What's New for 1999
Revised front- and rear-end styling, plus an optional two-tone color scheme, separate the '99 Millenia from past models.
By 1990, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all had luxury divisions that offered superbly engineered cars at prices that rivaled American and European brands. Mazda was a bit slow to react, but soon had its own luxury channel planned. To be called Amati, Mazda began developing two sedans to sell through the division when it debuted in the mid-Nineties.
The rising yen and softening sales in the luxury car segment made it clear to Mazda that Amati would be nothing more than a money pit. The project was canceled, but one of the sedans in development was nearly ready for production. Rather than consign the vehicle to a future write-up in one of those "Cars Japan Never Built" books, Mazda decided to sell it with the Mazda name. They called it Millenia and priced it, in base trim, to compete with entry-level BMWs, the Nissan Maxima and even top-of-the-line Toyota Camrys.
Times have changed. The Millenia now competes on a fiercely scarred near-luxury battleground bordered by the excellent Audi A4 on the low end and the BMW 328i on the high end. Since its introduction, prices of the Millenia have steadily risen, while competitors have slashed prices. Mazda reduced the Millenia's price for '99 but the top-of-the-line S model still costs over $31,000.
The Millenia is an interesting looking car with a freshened front and rear for '99. The S version is powered by the only Miller-cycle engine in production, a 2.3-liter unit equipped with a supercharger and good for 210 horsepower. Base models make do with a 2.5-liter V6 capable of 170 horsepower, which simply isn't enough in this class. The interior is quite distinctive, in the Mazda tradition of providing excellent controls wrapped in creatively flowing shapes.
If only the Millenia had something more distinctive to offer than a Miller-cycle engine, we could wholeheartedly recommend it. Unfortunately for Mazda, there is one new and competent player on the field, and its name is the Acura TL.