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Model Bloat Case Study: MAZDA3

Posted in Cars, Compact Cars, History, Mazda by Dustin Driver | January 25th, 2010 | 4 Responses |

Model bloat is an epidemic. Cars swell with each generation, gobbling up extra gizmos, safety features, insulation, and mass like a katamari tumbling through a shopping mall. You end up with Yokozuna-weight Toyatas and Hondas and heavyweight Chevys that can go toe-to-toe with their solid-steel-framed ancestors (at least on the scales, if not in a crash test). And weight kills driving dynamics, not to mention performance and fuel economy. Thing is, most people don’t notice model bloat.

Let’s take a look at a car that I have a unique kinship with: The Mazda GLC/323/Protégé/MAZDA3. The first car I can remember was an orange ’78 GLC five door. The first real car I drove regularly was a silver ’88 323. My second car was a “mocha frost” ’93 Protégé LX and my current daily driver is a white ’03 Protégé 5. Now before anybody goes apoplectic, I realize the Mazda 3 is built on a different chassis than the Protege, but it is a direct descendent and takes up the same spot in Mazda’s model lineup.

1977-78 Mazda GLC

Since the 1978 model year, the GLC/323/Protégé/MAZDA3 has gained more than 1,200 pounds (544 kg). That little orange hatchback I grew up with only weighed 1790 pounds (812 kg). The 323 I drove tipped the scales at about 2,000 (907 kg) pounds. The ’93 LX had a 2,359 (1,070 kg) curb weight and my current ’03 Protégé 5 weighs 2,750 (1,247 kg) pounds dry. The first MAZDA3 hatchback weighed 2,900 (1,315 kg) pounds and the current MAZDA3 is a portly 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg).

My 1993 Protege LX, photo by Dustin Driver

Don’t get me wrong, each weight gain has been accompanied by an increase in power, making the current MAZDA3 faster than any that came before (save maybe the ’93 LX, which hauled). The car has also become much, much safer. That tiny orange hatchback would crumble to bits in an accident while the MAZDA3 gets a five-star safety rating. It has also gained some interior space, though you’d be surprised by how many people and how much crap you could cram into that GLC.

My 2003 Protege 5, photo by Dustin Driver

But increased power cannot make up for lost driving feel. My ’93 LX was a blast. It danced through corners like Barishnikov (wearing clogs, but still) and just felt fast. There was little insulation to keep the scream of the DOHC 1.8 four from filling the cabin and it skipped over rough pavement. My Protégé 5 would deftly out handle the LX, but its added weight and subdued feel make it less thrilling. The new MAZDA3 is heavier and cushier still, making what should be a rousing hatchback more like a family hauler.

The MAZDA3 is by no means the worst offender when it comes to model bloat. In fact, it’s one of the best-handling and most fun front-wheel-drive cars on the market. Still, it has grown too pudgy. Even Mazda recently acknowledged that its entire model lineup needs to shed some pounds to enhance performance and increase fuel economy. And when Mazda admits that one of the lightest and exciting cars out there is too fat, you know there’s a problem.

If manufacturers really want to increase fuel economy and actually make their cars fun to drive again, they’ll shed weight from their lineups. Will it happen? Mazda says it’s working on making its cars more light on their feet, but other manufacturers seem to be focused on cramming more technology into their cars to achieve the same goals. What do you think?

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4 Responses

  1. Kurt says:

    Remember the Mazda 323 GTX? The AWD, turbocharged sleeper that Mazda produced for a few years in the late ’80s? As long as you didn’t opt for the digital dash version, it was one of the best performance bargains of its time. Stock HP was around 160, but this could easily be bumped up with a bigger turbo or a boost controller.

    Makes me wish they built a Mazdaspeed 3 in AWD.

  2. The GTX was hot, no doubt. There are quite a few floating around out there. There’s even a GTX forum and classifieds, I believe.

    Around the same time (’88 to ’90) you could get the 626 and the MX-6 with a 2.2-liter turbo four. Plus the MX-6 had four-wheel steering. No AWD, though.

    And in Japan they made a turbo, AWD version of my ’93 Protégé. Now that’s the one I really want. But maybe not in mocha frost.

  3. wafflesnfalafel says:

    I have a 09 5door hatch with the 2.3 – and love it – but It would be better with an aluminum hood and hatch and some lighter wheels saving 100lbs or so, (it’s just a shade over 2900 now.) I looked at Accords before getting the Mazda3, but even the LX-s coupe is 3300lbs – pudgy and bloated… I wish Mazda had held the line – the 09 bodystyle was plenty large enough, and I think a little better looking than the slightly goofy new swoopy 2010 version. Oh well – maybe they will have a Mazdaspeed 2 out by the time I am in the market again.

  4. Bert says:

    Reminiscent of the original Miata colors. Offered only in Red, White and Blue.