The 1989 Mazda MX-6, an Enthusiast’s Four-wheel Steering Choice


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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