By on February 10, 2022

Today’s Rare Ride represents the rarest subset of a vehicle that was for most, an afterthought. A sporty coupe ignored in its day, the MX-6 was by most accounts a handsome car that was fun to drive. Particularly elusive is the MX-6 behind today’s article. It has a manual transmission, is turbocharged, and has four-wheel steering. Could it be any cooler (Chandler voice)? Let’s find out.

The MX-6 was a new product direction for Mazda, as the company wanted to add a bit of excitement to its midsize coupe offering. Prior to the 1987 model year, the slot was filled by the GC generation 626 coupe, a staid box that was closer to a traditional two-door sedan than anyone’s definition of a sporty coupe. Mazda was reinventing its product generally at the time, switching from more conservative offerings to those that would later be considered zesty and “Zoom-Zoom.” Still don’t like that tagline.

For 1987, the GC 626, Familia, and company transitioned to the next generation GD platform. All versions of the 626 used GD internationally. The platform was also familiar to Mazda sponsor Ford, who used it for the new Probe (née Mustang). A front-drive transverse architecture, it offered four-wheel drive for some models in select markets. Four-wheel drive was not offered on any MX-6, or on any 626 models sold in North America.

Though it was called MX-6 in North America, the model retained its 626 Coupe name in other markets and was badged as Capella C2 in Japan. A midsize car in its day, the MX-6 would be considered compact by our rather upsized and bloated modern standards. With a wheelbase of 99 inches and a length of 177″,  its length is shared with a modern Audi A3 sedan. But the Mazda has a four-inch shorter wheelbase and is five inches narrower than the Audi. Modern cars are enormous.

Unlike its predecessor, the MX-6 was more aggressive in its looks and borrowed its design cues from the new 626 sedan and five-door. Clean lines and simple rounded surfaces aided in a sleek aerodynamic look. Compared to the 1986 offering, MX-6 was more put together and looked of its late Eighties era. From outside observance, it looked better made, too. A slim heckblende tied the rear end to the time period.

The MX-6 was built at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant, a move from its predecessor’s Hofu assembly. All first-generation MX-6 coupes used an inline-four engine, in various displacements that ranged from 1.8- to 2.2 liters. Some had single cams while others had dual cams, and there was a turbocharged option. Mazda was a bit messy with its engine offerings in the era and often would create very similar engines (small V6 ones, for example) with similar displacements, and not share them between its models.

For North American market purposes, Mazda deployed the largest 2.2-liter engine to all examples of the MX-6. In its standard (F2) naturally aspirated configuration, it produced 110 horsepower. The F2T turbocharged engine was the highline offering and made a more impressive 145 horses. The 2.2 was off-limits to most other markets; the largest engine available in Japan or Europe was a 2.0. Transmissions across the line included a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

In 1987 Mazda sent four trims to the US: DX, LX, LE, and GT. The only way to get the turbocharged engine was to opt for the most expensive GT trim. Other upgrades in GT included four-wheel disc brakes with optional ABS and an adjustable suspension. With three settings, the system was called AAS (Auto Adjusting Suspension) and adjusted electrically a switch on the dash. Settings were Soft, Normal, and Sport. It was an air-based setup, also shared with the contemporary RX-7. The AAS was initially standard on the GT trim but became an optional extra in 1989. Probably for the best, as replacement suspension components for the AAS became unobtainium many years ago.

A seldom selected trim at introduction, the LE was a “Leather Edition” and stood as the coupe’s luxury offering. Aside from an interior of cow, the LE used the same equipment as found on the LX. Mazda marketed the MX-6 as both high-performance and a luxury coupe.

In 1989 Mazda blessed the GT with an exclusive new option package and created a pinnacle moment for the MX-6. New to the trim was four-wheel steering; Mazda badged it “4WS.” The 4WS added a layer of electrical complexity, via its electric rear steering rack. Much like the system on the GMC Denali Quadrasteer, the rack turned the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front at low speeds. The claimed benefit here was improved cornering capabilities. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turned the same direction as the front to improve lane change actions. It’s worth noting that although it was a limited-run option in North America, the 4WS was present across all years on the GT in other markets.

In 1989, prices for the MX-6 ranged from generally affordable to rather expensive. A DX started at $11,658 ($26,839 adj.), while the LX asked $13,558 ($31,213 adj.). By that time the LE was eliminated, and the next step up was the GT, at $15,758 ($36,278 adj.). The GT 4WS was considered its own trim and demanded $16,958 ($39,041 adj.). It was slightly more affordable than the 1989 Accord Coupe SE-i, at $18,215 ($41,935 adj.).

But front-drive coupe buyers weren’t looking to Mazda in those days, and very few were interested in a two-door where the rear wheels turned to and fro. It turned out Mazda management was right to withhold the 4WS from Americans, as between 1989 and 1990 just 1,500 GT 4WS coupes were sold. Mazda dropped the option afterward, and the MX-6 continued mostly unchanged for the remainder of its first-gen run through 1992.

1993 brought an all-new MX-6, which was a few things: It was more sporty and aggressive, more American as it was built alongside the Probe in Michigan, and was worse in quality. Those of you who recall the late Nineties might also recall seeing every example of the MX-6 without the majority of its clear coat. But that’s a rant for another day.

Today’s Rare Ride is a 1989 example of a GT turbo with 4WS, in excellent condition. The seller cites plenty of repair information, 4WS reliability issues, as well as 109,000 miles on the odometer. It also seems he’s seen a TTAC article or two given his Craigslist titling. In white over tweedy blue, this 4WS asks $6,000 in Texas.

[Images: Mazda]

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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1989 Mazda MX-6, an Enthusiast’s Four-wheel Steering Choice...”

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My brother replaced his fx16 with a red 89 LX 5sp.THis was in the mid 90s. Very well built and it really didn’t seem much slower than the much louder and less comfortable FX. It felt like a Japanese 635. Nice luxury touches like reciprocating center vent and thick velour upholstery, sunroof etc.
    It had over 100k when he bought it , but he got another 100k out of it before he bought a CPO b5 a4.
    My 89 Probe LX twin developed leaky o rings at 150k . It got a botched re build and I sold it to buy a 93 Probe GT 5sp. Apparently leaky o rings were a common issue with the Mazda big 4cyl.

  • avatar

    The 4 wheel steer FWD import you want from this era was the Prelude Si. At the time I believe it was faster thru the slalom the even Porsche. Way better looking then Mazda too. Of course I maybe basis as I had a yellow Prelude Si, pop-up headlights and all.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. The fact that Mazda couldn’t sell the 626 GT 4WS for even the same price as the Prelude Si doomed the Mazda. Even at the time the Prelude had a cool factor that the Mazda just didn’t, even though the Mazda was faster.

      • 0 avatar

        Even the ’89-90 MX-6 AWS sold better than the 1988 626 4WS four-door sedan, which was the only model Mazda offered 4WS that year (first for this generation). And the body style wasn’t the only restriction – you could only get 4WS with top-line LX trim, the turbo engine and upgraded suspension/wheels, white paint, blue interior, automatic transmission, and the optional antilock brakes but *not* a sunroof. Surprisingly, there were hardly any takers. The 4WS model was expensive, and its most obvious benefit – a 2 foot smaller turning radius, was negated by the mandatory automatic transmission, which for some reason added 2 feet of radius to the 626/MX-6 turning circle. Mazda moved 4WS to the coupe after the first year, but it didn’t help sales much. As noted in the article, 4WS was more widely available and more popular outside of N. America.

  • avatar

    1989. What a great time for cars. You had this, the brand new Nissan 300ZX, E30 M3, CRX Si, GTI 16V, 323 GTX, 5.0 Mustangs, 1LE GM F-bodies, the H.O. Quad 4, and so on. It just seemed like things would indefinitely improve. The future looked bright. But now we know. Our future was actually a bunch of SUV’s and tall wagons known as crossovers. Some automakers aren’t even building cars anymore. But for a brief shining moment, the possibilities looked limitless.

    • 0 avatar

      Almost everything was available in stick and hatchback form too. As someone who graduated HS in ’89 it seems like peak car and peak music… its all been downhill ever since.

    • 0 avatar

      Cars are so much better today than back then. More horsepower, better features like nav, amazing fuel economy, and on and on and on. Do miss women with crazy permed hair, 4 inch heels, and power suits with linebacker sized shoulder pads though.

      Had an 85 Mazda 626 GT. Wasn’t bad. Dealer was awful so instead of getting the MX-6 GT wound up with a 90 Ford Probe GT instead. Very solid car. For what it was. Rang up 100K on it and traded it in for a yellow 94 Mustang GT. One of my all time favorite cars.

      Thanks for the fun read.

  • avatar

    Regarding the specific car in the ad, it may not be the best time of the year to try to sell a car with no heat.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the blast from the past! I owned a white ’89 MX-6 GT with a manual transmission, while my best friend at the time had a black ’89 Mustang GT with a manual. They were very comparable in terms of acceleration, but the Mazda handled better and got much better gas mileage. And as mentioned above, the interior quality of the Mazda was quite good. Really, the only thing I liked better about the Mustang was the sound of the V8. I always regret trading that car in on an ’89 Accord LX-i coupe. But the Mazda had an (all) red interior, and I just couldn’t take the red any longer. Plus, that Honda teal was amazing!

  • avatar

    I really liked these MX-6s, especially the organically styled second gen. A friend of mine from work back in the mid-90s bought one as his first new car. It was a mid-level one with cloth seats, but a few nice options. I recall it being very reliable for him and the only reason why he sold it sooner than he liked was needing extra room for the future family.

    As Super wrote above, this really was a special time for cars. The early-1990s were just filled with Japanese cars riding their economic bubble and taking all kinds of risks in styling and tech. Remember the tiny V6 in the Mazda MX-3? Who builds a 1.8L V6 for a small run of cars these days? No one! 4 wheel steering in a small car like this and the Prelude? A Maxima with sonar-like adjustable suspension? These cars were all solid and overbuilt and lasted for a very long time. Now, and maybe it’s the glut of CUVs, but I see very few automakers taking chances any longer. Maybe when more EVs come out, but right now, there’s a lot of yawn and a few shining stars.

    And @Corey Lewis – I don’t live up in Cincinnati any longer (just down I-71 now) but as a XU grad and lived in Cincinnati for a while, I fell out of love with the Bengals due to the wretched ownership, poor coaches, zero drafting skills, and even a stadium deal that is just butchering Hamilton County financially. But, man, for the first time since 1989, who dey!!!! The city needs this. UC is having an off year. XU seems to forget there are two halves in basketball. The Reds…selling everyone and everything but the bat boy. Maybe the Bengals could bring something back to Cincinnati besides their usual shame. Man, I hope they do it.

  • avatar

    I really liked the second generation of the MX-6. I thought it was a beautiful car. It was a little too expensive for me at the time. The cars I remember cross-shopping with it with were a new 240sx, new mercury Capri, used Miata, and a used 91 MR2. Went with the MR2–Probably my favorite car I owned. It was fun to drive, scary on ice. Loud on the Highway. Being surrounded by tractor trailers was occasionally intimidating. My future wife hated the car, so I sold it. Miss the car—love my wife way more!

  • avatar

    I’m actually surprised the author used the “official” HP rating in his article. The MX-6 definitely had substantially more than 145hp. Even C&D at the time called out Mazda on that. A friend of mine had one in ’88 and ’89. It was probably more like 185 to 190. Great little car. Very first fast car I ever drove. Shame that Rob beat up on so bad that both CV joints and the clutch blew out by 15k miles.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure if I ever saw one of these in the wild. Really good looking car, I like learning more about cars from that era. I love the angular styling.

    I feel like Mazda just never got a fair shake in the US market.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The example for sale is quite nice. Interesting backstory on the product (Corey), and the one for sale (Craigslist seller).

  • avatar

    When I was in high school in the mid 90’s a kid in my class had one of these, in grey, I at the time thought they were quite boring looking. His father had a thing for Japanese coupes from M brands apparently (he had a RX-7 and Mitsubishi 3000GT) and had picked it out for him when he turned 16. The kid always wanted the 3000GT and his dad got him Stealth RT turbo for his graduation present. I rode in the Mazda once and kind of remember it feeling more economy car then sporty.

  • avatar

    I remember seriously lusting after one of these when I bought a new car in 1988. But at the time, I was traveling at least 500 miles a week, and figured (wisely, as it turns out) that I was best off with something far cheaper.

  • avatar

    Maybe the second-gen MX-6 was more sporty, aggressive and American (not to mention better looking), but I disagree it was of worse quality. Take it from someone who put close to 300,000 miles on his.

  • avatar

    The MX-6 had a coin tray/small items compartment that pulled out from the dash, just to the right of the steering column. I wouldn’t bother noting this triviality except that my mom had a 626 of this generation that for some reason didn’t have this small compartment on an otherwise identical dash. It must have cost Mazda more to make two different dashboards than to just include the coin tray on all of them.

  • avatar

    As you can see from my avatar this was my first car, a 1990 GT in silver with a burgundy cloth interior! Loved the car and it had some cool options like the oscillating climate vents and adjustable suspension. No 4WS on my car but it was still a great ride. Turbo lag was present and accounted for but that is part of its charm. Mazda had some quality issues that arose as the years went by like all of the locks broke or failed to function in Chicago winters, engine mounts cracked, and some rust in the usual spots for Japanese cars at the time. I didn’t care because it was a rare car to be seen and had some speed when it was called upon. Thanks for the post and memories!

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    The ’90s clear coat peeling was an industry-wide problem that continues somewhat abated today. It was due to paint reformulations prompted by EPA regulations.

  • avatar

    Back when you could tune your Mazda radio to any station you wanted, and it would stay there. :-)

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