We had no reason not to give the lively GTi-R a thumbs down
Nissan’s slick Sunny GTi-R, Mazda’s premium 3 Series rival and a Toyota tuner’s failed bid in Formula 1
Having homologated the new Mk7 Sunny for Group A rallying with the scorching GTi-R in 1990, the Japanese firm set to work on a hot hatch for all, rivalling Honda’s Civic VTi and the Vauxhall Astra GSi.
Its look was toned down from the GTi-R; it drove via the front axle only; and its 16v 2.0-litre four made 146bhp, rather than 227bhp. But that was still strong when the kerb weight was 1111kg.
It would spin up to 7500rpm and slug gamely from low revs, this class-leading flexibility meaning overtakes were never any bother (although standing starts could be), and the short-stacked manual gearbox gave joyously slick shifts.
The rear suspension was neatly set up to cancel the understeer if you cornered too quickly and the tyres gripped with a vengeance. However, full-blooded drivers would suffer torque steer; rivals were notably better in this regard.
Pleasingly, though, its handling prowess and superb body control didn’t ruin the Sunny’s ride, that here being firm yet still supple. Our only other criticism was that the steering, while generally good, could have had more feel.
Overall, then, we had no reason not to give it a hearty thumbs-up.
Mazda targets BMW 3 Series with new premium saloon
Japan’s economy was booming in the mid-1980s, giving Mazda the confidence to announce an aggressive growth and diversification plan. It created four new brands: Autozam for cheap cars, Eunos for sporty cars, Anfini for luxury cars and Amati for the US market, aiming to match the success of Acura, Infinti and Lexus.
The first Eunos, arriving in 1992, was an executive saloon named the 500 and set to rival the BMW 3 Series, although in Europe it was branded as a Xedos.
This word soup of a brand strategy soon was poured down the drain, though, after the Japanese bubble economy burst and sent overstretched Mazda into a liquidity crisis. Xedos became a Mazda model line, Amati was killed before it was even launched and the three extant brands were left to wither on the vine.
Would the Mazda Xedos 6 make good out of a bad situation, then? Well, we found the 2.0-litre petrol V6 was glassy smooth and refined, more frugal than the 3 Series but relatively torque-short, at 163lb ft.
Its handling was comfort-focused yet entertaining on twisty roads, enhanced by chatty steering. Only the cabin design really let it down.
Sadly, few Brits were interested, the Xedos 6 and its larger Xedos 9 brother being thrashed by BMW and withdrawn in 2000 and 2001.
Toyota to enter Formula 1?
Tachi Oiwa Motor Sport (TOM’S) was created in 1974 as a Toyota tuner and ever since then has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the Japanese giant. In 1992, we heard it was working on a Formula 1 entry, hiring world-leading F1 engineer John Barnard to preside over a base in Norfolk.
It was doing well in endurance racing, running the 92C-V for Toyota, and hoped Toyota would get on board with the F1 idea. Sadly, the answer it gave mid-year was ‘no’, and Barnard left for Ferrari. TOM’S persevered but never made the grid; Toyota did in 2001 but quit after 2009 wishing it hadn’t, having spent billions for not even one win.
Huge potential for AC Ace
Having revived the AC brand in 1986 after one of its many failures, Cobra specialist Autokraft decided to make a new sports car with help from Ford. A concept came in 1986 but Ford got cold feet; yet despite many lawsuits, a heavily redesigned Ace arrived in 1991, with a 217bhp Yamaha-Ford V6 driving both axles and many other Ford components. We were mightily impressed by the handling and ride, seeing huge potential for the future. However, the production Brooklands Ace was an abject failure, fewer than 60 being made from 1993 to 2000.