It’s likely that at some stage your automotive requirements will
While you might now be happy to drive a Toyota MR-2 with only two seats and
little cargo space, there will probably come a time when you need something
that’s a bit more practical. A car with accommodation for four or more people, a
generous cargo volume and the ability to tow a 6 x 4 trailer.
At this point you might be rolling your eyes and thinking “cop out” but, as
you’ll see, there are plenty of affordable second-hand vehicles that combine
practicality and performance on par with a selfish sportscar...
Mazda 626/Ford Telstar V6
This is a car that was extremely fashionable during the early/mid ‘90s but
has recently slipped off the radar. Nobody takes a second glance at the V6
626/Telstar twins anymore.
Forget the base-spec four-cylinder models. When equipped with the upmarket
quad-cam 2.5 litre V6, the 1990s 626 and Telstar are spritely performers that
can crack 100 km/h in the low/mid 8s. With performance like that, you can virtually run alongside a contemporary 5 litre automatic Holden Commodore!
Mazda's 2.5 litre V6 (coded KL-03) doesn't offer a lot of torque at the
bottom end of the rev range but it comes alive at about 3000 rpm. It's a
trait that is common to the Mazda-designed Eunos 30X V6, Eunos 500 and Mazda
323 Astina V6. Peak torque (213Nm) is accessible at 5000 rpm while peak
power (121kW) can be found just 600 rpm further around the tacho. The engine
is happy to run on normal unleaded but premium should be used for maximum
To reach 100 km/h in the low/mid 8s you’ll need to buy a V6 626/Telstar with
a 5-speed manual gearbox. A 4-speed automatic was also sold, but these are
around half a second slower in the sprint to 100 clicks. Average weight is
1300kg – pretty much as you’d expect from a mid-size vehicle with a V6 donk.
Both Mazda and Ford sold hatchback and sedan versions of the V6. Ford
labelled the sedan Telstar Ghia and reserved the sporty TX5 badge for the
hatchback. Ford also offered a sophisticated four-wheel-steer version of the
Inside, the 626/Telstar twins receive power windows, cruise control and a six
speaker sound system. The top-line Mazda is also fitted with climate control and
leather trim (as seen here) while Ford’s four-wheel-steer version is fitted with
an electric sunroof. Compared
to the sedan, the hatchback version offers better cargo access.
Released in 1992, the GE-series Mazda 626 and AX/AY-series Ford Telstar are
well built and practical vehicles. Sold until 1997, a second-hand example can
now be picked up from just AUD$7000.
That 7 grand gets you a nicely sized and practical car with plenty of
equipment, a sporty shape and a sweet revving quad-cam V6 that runs side-by-side
with some contemporary V8s.
You can’t ask for much more than that!
Nissan Maxima 5-Speed (A32
The 1995 Nissan Maxima is a very conservative automotive statement. But few
people are aware that the first batch of A32-series Maximas delivered to
available with a 5-speed manual gearbox. This is the only time in local history
that the Maxie was available with a do-it-yourself ‘box.
With the combination of a then-new quad-cam V6 and manual ‘box, the Maxima
should be able to bustle to 100 km/h in a shade over 8 seconds. Four-speed auto
versions can do it in 8.8 seconds.
In Australian spec, the 3.0 litre quad-cam V6 (VQ30DE) generates 142kW at
5600 rpm and 278Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. The engine was widely regarded as one
of the best engines in the world at the time of release thanks to its smooth
idle and willingness to rev to the 6500 rpm redline. Interestingly, the
Australian-spec engine (which has a 10.0:1 compression ratio) comes with a
recommendation to use premium unleaded fuel.
In Japanese market versions, the Maxima (aka Cefiro) makes a substantial
162kW at 6400 rpm. We believe this extra top-end power comes from a variable
There are three trim levels – the base-spec 30J, mid-spec 30G and 30GV.
The base models comes with ABS, driver’s airbag and electric windows while
the mid-spec model adds alloy wheels, a better CD sound system, leather wheel,
climate control, cruise and a remote security system. Both the 30J and 30G were
sold with a manual gearbox. The top-line 30GV is packed with dual airbags,
leather trim, an electric sunroof and fog lights – but was sold as auto only.
The Maxima rides softly and is a fairly determined understeerer – it wasn’t
pitched as a hot handler. Interestingly, despite its upmarket appeal, the A32
Maxima was fitted with a multi-link beam rear suspension which is said to help
maximise boot volume. Certainly, the boot is a useable size but the lack of a
folding rear seat is a point against the Maxima. Its ski port isn’t enough.
Curiously, just a year after the A32 Maxima was released in
range was updated. The S2 update brought numerous detail changes but,
more importantly, the 5-speed manual was dropped from the range. And we’ve been
without a manual gearbox Maxima ever since (sob, sob).
The first generation A32 Nissan Maxima offers stunning value for money. You
get that sweet VQ-series V6, grunty performance, high equipment levels (in all
but the base model), good practicality and an understated appearance that has
zero attraction to thieves – all from around AUD$8000!
If only that back seat folded...
Mitsubishi Magna Sports Wagon (TJ
Regular AutoSpeed readers will know we’re fans of the 163kW Mitsubishi Magna
Sports/VR-X. Unfortunately, the flexibility of the Magna sedan is impaired due
to the lack of a folding rear seat - all you get is a ski port (like in the
Well, check out the Magna Sports wagon!
Sure, it’s a huge step away from the appeal of a sportscar but there’s no
denying this beast’s practicality and performance. With a 3.5 litre SOHC V6 tied
to a glorious 5-speed sequential auto, the go-fast Magna can rip to 100 km/h in
around 8 seconds. Throttle response is very strong, there’s torque everywhere
and it doesn’t slurp through fuel. And, yes, it’s happy to accept normal
unleaded. Peak output is 163kW along with 317Nm.
The Sports wagon has a good balance of suspension firmness and ride
comfort. The Magna will understeer when hustled through tight corners but its
open-road poise is outstanding. The beam rear axle fitted to the wagon is also
relatively jitter-free. One of the biggest letdowns of the Magna is the steering
– it lacks feel and precision around centre.
Inside, the cabin is trimmed like any other contemporary Magna Sports.
There are sports seats and door trims, white-face gauges, digital climate control,
leather wheel and all other essentials. It’s out back where there the difference
is. The tailgate lifts to reveal a huge area that can accommodate pretty
well any load. But for extreme carrying capacity, the backrest can be folded
forward to provide a massive 2110 litre cargo volume (around four times bigger
than the boot of a Magna sedan!).
We doubt whether such carrying capacity earns much cred with your car freak
buddies, but at least the Sports wagon has some visual attitude. A front
spoiler, skirts, rear wing and 16 x 7 inch alloy wheels comprise an effective
Released in late 2001, the TJ series Magna Sports wagon has now run past its
factory 3 year/100,00km warranty and you can pick them up for obscenely little
money. For between 15 and 20 grand these are ripper bargains.
For a full test on the go-fast Magna wagon check out Mitsubishi Magna Sports Wagon
Stick around for Part Two (the final) of this series – there are some more
cars you should know about...