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Mazda Millenia S (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Mazda Millenia S ENGINE: 2.3-liter Miller-cycle HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 210 hp @ 5300 rpm/210 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 108.3 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 191.6 x 69.7 x 54.9 in. STICKER PRICE: $32,505

Mazda has an interesting line of automobiles. And Mazda has always been willing to experiment with its production cars. Witness, for example, the RX-7, with its Wankel three-rotor engine. Here was a vehicle that had a totally different powerplant and was successful and a highly competitive race car as well as an excellent sports car.

Witness the Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) that Mazda put in its Justy compact car. It was the first successful application of the CVT after the Dutch manufacturer DAF tried it in the 1950s. Other manufacturers are now picking up the concept.

So it's not surprising that when Mazda introduced its luxury car, the Millenia, it would try something different. Two engines are available in the Millenia. One is a conventional 2.5-liter DOHC V6 that delivers 170 horsepower. The other, and the engine in our tester, is a 210-horsepower, 2.3-liter Miller-cycle DOHC V6. The Miller-cycle engine uses a Lysholm compressor (which is a type of supercharger) and delayed intake valve timing to deliver the power of a larger engine with the fuel economy of a smaller engine. That fuel economy is 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, according to the EPA.

This engine is a very smooth engine, gives power similar to a small V8, and it makes the Millenia a good performer in all circumstances. Mazda has continued to use this engine in the Millenia S for several years and it has proven to be a good choice.

The engine drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox (you don't get a choice). Strangely enough, with so many manufacturers going to automatic stick shifts, there is none in the Millenia S. It is a straight automatic with no option to go with the stick. I think it's probably not necessary in a true luxury car. But I was surprised to see it missing, since everybody else seems to be including one.

Inside, the Millenia S is true to its luxury pretensions. It has tasteful wood trim around the console and on the door sills. There is a console between the front bucket seats with two cupholders. The accessories include power windows, power door locks, power seats, power mirrors, cruise control, a sun roof, and an AM/FM stereo system with an in-dash CD player and an in-dash cassette player. The sound system was excellent. And of course, the seating was leather.

The Millenia S also has a huge trunk, which to me is extremely valuable. Ever since our family car changed from a full-size van to more sensible vehicles, our family has had trouble learning how to pack. So the 13 cubic foot trunk was a valuable asset if you have to do any cargo carrying of any degree, whether it's groceries from the local market or boxes from the local Circuit City.

It also has a pass-through, so that if you want to carry skis you can keep them inside and not have to mar the exterior appearance of your Millenia with a roof rack.

We drove the Millenia S on Interstate highways, including the infamous Pennsylvania Turnpike. We also drove the car on winding roads. I was surprised when driving it on the Turnpike by the amount of noise that was transmitted back into the car. Here is a vehicle that calls itself a luxury car, and yet there is quite a bit of tire noise from the highway, and this noise is transmitted into the driving compartment. Mazda has apparently chosen not to put excessive sound insulation between the source of these noises and the cockpit as, for example, Lexus has chosen to do. Now Lexus may actually be too far the other way in that no sound is transmitted into the car, but I would like a quieter driving compartment than the Millenia offered. For example, the noise interferes with enjoyment of the sound system and some of the more subtle music, especially since I'm not the type of person who blasts the sound system at top volume.

On winding roads, the Millenia handles quite well. For 2001, the body has been made more rigid. The suspension is independent all around with a multi-link system for keeping the tires on the road. It has a complaint ride that isn't as stiff as you'd expect for a sporty car. It isn't mushy either, so it gives a comfortable ride, yet lets you know what's happening under the car.

I liked the storage compartments that are mounted in the doors. They have covers that can be raised with little pushbuttons, keeping the car neat if you're stuffing tissues in there, for example. The armrest in the console has a flat storage area and a deeper one underneath that is large enough to carry 10 CDs.

The Millenia S is an interesting vehicle in that it has a unique powerplant that you won't find in any other manufacturer's vehicle. As such, you consider the powerplant almost as much as you consider the whole vehicle. The Millenia's engine is a good engine. It works in this car and it makes the Millenia a bit of a luxury car to the extent that it ranks above the Camry/Accord/Taurus class, but not in the Lexus ES300 class. It is priced at $32,000 plus, which is about where it belongs.