Used 1996 Mazda 626 Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

Chrome is tacked on front and rear, and the hood is raised a bit to give the 626 a more substantial look. ABS is available as a stand alone option on LX and LX-V6 models for the first time (formerly, you had to buy an option package), and side-impact protection meets 1997 standards.

Vehicle overview

Mazda has been bleeding red ink for many years now, mostly due to home market sales woes. However, the company hasn't been igniting sales charts in the U.S. in recent years either, and we have a hard time understanding why. Mazda builds some of the most innovative, unique and fun-to-drive cars money can buy, yet they sit on showroom floors unsold.

Take the 626, for example. In size and price, it competes with a wide range of cars in the U.S. market, but offers more solid engineering and sporting performance than most. It looks good but somewhat bland, with flowing organic lines and an interesting dash layout. The 626, built in Flat Rock, Mich., alongside the Ford Probe (with whom the 626 shares its available V6 engine) and the Mazda MX-6, was the first Japanese-branded sedan to be called a true domestic by government agencies, yet it remains as reliable as a Timex. But it sits, while Camry after Accord after Lumina roll out of neighboring dealerships.

We think things are about to change for Mazda, and the 1996 626 reflects some of the things to come from this automaker. This year, the 626 gets updated styling, highlighted by a new chrome-trimmed grille that gives the sedan a strong family resemblance to the Millenia. The hood has been raised to give the 626 a more substantial appearance, and chrome has been added to the rear as well, in the form of a license surround molding.

Dual airbags, height-adjustable seat belts, and side impact protection that meets 1997 requirements are all standard on the 1996 626. Anti-lock brakes are optional on LX and LX V6 models; they come standard on the ES. The best value is offered by the LX V6, which doesn't top $22,000 when equipped with ABS. Better yet, the Mazda can be equipped with the V6 and a five-speed shifter, unlike comparable models from Honda and Toyota.

We like the 626's unique interior design. Seating is comfortable, and the rear bench is roomy and supportive -- more so than that found in the Nissan Altima. Controls are well placed and highly legible. We're still debating the exterior of the 626. Some like the new chrome and more prominent hood, while others liked this Mazda just as it was; crisp, clean and uncluttered.

Perhaps the tide is turning. We already recommend the 626 to folks who want a reliable, fun-to-drive sedan. With Accord-beating performance, Lumina-beating sophistication and Camry-beating prices, how can you go wrong with the 626?

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.