From the September 1992 issue of Car and Driver.
Whoever said “competition improves the breed” (was it Charles Darwin? Charles Barkley? Charlie the Tuna?) perfectly captured the action in today’s mid-size four-door-sedan market. No-quarter competition is breeding a high order of automotive excellence. Our recent family four-door face-off (“Solid-Citizen Sedans,” June 1992) confirmed that this category’s general level of quality—make that qualities, not just fit and finish—is a wonder to behold. This emphasis on excellence is not accidental, for we find the hot nationwide sale numbers here, with the Honda Accord, the Ford Taurus, and the Toyota Camry topping the charts.
With so much volume in this segment, this fall will see several high-stakes launches of sedans straight into the competitive teeth of the Accord-Taurus-Camry troika. Chrysler is betting the foundry on the 1993 LR-platform family sedans, and Nissan hopes the Altima four-door will soar where the Stanza stumbled. Even Mazda, which trades in niche products that emphasize the fun of driving and emotional connections with automobiles, still leans on the middle-of-the-road 626 four-door sedan as its largest seller.
With this 626 model, the “feel right” folks at Mazda have completed the makeover of their entire line of cars. The pitch has been to reposition Mazda cars as enjoyable, interesting, and maybe a little off-beat. First came the Miata two-seater—as enjoyable, interesting, and off-beat as new cars get. Then, over little more than a year, came the tiny V-6 MX-3, the sexy 929, the blistering RX-7, and the lovely and graceful MX-6.
As with the previous generation (1988–’92), the new 626 sedan shares its strut-suspended, front-drive platform with the Mazda MX-6 and Ford Probe sports coupes. The 102.8-inch wheelbase is unchanged, though the back seat magically grows from squashed in the two-doors to spacious in the four-door. Engine choices are a 2.0-liter four making 118 horsepower (115 in the Probe) for the base 626DX and mid-level LX, and Mazda’s silky 164-hp, 24-valve, 2.5-liter V-6 in the high-line ES.
For this test, we specified the lustiest 626 of the bunch, an ES with the five-speed manual gearbox. Our test car came loaded with a leather interior ($1000), anti-lock brakes ($800), a sunroof ($750), and a CD player add-on to the AM/FM/cassette sound system ($700). This ran up the tab to a hefty $22,030, from the ES’s opening quote of $18,710. Though it’s not a steal, the 626ES undercuts a similarly equipped Toyota Camry SE (a slightly larger, heavier alternative that is otherwise comparable in concept, packaging, and refinement) by about $2500.
Despite the added burden caused by all the options, our 626 stepped lightly on the scales: a modest 2894 pounds. Working through the tidy five-speed box, the V-6’s fluid and free-spinning torque delivery can whisk that mass from rest to mile-a-minute cruise in a mere 7.3 seconds, a time that completely outguns any Accord, splits the difference between the Camry SE and the Nissan Maxima SE, and loses only to a Taurus that says “SHO” on its tail. The 626ES’s top speed of 128 mph and its skidpad grip of 0.80 g are also impressive.
And running hard isn’t even this car’s main event. The 626 is easy and natural to drive smoothly—a quality that takes on greater importance as all cars get better in the big ways. The 24-valve engine gives flexible, ready power. Throttle action feels smooth and positive. Response is immediate, and there is minimal driveline lurch or “cradle rock” as the throttle opens and closes. Clutch takeup is smooth and the shifter gating is friendly. Taut and heavily damped steering—a little weighty, even—gives the driver a positive, deliberate sense of control. The middling-firm suspension reduces rocking in fast transitions and gives a faintly busy, though still comfortable, freeway ride. The ES is smooth, accurate, almost delicate to control.
Looking hard for vices, we note one characteristic that surfaces in duty the 626ES will rarely encounter: very determined, max-effort flogging down fast and unpredictable looping canyon roads. Entering a corner too hard—one that requires the driver to leap off the power and get on the binders after the car is already well heeled over in the bend—will have the 626 promptly tucking its nose, sloughing its protective understeer, and threatening to get well and truly sideways. A little unwinding the wheel and moderating the brake pedal generally restores order. This action is hardly unknown in front-drive cars, and only the terminally ham-fisted will likely get into trouble.
Visually, the 626 isn’t as striking as Mazda’s other recent offerings. But echoes of the 929’s voluptuousness resonate in the 626’s greenhouse, C-pillars, and fender line. Inside, some plastic expanses look a bit vast and unbroken, but again, the shapes are pleasant, and the layout and finish are clean and functional. We especially like the open, accessible view out over the 626’s low cowl. The front seatbacks have modest side bolsters that form a broad, shallow wedge, accommodating torsos of most any girth. Trunk capacity and shape are decent, though luggage must fit through a rather shallow opening.
Despite its position as a mainstream, mid-size sedan, the 626ES remains true to Mazda’s niche-marketing strategy by offering an unusually generous serving of performance and refinement for the class. In fact, although Mazda denies that its upcoming Amati luxury division will offer a sedan based on the 626 platform, the ES strikes us as exactly the sort of car that could proudly wear an Amati badge.
This one literally missed the boat, and I, for one, am sorry Mazda didn’t make it to our “Triple-Throwdown Four-Door Showdown.” Last month’s contest for family performance sedans featured the Maxima SE, the Taurus SHO, and the Camry SE. They finished that way, all within two points out of a possible 100—our tightest finish ever. The 626ES would not have shaken it up drastically, but it would have gone fenders-to-flanks with the others, because it, too, glows with the same slightly intemperate blend of hot rod in its heart and cool thinking behind its whole. —Larry Griffin
Call it the sports sedan from the chunky, spunky planet of reliable Alfa clones. The Mazda 626ES perfectly captures the driving essence of Italian machinery without the pains of roofmounted window switches and steering wheels angled to hold a Chicago deep-dish pizza. The Mazda’s pedals fall to foot for easy heel-and-toe shifting, its engine sings a torquey tune, and its seats cozy up to hindquarters like an old pair of jeans. Mainstream buyers might overlook the 626ES in favor of a retentive Camry or Accord, but at least the Alfisti now have dependable transportation. —Martin Padgett Jr.
Just last year, the Taurus SHO and the Maxima SE offered the slickest transverse V-6 powertrains this side of 25 grand. Then came Toyota’s Camry SE. One drive and you would swear the engine possessed two more cylinders and was mounted fore and aft in an engine-bay-sized vat of Cool Whip.
Mazda has worked similar magic with its new 626ES. It offers the same smoothness, refinement, and might as the spacious Camry SE in a slightly cozier package, at a slightly lower tab. Moderately priced, ultra-refined sports sedans now come in two sizes: large and small. —Don Schroeder
1993 Mazda 626ES
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Base/As Tested: $18,710/$22,030
Options: leather package (power driver’s seat), $1000; anti-lock brakes, $800; power sunroof, $750; compact-disc player, $700; floor mats, $70
DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 153 in3, 2497 cm3
Power: 164 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 160 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Suspension, F/R: struts/struts
Brakes, F/R: 10.2-in vented disc/10.3-in disc
Tires: Bridgestone Turanza ER30
Wheelbase: 102.8 in
Length: 184.4 in
Width: 68.9 in
Height: 55.1 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 53/42 ft3
Trunk Volume: 14 ft3
Curb Weight: 2894 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 7.3 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.8 sec @ 87 mph
100 mph: 22.2 sec
120 mph: 44.3 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 9.0 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 9.3 sec
Top Speed: 128 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 189 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.80 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 22 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 21/26 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
Source: Reviews - aranddriver.com