Mazda 121

Carpedia

Nov 21st, 2019

Mazda 121

The Mazda 121 designation is a series of Mazda vehicles for export from 1975 to 2002. Although the Japanese automaker used the Mazda 121 nameplate on a sports coupe, it eventually adopted the name for subcompact cars sold internationally.

Mazda 121 - Mazda Cosmo, 1975 – 1981

The first Mazda vehicle designated as Mazda 121 for the export market was the Cosmo, a 2-door fastback coupe akin to the Mazda RX-5 but had an inline 4-cylinder engine rather than a rotary engine. Exterior styling was similar to US cars of the era with a rear fixed wide window, an opera window that can be winded down behind the doors, a prominent front grille and lots of chrome edgings. Adding to its sporty look were upturned taillights, a front spoiler, and a low-profile radial tyre.

The interior had a velour finish with the dash receiving wood grain veneer trimmings which were not typical for Japanese cars during the time. The dashboard featured a full range of instrumentation, including a speedometer, tachometer, fuel, temperature, ampere meter and clock. 

Under its hood was a Mazda VC series 1.8L (1769cc) petrol engine that could generate 61 kW and 134 Nof torque coupled with a 5-speed manual gearbox. In some countries, the JATCO 3-speed automatic transmission was also an option. It used a four-link suspension with coil springs and disc brakes on all four corners for the brakes with the front having ventilated rotors. With this combination, the Mazda 121 was capable of 0-100km/h in 15.1 seconds with a top speed of 159 km/hr. An upgrade in 1980 included a Mazda MA (1970cc) engine, which was capable of a 175 km/h top speed.

In 1977, a notchback version called the Mazda 121 Landau Coupe became available. It was similar to the fastback but had a boxier appearance and a full trunk after the doors and a vinyl roof. It still ran on a petrol engine but was now using the Mazda MA 1,970cc inline 4-cylinder SOHC that produced 64 kW of power and torque of 160 Nm with the same transmission options as the VC series.

Both the fastback coupe and Landau Coupe overlapped with the next generation and remained in the marketed until 1982. The Mazda 121 debuted in Australia in 1976.

Mazda 121 (DA Series), 1988 – 1991

The first generation of the Mazda 121 as a subcompact car was the DA series. Ford Motor Company, a stakeholder in Mazda since 1974, commissioned this design and even marketed this generation as Ford Festiva. Later, another Ford partner, Kia Motors of South Korea, produced and sold this car as Kia Pride. 

The Mazda 121 DA Series was a three-door front-wheel-drive hatchback. It had an independent front-wheel suspension (IFS) and a rear semi-independent torsion beam suspension.  There were four variants sold internationally starting in 1988, 1.1DX, 1.1L, 1.3LX and the 1.3 Cabrio top (Fun Top, Canvas Top or Sun top).

The 1.1DX and 1.1L came with an inline 4-cylinder Mazda B1 petrol engine of 1,138 cc displacement producing 41 kW of power and torque of 88 Nm, transmitting power through a 5-speed manual gearbox. With a curb weight of only 725kg, this car could accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 13.6 seconds and had a top speed of 150 km/h. 

The 1.3LX and 1.3 Cabrio had a Mazda B3 engine with a displacement of 1,324cc, advertised power of 49 kW and 103 Nm of torque, and came with a 5-speed manual gearbox. These 1.3L powered versions were capable of 0-100km/h in 11.6 seconds and had a top speed of 160 km/h. 

In 1991, the 1.3L Mazda B3 engine replaced the 1.1L B1 and powered all the models in the range. 

For the Australian market, the 121 received a facelift in 1989 which included a new grille insert, body-coloured exterior trims, new gauges and redesigned interior seats and trims. Other European countries consequently adopted these updates.

Mazda 121 (DB Series), 1991 – 1998

The next-generation Mazda 121, aka DB series, was initially produced under the Mazda marque Autozam and called the Autozam Revue. The DB Series was a small 4-door sedan with a rounded exterior styling. A canvas top was also available for this series. The DB series was roomier than its predecessor and offered better comfort and drivability.

An updated 1,324cc Mazda B3 engine powered all DB series models, producing 53 kW of power and torque of 104 Nm, transmitting power through a 5-speed manual gearbox. The DB series was capable of accelerating from 0-100 km/h in 10.8 sec and attaining a top speed of 160 km/h.

During the initial release, a 1.1L Mazda B1 petrol engine option was also available in some countries, with a displacement of 1,138cc that produced 40 kW of power and 86 Nm of torque. In 1994, Mazda added a 1.5L SOHC 4-cylinder engine with fuel injection, which produced 61 kW of power and a maximum torque of 118 Nm. An automatic transmission was available from 1991 but eventually dropped in 1993 in favour of a manual gearbox.

The suspension was still the independent front-wheel suspension with the semi-independent rear. From 1991-1994, power steering equipped all variants but became an option after 1994 with only the 1.5L variant having this feature as standard.

Mazda 121 (DW Series) – 1996-2002

The DW series first introduced in 1996 was a 5- door hatchback sold initially in Europe. It became available in different parts of the world by 1998. This series departed from the rounded sedan style, going back to the boxy shape with rounded corners. This new hatchback design was Mazda's vision of what econocars are going to look like in the future. More commonly called the Metro, the DW series shared production with the Ford Fiesta and had almost the same parts used. 

The base engine offered for the DW series was the 1,242-cc inline 4-cylinder called the Zetec-SE which was a Ford engine producing 55 kW of power and torque of 110 Nm. This engine came with multi-point injection coupled with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable variable-speed transmission (CVVT). This variant had an advertised top speed of 174 km/h and acceleration time for 0-100 km/h in 12.8 seconds.

Another petrol version was the 1.3L Ford Endura-E (Duratec 8V) that had indirect injection capable of producing 37 kW of power with 94 Nm of torque and only came with a 5-speed manual gearbox. This engine variant gave a top speed of 143 km/h and achieved 0-100 km/h in 19.5 seconds. 

For the first time in this series, a diesel variant became available - the Ford Endura-D 1.8L that produced 44 kW power and 105 Nm of torque. It had a top speed of 155 km/h and an acceleration time from standstill to 100 km/h of 17.4 seconds. It was only available with a 5-speed manual gearbox. 

Airconditioning was now standard to the Mazda 121 and also had driver side airbags as standard. Road handling was through an independent front suspension using MacPherson struts, and for the rear, it used a torsion beam. Sitting was comfortable and afforded good headroom. The rear seat can be folded down for larger cargo space, and the front seat can be tilted flat. The Mazda 121 series ceased sales in 2002, with the Mazda 2 series eventually replacing it.

The Mazda 121 Moving On

The Mazda 121 series of subcompact cars have proven their durability and reliability. With proper maintenance and care, they can still be a practical alternative to buying newer models. Gas consumption remains very competitive alongside more modern offerings, and if you own one of these or thinking of purchasing one, see us at Carpart.com.au. We will help you locate buyers and sellers of these vehicles and their parts. If you decide to sell any of the Mazda 121 series cars for parts or as a whole vehicle, contact us at hello@carpart.com.au.

-Jarad