1998 Mazda 626 Review
Pros & Cons
- Exceptionally fun to drive. Distinctive sports sedan in a sea of look-alike mid-sized four-doors.
- High beltline. Unsettled rear suspension. Rear end looks like a Toyota Avalon. Prices climb quickly.
Edmunds' Expert Review
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 all-new 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. The 626 (built in Flat Rock, Mich.) 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 Altima after Accord after Camry roll out of neighboring dealerships.
We think things are about to change. Ford now owns a controlling interest in Mazda, and they won't stand to see their investment frittered away. The first volley of several new products you'll see hit Mazda showrooms in coming years is the redesigned 626. Larger, more powerful, and with a stiffer structure than ever, the new 626 remains a sensible selection for buyers who like to have a bit of fun carving corners when carpool pals or the kids aren't occupying the rear seat.
The new 626 has a smoother-shifting transmission, a larger fuel tank for extended range, and a new traction control system that comes standard on V6 models. Select from four trim levels: value-leader DX, mid-line LX, uplevel LX V6, or upscale ES. A 125-horsepower four-banger motivates the DX and LX, while higher trims get a 170-horsepower V6 engine. Either motor can be mated to your choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
A CD player is standard on all models except the DX. Other goodies include antilock brakes (optional on LX and standard on V6 models), fade-out interior lighting, and engine-speed sensing rack-and-pinion steering gear.
The new 626 imparts an upscale image but remains a nimble canyon runner at heart. Our favorite is the ES V6 with a five-speed manual. It's the perfect grocery getting/entry-luxury/sports sedan for those who like to drive, but require the talents of a mid-size car for day-to-day living.