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When some of the other Japanese manufacturers were beginning new luxury division, Mazda thought about it. But the company wisely chose not to spend the money on building a new division from scratch and chose instead to develop the car. That car is the Millenia, and in all aspects it belongs in the same league as the luxury lines from the other Japanese manufacturers.
What makes the Millenia unique is its engine; a 2.3-liter Miller-cycle engine. This double overhead cam engine is the first application of the Miller cycle in a passenger car. It uses a Lysholm compressor and dual intercoolers. This engine offers smooth performance and good solid speed with a minimum of fuss and a minimum of noise.
So what you get in the M;llenia is a good-sized sedan (it's definitely a mid-size even though it's classified as a compact) that performs well with a minimum of fuss. Millenia isn't the quietest car in the world; there are several cars that are quieter. But the small amount of engine noise that does intrude into the passenger compartment is not a problem. It's far less, for example, that what you'd get with a four-cylinder working overtime.
The Miller cycle gives you the impression of driving a well-designed Swiss mechanical watch. All the parts seem to be meshing well together under the hood. When you ask for power you get it and when you ask for economy you get it. Mazda claims 060 times of under 8.0 seconds and a top speed of over 140mph.
Besides the engine, the Millenia has all the features that are necessary in a luxury car today; power windows, power seats, cruise control AM-FM stereo cassette, digital HVAC system with an outside temperature readout (during our test week this showed zeroes and minuses Fahrenheit). Fortunately, the heating system in the Millenia is excellent. It warmed up the car a lot faster than many other cars we've tested recently. The defroster eliminated some of the junk on the windshield, while the heater defrosted out feet very shortly into the ride cycle. My kudos to Mazda for their excellent heater design. This is the kind of unit you want for the kind of weather we were having. It also has traction control, dual air bags and ABS, just what you'd expect in a vehicle in this class.
The leather-covered seats were comfortable with slight side support. The Millenia has independent multi-link suspensions front and rear that performed quite well. This isn't an RX-7 by any means, but the front-wheel-drive vehicle handles very well.
One minor complaint was with the cupholders. They're located in front of the shifter and pop out with the push of a panel. But when the holders are out with a cup in them, you can get your fingers caught when you shift into park.
Another complaint was with the remote door unlock. No matter how many times you push the button, it doesn't unlock the passenger door. You have to open the driver's door first, then push the "unlock" button on the driver's door. And the driver's seat belt didn't always-retract all the way and got stuck in the door. The radio and heater controls were very similar and I often hit the wrong one.
Mazda has been having some problems lately. It is a company that is innovative and willing to take chances with its vehicles. One of those exciting vehicles is the Millenia, which is at the absolute top of Mazda's line. It is designed to compete with entry-level luxury vehicles from Lexus and Infiniti as well as with the new Cadillac Catera. It should do well against these competitors.