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New Car/review

1997 MAZDA 626 LX

by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 18,595
Price As Tested                                    $ 21,190
Engine Type                             2.0 Liter I4 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                  122cid/1991 cc
Horsepower                                   114 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               124 @ 4500 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.8"/68.9"/184.4"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2890 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/65R14
Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 65 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            23/31/27
0-60 MPH                                       11.7 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     75.3 seconds @ 19.4 mph
Top-speed                                           112 mph
     * Multi-port fuel injection

Mazda's 626 sedan has been a mainstay in the company's products line since 1979. Originally built overseas, using a rear-wheel-drive chassis layout, the current, fourth-generation 626 is assembled in Flat Rock, Michigan. It uses front-wheel-drive, two vastly different powertrains, and is available exclusively as a four-door sedan.

Our test week was spent behind the wheel of a 626 LX, which is now available with a limited-edition LX Appearance Package, which adds leather upholstery, a power moonroof, anti-theft alarm and two-tone paint, along with an impressive array of convenience items.

OUTSIDE - With styling that follows the current "aero" trend, the 626 shows that its target is the average buyer of a family sedan. It received a restyle last year, with a chrome grille borrowed from its big brother, the Millenia. It is heavily rounded, as evidence by its low .32 drag coefficient, and uses body-color bumpers and outside mirrors. The two-tone paint of our test car was very rich-looking and handsome, while its stylish 14-inch chrome wheel covers looked much like expensive alloy wheels - although an aluminum wheel package is optionally available on both four-cylinder 626 models. Its trunk is deep and roomy, even more so with the rear seats folded down, but the trunk's narrow opening sometimes creates problems.

INSIDE - The inside of 626 is simple, with a dash that features sweeping shapes that are pleasant to view. Its seats are firm and supportive, the instruments are logically-placed and simple to reach, and we liked its back-and-forth oscillating dashboard vents. Standard features on all 626 models include full instrumentation, including a tachometer, tilt steering column, rear window defogger, a 60/40 split rear seat and a center console with an armrest and storage compartment. Our test car's Appearance Package transformed what begins life as just-above-basic transportation, into a luxurious people-hauler. By choosing a 626 with LX trim, buyers get an AM/FM cassette stereo with four speakers, air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, and cruise control with steering wheel switches.

ON THE ROAD - The 626 comes standard with a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine, with dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. It produces 114 horsepower and 124 lb-ft of torque, which is respectable for a 2.0 liter engine, but mated to our test car's four-speed automatic transmission, it didn't give an inspiring performance. The engine is somewhat loud during heavy acceleration, and the transmission is sometimes indecisive in its "hunting" for the proper gear. It does give good fuel mileage, however, as its average of 27 mpg during our test week included several high-speed interstate cruises. The 626 is available in a hot-rod version, too, and when equipped with Mazda's 164-horse 2.5 liter V6 engine and five-speed transmission, it is transformed from a leisurely passenger car into a powerful and nimble sports sedan.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The vast difference between the two powertrains are not mirrored by chassis components. All 626s feature four-wheel independent suspension that is firm, yet its damping qualities are stellar. The body leans a fair amount in hard corners, especially since the four-cylinder models have no rear sway bar, but the car holds well under most circumstances, even on bumpy roads with a full load aboard. The front suspension uses basic MacPherson strut components, while the rear features Mazda's Twin Trapezoidal Link setup, a type of system carried by many cars costing much more. Braking on four-cylinder models is achieved with front discs and rear drums, which stopped the car in a respectable distance, although its was not equipped with the optional anti-lock braking system (ABS). Optional braking adds four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and is available on all models except the DX version.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, adjustable shoulder anchors on the front seat belts and side-impact beams are standard, ABS is optional. All models meet 1997 federal side-impact standards.

OPTIONS - Its Appearance Package adds $2,135, while the automatic transmission is $800 extra. ABS will add $950.