Thursday, April 27, 2000

MODEL: Mazda 626 ES
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan
MILEAGE: 21 city, 27 highway

What does the Mazda 626 sedan have in common with a fine bottle of wine? Both seem to improve with age.
This Japanese sedan was introduced in the United States in 1979 as a four-door sedan and two-door coupe with a 2-liter engine and rear-wheel drive. In 1983, it was introduced as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, and a couple years later a turbocharged engine was offered. As this manufacturer’s popularity continued to grow, in 1989, Mazda began assembling their cars in Flat Rock, Mich.
Through the nineties, the 626 has been tweaked in various ways, but it wasn’t until 1998 when a major change was made. The designers and engineers gave it a larger interior, a sportier ride, and a more fun-to-drive handling system. So what’s been improved on the 2000 model? Plenty.
The word “plenty” might be misleading. Most of the changes are subtle. Collectively, however, they make the 626 a sportier and more elegant car. Take a look at the 2000 model and you’ll see a slight, yet distinct crease through the front fender that draws attention to the multireflective halogen headlamps and the five-point grille with the Mazda emblem. This attention-seeking glitter in the front is contrasted by the conservative, smooth lines in the rear end.
Inside, the 626 exposes a more luxurious scene with leather upholstery and leather wrapped steering wheel and transmission shifter. (My tester had a manual transmission.) The driver’s seat has six-way power with a seat lifter and the rear seat has a 60/40 fold-down seat back. In addition to the carpeted floor are floor mats. And the trunk offers sufficient storage for luggage. Collectively, these touches make the 626 an upscale car.
Another feature included in the $22,445 base price of the 626 is a fold-down rear center armrest with cup holders and storage bin. The 626 has a power sliding moon roof, power windows, remote door locks, and dual front cup holders. Other areas of thoughtfulness are map lights and a sunglasses holder.
If I wanted to nitpick, I would mention the tight squeeze for me to get in and out of the front seat, but others didn’t agree, so I’ll refrain from making further comment. However, once I got behind the wheel, the visibility from the front seat was excellent. And that’s where some of the other subtle changes of the 2000 model become more noticeable.
A 2.5-liter V-6 engine that delivered a modest 170 horsepower powered my tester. But there was nothing modest about the car’s performance. It was enjoyable feeling the spirited acceleration when downshifting and stomping on the gas pedal. And when driving in the city, simply leaving it in fourth gear, I had all the get-up-and-go needed.
What make the ride even more enjoyable is this car’s handling. The 626 is a midsize sedan, easy to maneuver with a responsive steering system, making this car a delight to drive both in city traffic and on an open road.
Adding to the enjoyment is the Bose audio system with large buttons and dials, easy to tune and accommodating both compact discs and cassettes. The six-speaker CD changer was one of the few options on my tester. The other options were anti-lock brakes with traction control, and dual side air bags. Incidentally, the braking system has been improved on the 2000 model. The Mazda people say it has 20 percent reduction in pedal effort. They also say that they have made more than 70 changes to this model.
To appreciate the true essence of this finely tuned sedan, all one has to do is get behind the wheel and “uncork” it.

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