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1996 Mazda Millenia S

by Carey Russ

Mazda has long been known for its technological prowess. The Millenia S, its flagship sports-luxury sedan, is an example of this. It is a contemporarily-styled mid-sized compact luxury sedan that may at first glance be little different than most of its direct competitors. Driveline specifications, too, may seem rather generic. A V6 engine drives the front wheels through a 4-speed automatic transmission. But all of the Millenia models have subtle detail differences from other cars in their class, and the S version has a major engineering distinction. Its 2.3-liter engine uses a modification of the common 4-stroke Otto cycle of combustion called the Miller cycle to increase power and decrease fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.

The Millenia was meant to be placed in the lineup of an upscale division of Mazda. With changes to the world economy, that division was canceled. The Millenia, fortunately, was not. With the recent demise of the 929 luxury sedan, the Millenia is now the premium Mazda sedan. It fills this niche perfectly, with a choice of three different models. The basic Millenia and luxury-appointed Millenia L are powered by Mazda's 170- horsepower 2.5-liter V6 engine, and compete well against the popular domestic and imported near-luxury sedans. The more sporting Millenia S has all of the luxury features of the L model and then some. Under its hood resides the first automotive application of the Miller cycle engine.

A week spent in the Millenia S showed it to be comfortable, quick, and very enjoyable. It is one of the rare automobiles made today that has its own very distinctive character.

APPEARANCE: The Millenia is styled appropriately to its place atop the Mazda line. It has the rounded shape of contemporary Mazda sedans, but is sleeker and more elegant than its siblings. The front is dominated by a chrome-trimmed grille with dark vertical bars that is reminiscent of classic European sedans. The grille is the only element of the Millenia that harkens to the past, though. The compound-element headlights, integrated bumper fascias, and aerodynamic shape are completely modern. A long passenger cabin with a large glass area not only looks graceful, but ensures excellent visibility. The rear deck is higher than the front for better aerodynamics and luggage space. It ends with a small "ducktail" lip instead of the more common add-on spoiler. All styling elements are well- integrated and the overall look is one of understated power and feline grace.

COMFORT: The luxury part of the Millenia's character is most notable inside. The interior is understated in a nearly Teutonic manner - lean and functional, it achieves elegance by design and detail, not opulence. Standard seats are leather-covered, firm, and comfortable for any distance. The driver's seat is 8-way power-adjustable; the front passenger has four electric adjustments. The steering wheel is power tilt-adjustable. Naturally, windows, mirrors, and door locks are power-assisted. Instruments and controls are designed and positioned for driving, and are logically-placed and easy to use. The climate control system fills the cabin with warm or cool air quickly. The Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD changer sound system provides high quality sound. A reasonably-sized glove box and central console storage are supplemented by covered storage in the front doors, cleverly hidden beneath the armrests. The rear seat is spacious for the size of the car, and comfortable.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment on the Millenia S includes dual air bags, front and rear crumple zones, and side-impact-protection door beams. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard.

ROADABILITY: Even though the Millenia S may have all of the accepted luxury features, it has the heart and soul of a sports sedan. A rigid chassis provides a stable platform for a four-wheel independent multilink suspension calibrated for spirited driving. The ride is firm, with plenty of communication from the outside world. Feedback is informative, not intrusive, and the car is restfully quiet inside. Engine speed-sensitive power steering provides the correct amount of effort, and handling characteristics are good. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop quickly and surely.

PERFORMANCE: The 2.3-liter Miller cycle V6 feels like a considerably larger engine. With 210 horsepower, it makes the power of many larger engines. Yet, it never feels highly-stressed, and returns fuel economy better than that of most cars in its class, regardless of their engine size. The Miller cycle uses a Lysholm supercharger and modified valve timing to increase engine efficiency. The Millenia S is quite quick, and the engine makes some very unique music while it does its work. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission has been refined to shift smoothly and quickly.

CONCLUSIONS: Sports sedan or luxury sedan? Why choose between the two? The Mazda Millenia S is both, and has plenty of technological interest as well. It successfully combines luxurious accommodation with fun-to-drive character.

1996 Mazda Millenia S
Base Price             $ 35,595
Price As Tested        $ 36,345
Engine Type            V6,dual overhead cams per bank, 24 valves,
                       supercharged Miller Cycle
Engine Size            2.3 liters, 138 cu. in.
Horsepower             210 @ 5300
Torque (lb-ft)         210 @ 3500
Transmission           4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length     108.3 in. / 189.8 in.
Curb Weight            3391 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower  16.2
Fuel Capacity          18.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement       unleaded premium
Tires                  P215/55 R16 Michelin XGT
Brakes, front/rear     vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear independent multilink strut with coil springs /
                       independent multilink strut with coil springs
Drivetrain             front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
   city / highway / observed    20/28/24
0 to 60 mph                      8.0 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                 16.0 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)         0.29