versatile hatch, easy to drive
Room for improvement
Pricey compared with rivals
23 Feb 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
MAZDA'S 121 makes a lot of sense for buyers seeking a light car with maximised interior space. Its tight, boxy lines wrap a light, airy interior with space for four - five at a pinch - and there are tangible signs of quality that make the car a pleasure to live with.
It's also rewarding to drive - in 1.5-litre form at least - closing the gap to the small car class in general manners and general functionality. And it comes close to closing the gap in terms of retail pricing, with a large premium of close to $3000 being charged for the bigger-engined version.
But the 121 is a handy vehicle indeed, with enough room to hold a couple of fully assembled mountain bikes provided the rear seat is folded.
And the rear seat slides forward or backward to optimise luggage space according to requirements. The 121 stands out among its peers as a respectable luggage carrier.
Upright seating positions help in the provision of front and rear legroom and the seats themselves are quite generous in size for a car in this class. A height-adjustable driver's seat is a bonus.
It may be a similar size to its light car competitors but it feels and looks, from the back, more as if it belongs in the small car class.
The tall body also makes getting in and out much easier and the upright seating position ensures a panoramic view of the road.
But the placement of the high-mounted centre brake light in the middle and at the top of the rear window blocks out part of the scenery.
The instrument panel has been reworked and now there's a clear link to the bigger 323 Mazda models with a dimpled centrepiece adding a cosy, classy touch. As before, all Metros come with a driver's airbag as standard.
The Metro comes with a choice of 1.3-litre or 1.5-litre engines, the 1.5-litre engine developing 64kW at 5500rpm and 128Nm at 3500rpm.
Mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the engine provides good power and torque although the automatic tends to hunt between third and fourth.
The ride, as with most light cars, is biased towards town driving, meaning it is fairly soft in order to soak up nasty big city potholes.
On the open road the little Mazda does well with the car's MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension behaving capably on the twisty bits.
The 1.5-litre benefits from larger 14-inch wheels and tyres, which provide a noticeable improvement in grip.
At normal cruising speeds the car remains pretty quiet with wind noise not making its presence felt too much. But encounter a coarse road surface and tyre noise, amplified by the large cabin, takes over.
The power steering, which feels good around town, tends to get a little light and sensitive at high speeds.
There is no doubt the Metro is the most practical people and load-carrying vehicle in the light car class. It also scores well in performance and ride and handling.
But Mazda in recent times has also traded off its sexy style, something the company has walked away from with the Metro.
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