Since the first day the Mazda Capella was sold in Australia, many flocked to its contemporary design with quad headlights and great standard features. Once the Capella started to be built in New Zealand, it became a cult classic. With a peppy rotary engine, available in a coupe or sedan with either a manual or automatic transmission, the Capella was the perfect car for all of Australasia.
Starting in 1970, the Mazda Capella was available in two different trims for the Australian market, depending on the body configuration: RX-2 for the coupe and 616 for the sedan. Starting in 1978, the Capella became available with the namesake Mazda 626. Even though it shares many similarities to the first generation based on overall size, the design is a lot more standard for the era. With less rounded bits and more sharp edges, even though it was still manufactured in New Zealand, many found this generation not as interesting as the first.
In the 1980s, Mazda redesigned the Capella to match similar vehicles from Ford. Starting in 1982, this generation Capella was manufactured as a front engine/front wheel drive vehicle for the first time, plus it offered an optional diesel engine. This generation also saw more chassis configurations, including a short nose and long nose version, plus it offered more optional equipment to meet the demand for added luxury appointments, including a digital LCD electronic display.
As the 1990s rolled around, the Capella once again grew and now offered the first V6 engine. This generation also came with optional options, such as an electric sunroof and CD player. The popular configuration of this generation was the five-door hatchback, which came standard with air conditioning and anti-lock brakes. Even though the chassis was different on the wagon compared to the sedan, ride, quality, and power were not affected.
Looking back on the history of the Capella, one knows that the first generation RX-2 was quite powerful. With the 1.1-litre 4-cylinder rotary engine, the Capella RX-2 was a serious performer with a little work. At 72 kW of power and 133 Nm and matted to a 4-speed manual transmission, many enjoyed the punchy torque while shifting through the gears. Even though the more subdued 616 came standard with a more powerful and larger engine – a 1.6-litre engine that produced 77 kW and 144 Nm – the rotary was a lot more popular.
As for the second generation Capella, Mazda kept the base engine size to 1.6 litres while offering a 2.0-litre engine also. Even though the optional 2.0-litre 4-cylinder is clearly larger, the power output wasn’t much to discuss as peak power was only 76 kW and 148 Nm. During this time, Mazda also offered a more fuel-efficient one-barrel version that only produced 66 kW.
In 1982 though, with the need for power and fuel economy, the Mazda Capella was finally offered with a turbo and diesel engine. To date, the turbo 2.0-litre was the most powerful engine available and capable of 107 kW of power. The diesel, on the other hand, was more of just a secondary option for fuel economy as that engine only offered 45 kW of power and 121 Nm of torque. With the need for more power as the demand for diesel grew, Mazda planted a pressure wave supercharger on their diesel engines in 1987, which were extremely popular as it offered the power of a gasoline engine while being more economical.
Finally, with the last generation Capella, Mazda finally offered a V6 engine. At just 2.5 litres, this spunky engine produced 149 kW and 224 Nm, which was a long ways from where the Capella started. This engine also offered what is known as Variable Resonance Induction System, which uses electronic actuators located in the intake manifold to help control airflow if more power was needed. This engine was so popular with Mazda that it was offered in many other vehicles, such as the Ford Probe, Mazda MX-6, and Mazda Millenia.
Over the many generations, the Mazda Capella was known as more than a basic midsize vehicle since it offered decent standard engines and amenities while having great optional engines and features. From the initial Capella RX-2 and 616 that had available air conditioning to the generations that added more desirable features, such as LCD displays and AM or AM/FM radios, the consumer felt a connection to the Capella.
Also over the years, the Capella offered some great limited editions to the consumers of Australia and New Zealand, including the Anniversary model in 1982 that offered larger US-style bumpers, lights in the grille, alloy wheels, and custom interior.
One of the benefits that the Mazda Capella had over its competition, which included the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, was the fact that it was built in New Zealand. With a domestic vehicle, per se, the average consumer was more attracted to the Capella. To sweeten the deal though, Mazda always offered plenty of great standard features and solid engine choices, as well as offereing each generation with an automatic transmission.