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After six years of success with the 121 "bubble", Mazda has opted for a more upright, almost "retro", look for the new 121 Metro. It has a high squared off body, not unlike the 121 that appeared in the late 1980s, that brings with it the benefit of greater space efficiency.
The 121 Metro comes in just the one five-door hatchback body style, with the choice of two engines, three transmissions and two equipment levels.
Prices start at $16,650 for a 1.3 litre manual and rise to a high of $19,950 for the 1.5 litre automatic (tested). The 1.3 litre auto (three speeds only) costs $17,850, while the 1.5 litre manual (also tested) is priced at $18,350.
The 1.3 litre engine is only available in the more basic of the two Metro models, meaning that if you choose this option, you'll miss out on some of the 1.5 litre model's standard items. These include a tachometer, wheel covers, body side protection mouldings, tilt adjustable steering wheel, driver's seat height adjustment and a retractable cargo tonneau cover. The 1.3 litre model rides on skinnier, higher profile tyres fitted to 13 inch wheels, compared to the 1.5 model's 14 inch wheels.
Equipment common to both models includes a driver's airbag, power steering, height adjustable front seat belt anchorages, tinted glass all round, a good quality four speaker AM/FM radio/cassette, front and rear mudflaps, rear wiper/washer, interior releases for the rear hatch and fuel door, a driver's left footrest and three cupholders! The rear seat has a double fold function (as in a wagon), plus a fore and aft slide adjustment (as per front seats), or the 50/50 divided backrest can be fully reclined frontwards or backwards.
Both the 1.3 litre and 1.5 litre engines have electronic fuel injection, 16 valve heads and a single overhead camshaft. A five speed manual gearbox is common to both, but as mentioned, the 1.3 litre engine's automatic has only three speeds, compared to the four speed electronically controlled auto behind the 1.5 litre engine.
Mazda hasn't given a high priority to security in the Metro; it scored only 22 points out of a possible 100 points in the NRMA's car security assessment exercise. This puts it three points worse off then the 121 "bubble" and towards the bottom of the list of small cars assessed.
Probably the kindest thing you can say about the styling is that it's practical. The high, boxy body, with numerous creases, folds and angled surfaces, looks dated alongside the smooth, uncluttered styles of today, but those features bring at least two advantages - efficient use of interior space and stronger panels, with less flexing.
As we've come to expect of fully imported Japanese cars, the Metro displays pretty good finish inside and out. However, I was disappointed with the quality of the floor carpet. There seems to be a lack of underfelt/ sound deadening material and the absence of a heel mat for the driver rates as misguided cost cutting in my book. The carpet looks as if it will wear very quickly unless covered with some form of protection.
From a personal viewpoint, I'm not keen on all the hard plastic interior trim - soft fabric inserts on the door trims would soften the look and the plastic surfaces in the load area will easily get marked - but that's a comment on design more than quality.
Small cars generally aren't renowned for their high levels of comfort and the Metro is no better than average in this regard. The front seats are quite reasonably shaped for good comfort, though their size is better suited for smaller people than those on the larger side. The 1.5 litre model's height adjustment helps in finding a comfortable and effective driving position.
The rear seat is set noticeably higher than the front seats, which afford rear occupants a good view, however the seat itself is rather flat and hard.
The two most negative aspects of the Metro's comfort levels are its harsh ride (particularly on the 1.5 litre model with its lower profile tyres) and the noise levels, which are higher than average for the class.
As far as occupant space is concerned, the Metro doesn't offer the front leg room of the best in class Mitsubishi Mirage, or the Daihatsu Charade or the Holden Barina for that matter, but it's roomy enough for drivers of average size. In contrast, head room is better than everything else in the class, except for the 121 "bubble".
With the both the front and rear seats set fully back, rear leg room is just adequate for adults but again, it's better than the rest of the class, apart from the 121 "bubble". Rear head room is good, despite the higher seating position.
Luggage space is pretty much dependent on the size and number of occupants being carried. With all seats in use and with the rear seat fully back, there's enough room for the weekly groceries or a couple of suitcases. Sliding the rear seat forward gives another 180 mm of load length and if you double fold the seat forward, the floor length increases by another 440 mm to almost 1.3 metres.
One drawback of using the Metro as a station wagon is that the front seats have to be moved forward to double fold the rear seat and that doesn't leave enough leg room for tall drivers like myself.
The control and instrument layout is typical Japanese, meaning everything is easy to use and to reach from the driver's seat. The only nuisance is the lack of any form of internal adjustment for the external mirrors you have to open the window and push on the mirror glass. We understand this deficiency will most probably be addressed on later production Metros.
The power steering and relatively tight turning circle make parking a fairly easy task, but the large rear head restraints (good for occupant protection) create blind spots when looking to the rear. The 1.5 litre models' full wheel trims protrude pass the wheel rims, so you need to be careful to stay clear of gutters, lest you damage them.
Driving the automatic and manual road test Metros back to back highlighted the compromises in having a small engined auto. Though the auto version performed quite well overall, opening the throttle suddenly or by a large amount, sometimes resulted in harsh downchanges and a lot of noise. The "hold" system can be activated to avoid this; the trouble then is if rapid acceleration is required, the transmission won't kick down.
In contrast, the manual version provided greater control over performance and the ability to minimise engine noise by selecting a suitable gear for the occasion. Performance drops off in the higher gears on long, steepish hills out on the open road, but the manual Metro is quite lively around town. Times recorded for acceleration runs during testing were up with the best in the small car class.
Predictably, fuel consumption is a little higher than for competitors with smaller capacity 1.3 litre engines but at 8.4 litres/100 km for the auto and 7.6 litres/100 km overall for the manual, the two test Metros represented economical motoring.
As with the 121 "bubble", Mazda has chosen to equip the 1.5 litre Metro with low profile 60 series tyres and these provide sharp, confident handling in all conditions, but at the expense of ride comfort. Around town, the ride is firm and sometimes a touch harsh, but over the unsealed section of our road test course it showed a distinct adversity to potholes and corrugations, jarring occupants to the extent of being uncomfortable. It highlights the fact that most small cars are better suited to city and suburban duties.
The two test cars produced mixed results in brake testing, for no particular reason as the systems are the same. The auto performed particularly well for a non ABS equipped vehicle (anti lock brakes aren't available), pulling up in short distances in emergency braking tests, with minimal wheel locking.
In contrast, the manual locked its front wheels far too easily, extending stopping distances by almost four metres over the auto version. Both cars displayed only average resistance to brake fade under moderate to heavy usage and the manual car's front brakes emitted some smoke at the end of these tests.
Maintenance for the Metro is scheduled at the usual six month/10,000 km intervals, with the initial check at 1,000 km. The engine timing belt is listed for replacement at 100,000 km.
As well as its three year/80,000 mechanical warranty, the Metro is covered for six years against body perforation by corrosion.
Though the Metro would hardly be considered an ideal tow vehicle, due to its size and power, the handbook specifies an upper limit of 700 kg for a brake equipped trailer and 400 kg for a trailer without brakes. Maximum download on the towball is 60 kg.
The new Mazda 121 Metro doesn't score highly in the glamour stakes, but for practicality and versatility, it must rate near the top of the small car class.
Within its upright body, the Metro provides good space for four average size adults, or two adults and three smaller children, and its load area scores top marks for both capacity and flexibility.
Performance and handling also rated very well in the two 1.5 litre models tested, but ride comfort wasn't so flash when the going got a little rough. Similarly, noise levels (both tyre and mechanical) were intrusive at times.
All round, the 121 Metro makes plenty of sense as a practical city and suburban vehicle. It could be even better with a bit more noise insulation and reinstallation of items we have become accustomed to, such as a driver's heel mat to protect the carpet and remote adjustment for the exterior mirrors.
Test vehicle supplied by Mazda Australia Pty Ltd.
By NRMA Motoring, January 1997.
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
A practical and versatile small car
Harsh ride over rough surfaces
|Warranty||Three years, 80,000 km|
1.3 Litre Manual and Auto
1.3 litre manual: $16,650
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.498 L / 1.323 L|
|Induction||Electronic fuel injection|
|Claimed max power (kW)||64 kW @ 5500 rpm / 53 kW @ 5500 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||128 Nm @ 3500 rpm / 107 Nm @ 3000 rpm|
|Wheel size||5.5 x 14" / 4.5 x 13 "|
|Type||Power assisted rack and pinion|
|Turns to lock||3.1 m|
|Turning circle (measured)||9.8 m|
|Mass||970 kg / 910 kg|
|Width (including mirrors)||1650 mm|
|Fuel capacity||40 litres|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||700 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||22|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||6.8 secs / 6.5 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||9.9 secs / 8.2 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||9.3 secs / 7.6 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||14.5 secs / 12.2 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||8.1 L/100km / 7.4 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||9.0 L/100km / 7.9 L/100km|
|Average on test||8.4 L/100km / 7.6 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||31.7 metres / 35.5 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||71 dB(A)|