New Car/Review

1997 Mazda 626 LX

by Mary Iacoponi
"WebCar Woman"

Mazda

SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

You don't judge a book by its cover, do you?

Watch out what you wish for because you may just forget to notice the latest American made V-6 sedan from Mazda. In the sea of makes and models flooding the American import auto market, this sporty sedan easily blends right in with the masses -- unless of course it's painted the gorgeous shade of candy apple red of my test car. That's Designer Red in Mazda lingo. Looking from the outside in, you may not pay too much attention. But once you're belted in and ready to hit the road, the appreciation quotient rises steadily.

The new 164 horsepower V-6 engine gives strong acceleration and couples with a smooth 5-speed transmission. The Mazda 626 sports a four-wheel independent suspension system with front MacPherson Struts and a Twin-Trapezoidal Link design in the rear. This sedan zigs and zags through traffic like a sly little fox.

Mazda calls the 626 interior one of the most usable in its class -- I'd have to agree. Once inside this car you appreciate its spaciousness and clean design. The six-footers have lots of headroom and four passengers can travel with plenty of comfort. There is room for a fifth passenger but it is probably best suited for a youngster. The rear seat is a 60/40 split fold-down variety -- plenty of space for the golf clubs, skis and boogie boards. And the trunk is one of the largest for a car this size.

The two-tone taupe-colored interior works well with lots of black trim and a nicely designed dash and instrument cluster. The seats are a jagged woven velour, but the fabric pattern is a bit bland -- a little more sporty, jazzy look would fit the bill for this sedan. I was disappointed that the seats did not have more adjustments. The seat cushion can be adjusted but only the front part of the cushion moves upward -- leaving you wedged toward the back of the seat. At 5'5" I felt like I was sitting two inches lower than I would have liked for good visibility, good back support and a safe distance from the steering wheel. A minor touch of class was the felt-lined coin holder in the left dash -- so perfectly placed for those of you unlucky enough to travel obnoxious roadways like the Garden State Parkway.

The optional Luxury Package on LX models includes a power glass moonroof, 14-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, audio upgrade and keyless entry. In addition, the Appearance Package has leather interior, two-tone paint and chromed wheel covers.

The six cylinder Mazda 626 doesn't jump right off the page at you, but do take a good long look at this one -- it's a sleeper and you may just find what your looking for.

GEARHEAD CHECKLIST:

TYPE:             Midsize Sport Sedan
SPECIFICATIONS:   front engine, front wheel drive, 4-door, 5 passenger 
ENGINE:           all-aluminum 2.5 liter DOHC 24-valve V6, 164 horsepower 
                  at  5,600 rpm, 160 foot pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm
CURB WEIGHT:      2,988 lbs. 
FUEL CONSUMPTION: City - 21 MPG      Highway - 26 MPG
PRICE AS TESTED:  $21,245
FOR:              lots of headroom for the NBA guys -- smooth V-6 
                  engine and fine handling
AGAINST:          more adjustments for drivers seat -- us shorties 
                  need two more inches of visibility
MARY'S SCORECARD:

We rate this vehicle against similar luxury sedans in four categories important to customers - plus a fifth category for relative dollar value. Maximum score in each category is 20 points.

1. COASTAL CURVES / HIT THE ESSES
   sprightly and spirited			        18 points
2. SILICON VALLEY LOGJAM / THE COMMUTER'S BANE
   5-speeds aren't  on the commuter's wish list, 
   but 626 has a good one		                17 points
3. THE FAST LANE / PEDAL-TO-THE-METAL 
   lots of get-up-and-go with the 626's new 6-cylinder 
   engine 			                        19 points
					
4. THE CITY SLICKER / STYLE & TASTE
   outside doesn't knock your lights out - interior 
   very tasteful			                16 points

5. THE 1997 BUYER / FACE VALUE
   very affordable and powerful V-6 engine has 
   the spotlight			                18 points
 
       			       TOTAL SCORECARD TALLY:	88 points

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