Two Sister Speedsters Get Racy New Looks

For the young, image-conscious buyers of sports coupes, getting from 0 to 60 in six seconds matters less than a car's looks. With that in mind, Ford and Mazda put much of the emphasis on styling when they redesigned the Probe and its sister car, the MX-6.

Under the hood, the two are identical, sharing the same jazzy 24-valve, V-6 engine in the high-end models and a 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine in the low-end versions. Ford's Probe also offers the same spirited driving performance and smooth shifting as the Mazda, with an important difference: The base model Probe is as much as $2,700 cheaper than the Mazda.

When it comes to looks, these two aren't twins. The Probe is muscular, with a front end that slopes three inches lower than its predecessor, giving the driver a racier feeling than the level MX-6. The Probe's lines curve in seductively from the front wheel well and fan out again to the rounded wraparound tail lights. The wide aluminum-alloy wheels offer control during tight turns.

Mazda's teardrop-shaped MX-6 is more the sophisticate. Designed by an American team in Irvine, Calif., it sheds the boxiness and rear-end spoiler of the older model for a smooth, sleek look.

The Probe falls short of the MX-6 on interior design. Its narrow bucket seats are uncomfortable, and the car barely has room to squeeze in three adults. The dashboard is plain, even on the fancier GT version. Climate controls are huge, but the tiny buttons on the radio make station selection a chore.

SOUND MACHINE. The MX-6, with wider seats and ample leg room, can accommodate as many as four adults. The dashboard not only has better controls but also more of them, such as separate ventilation knobs for your head and feet. The MX-6 also offers an audio option not available on the Probe: a sound system with both a tape and compact-disk player.

But if you prefer the poise and polish of the Mazda, be prepared to pay. On top of the $15,550 base price for the least costly model, you have to shell out $850 extra for air conditioning, $800 for antilock brakes, $1,000 for leather seats, and $700 for a CD player. The Probe starts at $12,845, and the GT with the larger engine and better suspension goes for $15,174, options not included. For that price, the car is an attractive package.

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