- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

The Millenia, Mazda's flagship, has set sail once again. For 2001, this stately land cruiser is slightly bigger and much better than the vessel it replaces.

The new Millenia is nearly 2 inches longer than its predecessor and has an eye-catching restyled hood, front fascia, grille, front bumper, taillights and rear fascia. In other words, it has been given a complete exterior face lift compared to the original 1995 model.

The designers and engineers didn't stop on the outside; the interior has many thoughtful appointments. When I opened the driver's door, the steering wheel rose providing plenty of room for me to get into the car. Once I put the key in the ignition, the steering wheel lowered into its preset driving position. When I removed the key to get out, the wheel rose again. In other cars, the steering wheel seems to trap me, making entry and exit difficult.

Thoughtfulness and luxurious touches surround the Millenia; the instrumentation is clearly designed, easy to operate. Even the turn signals require only a soft touch to operate.

In fact, soft-touch treatment is applicable throughout this five-passenger luxury sedan. The eight-way adjustable driver's seat flows into its preset position, and the lumbar support switch is conveniently located on the console. The entire interior has leather-trimmed upholstery, adding to the luxurious atmosphere.

What became immediately obvious was that Mazda designers made an extra effort to put all the instrumentation in convenient locations. The climate controls and the Bose sound system are within easy reach in the center console area. Furthermore, additional controls for the sound system are conveniently included on the steering wheel.

My tester was the Millenia S model that had a $500 optional nine-speaker sound system capable of holding six in-dash CDs. Another $500 option on my tester was the 17-inch chrome alloy wheels. This enhancement brought the total to $32,025, plus $480 for shipping and handling.

The luxurious interior also had a power sliding moon roof that included tilt mode and a sunshade. This dream boat included power windows and door locks, automatic cruise control, rear window defogger, and cup holders—front and rear—plus an anti-theft alarm system.

The rear seat has tufted leather plus a with pull-down center armrest. A pass-through from the trunk facilitates carrying long objects, such as skis or fishing poles. Incidentally, the trunk is exceptionally deep.

A concern of car buyers today is in the area of safety. Here the Millenia passes with high grades. In addition to the three-point safety belts and front air bags, there are side air bags. The engineers told me they built crumple zones both front and rear. They also built the car on a very stable platform, which helps the suspension system do its job. Unfortunately, there was too much road noise in the cabin.

The suspension was a pleasant surprise. Although the car felt "soft" and luxurious, the suspension allowed the car to perform quite well under hard driving on twisting roads.

There are two models: the Millenia, which costs about $3,000 less, and the Millenia S. The 2.3-liter V-6 engine in the S model is delightful, as it has what Mazda calls the Miller-cycle engine, which puts out 210 horsepower, but it is equivalent to a 3.3-liter engine. At least, that's what I'm told. In practice, the car responds quickly at the nudge of the accelerator pedal.

Another enjoyable feature is the overall size. It might be Mazda's flagship, but it is as maneuverable as a speedboat.

MOTOR MATTERS


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