What's New for 2002
This year, to get any options on the LX four-cylinder or the ES-V6 model, you must order an automatic transmission. So much for that whole "zoom-zoom" philosophy. The former budget sport sedan, the LX-V6, can't be equipped with any options at all, save a slushbox. And the ES (in V6 format only for the new year) loses standard equipment; the moonroof, cassette player and Bose speakers are part of an optional ES Premium package.
The Mazda 626 has been somewhat of a wallflower these past few years, watching the Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry receive the most attention from people looking to buy a four-door family sedan. Rightly so, since the 626 isn't big enough to appeal to families or sporty enough to appeal to enthusiasts.
The 626 comes in three trim levels: LX, LX-V6 and ES-V6. While by no means visually exciting, the 626 still manages to be an attractive sedan. LX models have 15-inch wheels as standard, and the ES-V6 gets 16-inch wheels. The ES-V6 also comes with leather seating, an eight-way-adjustable driver seat and heated side mirrors.
Mazda prides itself on building cars that are fun to drive. Aiding the 626's cause is a sporty suspension. Equipped with MacPherson struts up front and Mazda's Twin-Trapezoidal Link (TTL) suspension at the rear, the 626 grips confidently on twisty roads, while out on the highway, the suspension manages to soak up nearly every pothole without jolting passengers into instant kidney failure. The 626's steering and braking are also up to the task of providing a more rewarding experience than your average family sedan.
For power, the LX features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing a meager 125 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5-liter V6 puts out 165 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque, far less power than primary competitors. Mazda does offer a manual transmission for both engines, making the 626 one of few family sedans available with a V6 and a stick, but stupidly forces buyers who want options like a moonroof or Bose speakers to order an automatic. So much for that whole "zoom-zoom" philosophy.
Inside, passengers are treated to a clean interior package. It's not exactly luxurious, but most of the controls are positioned for easy reach. Climate controls are easy enough for a four-year-old to use, with two large knobs for fan speed and temperature and two rows of push buttons to control venting, air circulation and air conditioning.
Seating is reasonably accommodating, but front passengers will be disappointed with the lack of lumbar support and headroom. Rear-seat occupants have a better deal, with good headroom and width for two, a set of cupholders, extra storage in the fold-down center armrest and magazine pockets in the back of the front seats.
Next year, a larger, more powerful, dynamically redesigned 626 is expected to debut. So for now, this relatively weak effort is expected to steal buyers who might otherwise be shopping for the perennially hot Honda Accord, the redesigned Toyota Camry and the amazingly competent Nissan Altima. The only way Mazda will be able to do that is to offer heavy incentives. If the deal is something you cannot pass up, the 626 will please the same way butter might when spread on Wonder Bread. But only if you're really hungry.