New Car/Review

1999 Mazda 626 LX V6 Sedan

by Carey Russ

Midsized sedans are popular and useful, but are too often considered to be mere family transportation appliances, with practicality winning out over fun. For most people, this is not a problem. There is much to be said for practical transportation with appliance-like reliability. But, for the automotive enthusiast, sedan time can be a sad rite of passage. Sell the sports car, buy a sedan. Be mature, responsible, and bored.

It doesn't have to be that way. Sure, there are plenty of less- than-exciting four-door family haulers in the category. The Mazda 626 is not one of those. Yes, it's a midsized four-door sedan with practical room for five people and a week's groceries. Yes, there is something in Mazda 626's design and execution to appeal to anyone looking for a midsized family sedan. Yes, it is offered in multiple equipment levels, with both four-cylinder and V6 engines. The 626 is as functional as anything in the class, it's just more fun.

Chalk it up to an enhanced unibody structure with greater rigidity that allows a compliant but nimble suspension tuning and reduces noise and vibration, and performance-oriented 2.0-liter four- cylinder and 2.5-liter V6 engines that benefit from enhancements for increased power and smoothness. The new 626 is slightly larger than the previous generation in all measurements, and benefits from Mazda's "OptiSpace" design philosophy for an increase in interior space greater than expected. A larger fuel tank increases range. The 626 is designed especially for the American marketplace, and built only at the AutoAlliance International plant in Flat Rock, Michigan.

The 1999 Mazda 626 LX V6 in my driveway is not the top of the line - that position is taken by the ES V6. The LX V6 is the sporty sedan of the line. It combines comfort and good design with enjoyable performance to make a midsized sedan that stands out form the crowd.

APPEARANCE:  The new 626 is very much the Mazda Millenia's smaller sibling in looks. It is leaner and more elegant than the previous version. No jellybeans here! Although straight lines are few and far between, the 1999 Mazda 626 does not look overly rounded. A Millenia-inspired chrome grille is highlighted by the new corporate logo; the "ducktail" lip on the rear deck is another contemporary Mazda family styling feature. No attempt has been made to give the 626 the coupe-like roofline of some current sedans; the formal roof has major benefits for rear-seat passengers.

COMFORT:  The 626 LX has an uncluttered modern interior with an international flavor. A two-tone, dark-over-light color scheme adds to the feeling of space. Grippy textured fabric upholstery and firm padding give the front bucket seats supportive comfort. The standard tilt-adjustable steering wheel, power-adjustable front seats that are part of the "Premium Package", and good shift lever placement add to the driver's comfort and control. Instrumentation is placed well, and important controls are easy to find and use. The sun visors have central extensions to cut glare from behind the rear-view mirror. The climate control system not only works quickly and efficiently, it has unique central vents that move automatically for better air circulation. The rear seat is roomy for the size of the car. Its cushion is high for good passenger visibility; the high roofline means good headroom. The seatback folds with a 60/40 split. Seatback releases in the trunk and a lockable remote trunk release add security and are typical of the attention to detail in the Mazda 626 LX.

SAFETY:  All 1999 Mazda 626 models have dual depowered front air bags and three-point safety belts for all seating positions. Anti-lock brakes are available on all models, and traction control is offered on V6 cars.

ROADABILITY: The 626's fully-independent suspension is firm enough for good cornering ability with minimal body roll, yet supple enough for comfort on poor road surfaces. Four wheel disc brakes are standard with the V6 engine, and optional antilock and traction control enhance driver control in tricky situations. The 626's nimble handling makes it an enjoyable car in the country, and low interior noise levels help make it a great highway cruiser everyday car as well.

PERFORMANCE:  Although the 626's 2.5-liter V6 is smaller than the 3.0-liter engines of its direct competitors, it packs plenty of punch. It's a musical, rev-happy sports car engine at heart, and adds as much character as performance. It is smooth and has the sort of power delivery that encourages enthusiastic driving. The five-speed manual gearbox, an unusual feature in the family sedan class, helps give the 626 sporty character. Good shift action and a light clutch make empty backroads enjoyable and city traffic tolerable. A four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission is available on the LX and standard on the ES V6.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mazda 626 in LX V6 form is a sporty, enjoyable family sedan.

SPECIFICATIONS
1999 Mazda 626 LX V6 Sedan 

Base Price               $ 19,065
Price As Tested          $ 22,560
Engine Type              dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6
Engine Size              2.5 liters /  152 cu. in.
Horsepower               170 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           163 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       105.1 in. / 186.8 in.
Curb Weight              2987 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    17.6
Fuel Capacity            16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular (87 octane)
Tires                    P205/60 HR15 Michelin MXV4 Energy
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc,
                          antilock standard with V6
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                          independent twin trapezoidal link
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed     21 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph                   7.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)               15.7 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Cassette player                              $    250
Antilock brakes with traction control        $    700
Premium package - includes: 
  15-inch alloy wheels with locks, power moonroof with
   maplights and sunglass holder, 6-way power driver's seat,
   anti-theft alarm with immobilizer, Bose audio system, 
  CD sampler, carpeted floor mats            $  2,095
Destination charge                           $    450

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