Retrospective

Mazda 323 to Mazda3: Tracing the history of the hatchback to today

The Mazda 323 evolved to the Protogé then to the modern Mazda3.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

The Mazda Familia was introduced in time for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Japan. There were five different models of that first-ten Familia but it wouldn't be until the third generation of the model in 1977 that Mazda offered the car in a hatchback style. Ever since, Mazda has had a compact hatchback on its menu, culminating in the modern Mazda3.

Styled as the 1977 Mazda 323, the hatchback was a rear-wheel drive family car that gained popularity all over the world. Americans came to know the hatchback as the Mazda GLC (for Great Little Car). Buyers could get it in a three- or five-door hatchback body style. An estate version of the car was introduced 1978.

1977 Mazda GLC The Mazda GLC debuted in 1977.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Mazda sold the '77 in the U.S. with a 52-horsepower 1,272cc gasoline-powered engine under its hood. In 1978, a 1,415cc gasoline engine replaced the smaller power plant and produced 65 horsepower.

1979 Mazda GLC Commercial www.youtube.com

For the 1980 model year, Mazda restyled the model giving it front-wheel drive. Its headlights went from round to square, integrating with the grille in a style that matched the Mazda 626/Capella, and a five-speed manual gearbox was introduced.

Mazda's U.S. marketing campaign for the next few years featured the tagline, "Just one look - that's all it took," and relied heavily on touting its fuel efficiency and low price tag.

Despite the advertising efforts, the GLC's time in the continental U.S. was very limited. Its new generation, which featured a twin-barrel 1.5-liter engine that produced 68 horsepower, was only sold through 1985. In that generation, the three-door body style was sold in the contiguous states while the five-door variant made its way only to Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

With the GLC now bearing 323 badging, the car was available only as a sedan or hatchback in its third-generation, starting in 1985. The next-gen model was sold as a 323 in the U.S. in hatchback format while the sedan version became the Mazda Protegé.

While Mazda continued to make a hatchback version of the car for other parts of the world, by 1994, they had called time on the model style in the U.S. Still, the Protogé sedan stuck around.

1978 Mazda GLC The model had design hallmarks of its time, shown here as a 1978 model.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

In 1998, a five-door version of the Protogé made its way to U.S. dealer lots as the Protegé5. It was the hatchback America had been missing. The model got a platform update in 1999 making it bigger than before, then, in 2001 a facelift. The Protegé5 was powered by a 130-horsepower 2.0-liter engine and had a fresh interior.

Enter: the Mazda3. In 2003, the first-generation Mazda3 made its debut as a compact car, replacing the Protegé as Mazda's compact offering. It was marketed as the Mazdaspeed3 in the U.S. The Mazdaspeed3 name had been used on the last version of the Protogé in Japan so the Mazda3 was called the Axela there.

The Mazdaspeed3 was sold in sedan and hatchback variants, and two engine options: a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter and 160-horsepower 2.3-liter. High-performance models worse Mazda3 MPS badging and used a turbocharged version of the 2.3-liter engine to generate 268 horsepower.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Mazda3 reached its sales peak in the U.S. Last year, only half as many models were sold in the U.S. just four years earlier.

2020 Mazda Mazda3 The Mazda3 has been redesigned from the top down for the 2020 model year. Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

The Mazda3 was completely redesigned for the 2020 model year. It now is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 186 horsepower. It is one of the few cars that comes with an available manual transmission (a six-speed). It continues to be a front-wheel drive model with all-wheel drive available. Reviewers note that its back seat and trunk are smaller than what you'd traditionally expect from a vehicle of the Mazda3's size.

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The CX-5's styling is sharp and clean.

Mazda

Crossovers have clearly become the family vehicle of choice. Minivans and large sedans are far less common than they used to be as buyers opt for the relative plushness and more generous space offered by utility vehicles. That's not a bad thing, but many people will find the increasing levels of sameness in the crossover market to be off-putting.

Thankfully, Mazda is here to help keep things interesting. Its CX-5 takes a different approach than its rivals. Where vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V focus on comfort and efficiency over almost everything else, Mazda managed to jam in loads of vehicle feedback and engagement. Behind the wheel, the crossover feels and sounds much more alive and responsive than its competition. Jumping out of a larger vehicle and into the CX-5 felt like a shock at first, as the Mazda's steering wheel delivers real, actual feedback and transmits a picture of what's going on underneath the vehicle, which is something not often seen outside of expensive performance vehicles.


2021 Mazda CX-5 The CX-5's cabin is more upscale than its rivals. Mazda


Engaging Powertrains

The CX-5's base four-cylinder engine is fine, but the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is where things start to get interesting. It bumps the standard mill's 187 horsepower to 250 and gives off a pleasing turbo whine under heavy throttle. It pairs almost perfectly with the six-speed automatic transmission and delivers surprising power and torque. My test vehicle's all-wheel drive gave the CX-5 a surefooted feel, and from experience I can say that it's worth the added cost if you live anywhere with legitimate winter weather.

There are a few tradeoffs that come along with the CX-5's level of driver engagement, largely related to interior space and noise levels. While the Mazda's cabin is comfortable and is in no way low-rent, a great deal of wind, road, and drivetrain noise make their way into the vehicle at all times. You could argue that this is just another expression of the CX-5's connection with its driver, and you'd be right in some cases. At many times, however, such as when taking the kids to school or just running to the grocery store, it gets tiresome. Your five-year-old won't care about how good the steering feel is when they have to keep asking you to crank up the volume on their podcast story. The noise level is most noticeable around town with the constant stop and go of traffic.

The other main drawback with the CX-5, at least for families (like mine) that don't travel lightly, is interior space. Thanks to its curves and beautifully sloped roof, the Mazda's cargo hold is not as spacious as some of its rivals, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V, or Toyota RAV4. That dramatic shape also makes the rear seat feel tighter than it reads on paper, but thanks to a friendly ride height and large rear door openings, parents will have no issues with loading kids in car seats.


2021 Mazda CX-5 A sloping roofline can make rear-seat headroom challenging for taller people.Mazda


Great Tech and Safety

Mazda bumped the CX-5's infotainment screen size from 7.0 to 10.3 inches across the board for 2021, but there's no touchscreen here. Instead, the system is controlled using a rotary dial and volume know that are mounted behind the gear shifter in the center console. It's a responsive and fairly straightforward process to use and control the system, but scrolling through long menus or trying to wade through several options using the rotary controller becomes tiresome and distracting at times.

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 was named a Top Safety Pick + by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That award is due in part to the crossover's excellent performance in crash tests, but also comes thanks to its long list of standard advanced driver aids. All models get a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warnings with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a smart brake support system, and high beam control. My top trim tester also got a driver attention alert system, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree monitor.

It's hard to ignore the quality, value, and fun that the CX-5 brings to the table, even considering how good its competitors have gotten. With a price tag that maxes out under $40,000, the Mazda's driving experience and plush interior should put it at the top of shoppers' lists. Its few drawbacks don't spoil the overall package, and only really present a problem for families of four or more – like mine. Those people, myself included, should be shopping for a slightly larger vehicle, anyway, and for them, there's the Mazda CX-9.


2021 Mazda CX-5 The CX-5 is one of the most fun-to-drive crossovers on sale today.Mazda

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The 2022 Acura TLX has the technology enabled.

Photo courtesy of Acura

Toyota and Lexus announced that the WarnerMedia RIDE app would be coming to their models earlier this year. Now, Honda and Acura will be offering the same.

On certain Wi-Fi enabled Honda and Acura vehicles, AT&T unlimited in-car Wi-Fi users will have access to the WarnerMedia RIDE app. The app allows users to connect multiple devices in their vehicles to browse, stream and share premium content from the WarnerMedia library while on the road.

Honda and Acura vehicle owners have been able to use their on-board modem as a hot spot for connecting up to seven devices since 2017. Models compatible for the new tech include the Acura RDX (2019-present), Acura TLX (2021), and Acura MDX (2022) across all trim levels. Honda vehicles with the tech include Accord (2018-present, Touring), Odyssey (2018-present; Touring, Elite), Insight (2019-present, Touring)., Passport (2019-present; Touring, Elite)., and Pilot (2019-present; Touring, Elite, Black Edition).

The WarnerMedia RIDE App allows passengers to access 1,000+ hours of live and on-demand entertainment. The app includes hit TV shows and movies from top brands such as Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO Max, TBS, TNT and TruTV, spanning animation, entertainment, news, sports and more.

WarnerMedia RIDE app The WarnerMedia RIDE app allows users to choose their own avatar.Photo courtesy of Acura

Users can set up profiles and personalize their user exerpience with an avatar from the WarnerMedia library. Profiles also ensure age-appropriate content with options for adults to restrict access to their profiles with an access code.

"Wireless connectivity and connected car services continue to be key features for customers and our long-standing relationship with AT&T continues to be one way we deliver exciting new content to Honda and Acura owners," said Art St. Cyr, vice president of North American Auto Strategy for American Honda. "Honda will continue working to enhance the in-car experience, including the capabilities of the AT&T network and access to top content with WarnerMedia RIDE."

"We're always looking for new and innovative ways to elevate the connected car experience for our customers. With WarnerMedia RIDE, we are delivering a connected experience that's perfect for journeys," said Joe Mosele, vice president, Mobility & Internet of Things, AT&T. "Our collaboration is keeping Honda and Acura owners connected wherever they travel with hours of news and entertainment for the whole family."

WarnerMedia RIDE is available now in the App Store and on Google Play for all U.S. unlimited data plan subscribers. WarnerMedia RIDE is included at no additional cost for existing and new unlimited subscribers.

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