Mazda puts a crisp GLC on the road, but with a traditional engine

It's not hard to enthuse about the Mazda GLC. In early 1977, when it was brand new to the US and the price under $4,000 to boot, the car got rave reports from auto writers and car buyers alike.

Now, with the 1981 GLc sporting front-wheel drive for the first time, except for the wagon, it's equally easy to wax eloquent once again.

The GLC is built by Toyo Kogyo, which many American motorists have probably never heard of, anyway, and couldn't pronounce the name, if they had.

Ford Motor Company has a 25 percent stake in the Hiroshima-based vehiclemaker besides selling its lightweight minitruck, the Courier, in Ford dealerships in the US.

Toyo Kogyo, in fact, has been in the front line of Wankel (rotary engine) development for the last 10 years and has sold tens of thousands of RX models in the early years of the 1970s. It was the rotary engine, in fact, that almost wiped out Toyo Kogyo in the wake of the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. The company survived to build the GLC and other cars, only because of a successful rescue move by Japanese trading companies and the banks.

Toyo Kogyo continues to push ahead with its Wankel-engine program and sells the RX-7 sports car in the US.

When the first Mazda was introduced in the US, many people thought it was a Japanese version of the well-known light bulb. Since then motorists have seen the light even if the name of the company itself remains an enigma.

The new GLC comes in four levels of trim: Base, custom, custom L, and sport. The two upper-level models provide a 5-speed manual gearbox, an extra-cost option on the custom.

It also comes as a three-door and five-door hatchback but other versions are down the pike. A 4-door notchback sedan will be added in the spring.

Base price is just under $5,000, but it can quickly move up, up, and away. In other words, the cheap -- in price, that is --wasn't many years ago that the price base was $3,000 and less.

The front-drive GLC is perky and maneuverable with crisp cornering for the motorist who enjoys his stint behind the wheel. The engine, however -- at least in the car I've been driving -- takes a bit of patience for an early-morning start. After several crankings, I was off and running. The gears are generally easy to find although I had a little trouble with reverse.

Mileage is high as one might expect. The Environmental Protection Agency says 35 miles to a gallon of gas. In a sustained drive on an Interstate, the figure shifts into the 40s.

Legroom in back is tight if the front seats are shoved all the way back, but that's to be expected. Headroom, however, is excellent, both in front and in back.

The GLC sport, if you like the open sky, offers an optional sunroof.

Noise levels inside the car compare favorably with other cars in its price class.

The GLC used to be one of the best dollar values around when its price was under $4,000. Today, by today's pricing standards, it's still a good buy even with the price up to $6,000 and more.

It's all relative, the economists say.

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