Retrospective

Pretty or pretty ugly? 60 years of Mazda family cars and vans

Mazda has made a number of people haulers over the years, including this model, a concept van.

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Though the best cars often are described as drool-worthy models with abundant power and high price tags, there's something to be said for the competent family hauler. For the last 60 years, Mazda has been making vehicles that prioritize seating capacity and cargo space above style and performance. The last one on the list, however, fights that trend.

Take a look back at some of those family cars that put the brand on the map.

1964 Mazda Familia

Mazda Familia Wagon, 1963

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda's first go at a true family car in the 1960s was the 1963 Mazda Familia. The wagon version, seen here, joined the lineup for the 1964 model year and was better-appoinnted than the Familia van.

1966 Mazda Bongo

1966 Mazda Bongo

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda Bongo debuted as a 1966 model (shown here). It was powered by a rear-mounted 782 cc water-cooled four-stroke engine. The Bongo was named after the animal by the same name.

1971 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

1971 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda's 818/Gran Familia model was also sold as the Mazda 808 in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. It was only offered as a four-cylinder but came in a variety of body styles. The model shown above is a 1971 edition.

1976 Mazda RX-4/Luce

1976 Mazda RX-4 Luce

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda exported the Luce as the RX-4 through 1977. It was marketed as being a sporty and luxurious personal car. The wagon variant launched in 1973, replacing the Savanna Wagon. The '76 Mazda RX-4/Luce is shown here.

1977 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

1977 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda 818/Gran Familia has a short seven-year lifespan. The 1977 model in the photo above has rectangular taillights that set it apart from previous years' versions of the car.

1978 Mazda Capella/626 1800

1978 Mazda Capella/626 1800

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

This midsize car was manufactured by Mazda from 1970 to 2002. It is shown here as a 1978 model, the first year of its second generation.

1979 Mazda 323/Familia

1979 Mazda 323

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

For the 1979 model year, Mazda gave the 323/Familia a facelift. The car's round headlights were done away with in favor of rectangular ones. Those lights now were part of a single unit with the grille. The '79 wagon version is shown above.

1984 Mazda Bongo/Traveller

1984 Mazda Bongo Traveller

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda sold the third-generation Bongo as the Traveller in Australia. Rebadged versions of the van were sold as the Ford Econovan and Ford Spectron. Shown here are 1984 versions of the model.

1980 Mazda 929/Luce 2000

1980 Mazda 929/ Luce 2000

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The LA4 series of the Mazda 929/Luce debuted in 1977. In this new iteration, Mazda still delivered the large car experience to customers. This generation of the sedan was not sold in North America. The 1980 model is shown here.

1985 Mazda Bongo Brawny Sky Lounge Concept

1985 Mazda Bongo Brawny Sky Lounge Concept

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

This unique concept model pushed the envelope as far as Mazda luxury vans go. Presented in 1985, the Mazda Bongo Brawny Sky Lounge Concept, seen above, has a host of amenities including an oven, mobile telephone, and VCR. The floor between the passenger seats rose when the vehicle was moving.

1991 Mazda MPV 4WD

1991 Mazda MPV 4WD

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda launched its multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) minivan in 1988. The seven-seater Mazda MPV (shown above) featured a four-wheel drive option and, when it arrived in Europe in the mid-1990s, a fuel-efficient turbodiesel as well as a rear door on the driver's side. The first generation lasted 10 years. Pictured here is the 1991 model.

1995 Mazda CU-X Concept

1995 Mazda CU-X Concept

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda CU-X concept car (pictured above) was first shown in 1995. That same year, Mazda showed the RX-01 concept car.

1997 Mazda MV-X Concept

1997 Mazda MV-X Concept

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda moved closer to its modern SUV lineup with the Mazda MV-X Concept (seen above). The concept car was shown at the Geneva and Tokyo auto shows that year.

1998 Mazda 626/Capella Hydrogen Vehicle

1998 Mazda 626/Capella Hydrogen Vehicle

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

In Japan, Mazda offered the world's first electric-hybrid version of the 626/Capella though a leasing program. The model featured a rotary engine that could run on hydrogen or petrol.

1999 Mazda Premacy

1999 Mazda Premacy

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda Premacy, shown here as a 1999 model, was offered as a standard five-seater with a seven-seat option. Its second- and third-rows were foldable and removable. There were dual rear sliding doors. The Premacy was the predecessor to the Mazda5.

2014 Mazda5 Venture

2014 Mazda5 Venture

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda5 arrived in 2005 delivering more efficient people moving and cargo storage ability. The 2014 Mazda5 is pictured above.

2020 Mazda6 Tourer 165ps Sport Nav+ 

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The 2020 Mazda6 estate model is the most modern, natural successor to the family haulers of the past. The car comes equipped with the latest Mazda engine and safety technology as well as a Soul Red Crystal paint job.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.

Honda

Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

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