Talk about a genre of car that’s gone completely extinct. The compact wagon used to be a staple of American roadways, but first wagons vanished and now compacts are gone. The charm and sheer functionality of compact wagons is unmatched, though. Fuel efficient, easy to park, capable of hauling a ton, they’d be the perfect car if drivers weren’t so image conscious.
The 1991-96 Mercury Tracer (and its Ford Escort twin) was based on the Ford Laser, which in turn was based on the Mazda Familia. The cars were a product of Mazda’s financial tie-up with Ford, which lasted from 1979 to 2008. During that time Mazda was largely in charge of developing compacts, and the Mazda Familia heroically took on that role for nine generations.
The Escort/Tracer was based on the seventh-generation Familia, or BG chassis, which in Japan was introduced in 1989 and sold as a 3-door hatchback, 4-door sedan, and the sleek 5-door Familia Astina hatchback. We recently posted a Mazda commercial scored by the late Yukihiro Takahashi that covered all three models.
Mazda did also sell a Familia wagon in Japan during this time, but it was a carry-over from the previous-generation BF chassis. Mazda continued building these in Japan for the Japanese market until 1994, five years after the rest of the BF hatchbacks and sedans ended production.
That wasn’t the case in North America, where Ford built their own BG-chassis wagon in Michigan and Mexico. The Mazda 323 Protégé sold at the same time, from 1991-96, came in 3-door hatchback and 4-door sedan variants. The 5-door wagon like the one in Motorweek‘s review was a Ford/Mercury exclusive.
That probably explains why the rear resembles the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable wagons so much. Sadly, these wagons were only offered with a clunky Ford 1.9-liter SOHC 8-valve four, which made 88 horsepower and 108 lb-ft of torque. What you actually want is the Mazda 1.8-liter 16-valve twin-cam found in the Escort GT, Tracer LTS, and Protégé LX, which made 127 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque — and mated to a 5-speed manual, of course.
That would be one helluva fun little hauler and, as Motorweek points out, with seats folded the Tracer’s 66.9 cubic feet of cargo space is better than that of a Honda Accord Wagon’s. We wish the streets still teemed with Corolla Wagons, Civic Wagovans, and cars like this Tracer. Alas, we seem stuck with crossovers for the foreseeable future.
The entire Mazda derived Escort family is/was severely under rated in the United States. It’s funny because the Ford Laser had some decent popularity as a tuning platform in Australia. I assume it’s partially because of the Escort’s “budget” reputation here in the U.S. and the powerplants offered in North America versus Australia or other markets. There are some folks who are really in to the Escorts here, but not enough! There was a picture of a late model Escort wagon on Work Eurolines making the rounds on facebook and instagram.
Mazda had a large impact on the Ford sport compact scene, and a few interesting platforms went underappreciated (at least in the U.S.) for whatever reason:
The Probe was based on the Mazda 626
The Contour/Mondeo and Cougar were derived from a Mazda platform
The 90s Mercury Capri was based on the Mazda 323 (not sure how viable this car is as a tuning platform)
The first generation Fusion was built on the same platform at the Mazda 6
This one is not so underappreciated, but this is somewhat common knowledge, the 3rd gen Focus is based on the same platform as the Mazda 3 and the 2.0/2.3 Ecoboost engines are derived from Mazda designs. The top end of the Ecoboost engines are completely redesigned by Ford, but there’s still that Mazda DNA there.
I just wish the older Ford stuff got a bit more love from the aftermarket instead of being such cult classics.
I have owned a number of wagons over the years and agree they offer almost all of what people need. It really is a shame that this segment has died. With generations of drivers having gotten used to driving up high, in bigger than needed vehicles, I unfortunately do not see a return of the small wagon any time soon. I’m still hoping the hatchback survives.