Used 1997 Mazda Millenia Review
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 that sedan to a future of write-ups in "Cars Japan Never Built" books, they decided to sell it as a Mazda. They named 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 overpriced Lexus GS300 on the high end. Since its introduction, prices of the Millenia have steadily risen, while competitors have slashed prices. The Millenia isn't the deal it used to be.
The Millenia is an interesting looking car, though some styling cues can be chalked up as derivative. 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 and L models make do with a 2.5-liter V6 good for 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 interestingly flowing shapes. For 1997, cars with beige interiors get brown dashboards.
Other changes for the new model year include upgraded standard equipment on L and S models. A power passenger seat with eight-way adjustment is included with either trim level, while the L gets 16-inch alloy wheels and a revised final drive ratio for improved off-the-line acceleration. Mazda has revised the center console of all Millenias, improving the cupholder and adding an integrated sunglasses tray and pen holder. A new sound system includes an in-dash CD player, and a rear-window-mounted diversity antenna replaces last year's pole antenna. New colors and Michelin tires for all models round out the changes for 1997.
If only the Millenia had something other than the Miller-cycle engine to distinguish it, like the personality most other Mazdas exhibit and a lower sticker price, we could wholeheartedly recommend it. Unfortunately for Mazda, there are three brand new and very competent players on the field for 1997, and their names are Cadillac Catera, Lexus ES 300, and Mitsubishi Diamante.
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.