For many years, Mazda tried to break into the lucrative executive saloon market. But just like they stuck to the Wankel engine until they ironed out nearly all the issues and won Le Mans with it, Mazda kept knocking on the door of the luxury car market until they cracked it with the Millenia. Having achieved their goal and shown Lexus, Mercedes and Jaguar how we do things in Hiroshima, they then retreated back to mid-size cars. That’s what happened, right?
Not exactly. Sometimes, as with the Roadpacer, the results were utter failure. Other times, as with the Luce, they merely fell a bit short of expectations. After twenty-odd years of near-misses and total duds, Mazda went all out and fielded not one, but two big cars under their new multi-marque strategy. One was the RWD ɛ̃fini MS-9, a.k.a Mazda Sentia / 929; the other was the Eunos 800, known to the rest of world as the Mazda Millenia. Or the Xedos 9. Why do things simply when they can be needlessly complicated?
The Eunos 800 was launched in 1993 in Japan with a choice of a 200hp 2.5 litre V6 or a 220hp 2.3 litre Miller Cycle V6 – the latter being a world first for a car engine. European markets also had a 2-litre V6 available in their Mazda Xedos 9. That smaller engine was not available in the Mazda Millenia as marketed for MY 1995 in North America with slightly detuned V6s.
Mazda euthanized the Eunos marque in 1997, so the JDM car was rebadged as the Mazda Millenia. In 1998, a mild facelift was made and the 160hp 2-litre engine made its way to the Japanese range, enabling the base model Millenia to be sold for under ¥2.5m – a bargain that, alas, did not contribute much to the Millenia’s long-term viability.
I’m not sure what engine this car has, but this looks like a base model – higher-trim Millennias had a little more pizzazz than this. Don’t get me wrong, this looks very typical of a larger late ‘90s Japanese car, but competition from the likes of Toyota, Nissan or Honda in this segment was fierce. Miller Cycle aside, Mazda just didn’t have anything very exclusive to propose.
But this was not the only large saloon Mazda fielded on the JDM in the late ‘90s: the second-generation RWD Sentia (1995-99) was a little larger, especially in rear passenger space, and sported a 3-litre V6. Although it did not really compete with the Eunos 800 / Mazda Millenia, the Sentia did overshadow it by its very existence. But that turned out to be shorter than Mazda expected, and the Sentia was pensioned off to Korea, the graveyard of Japanese carmakers’ delusions of automotive grandeur.
For its part, the Millenia got a final (and rather unfortunate) facelift in 2000, but lost both the 2-litre and the Miller Cycle V6 soon after. Production carried on until August 2003, by which time 230,000 units had been made. That works out to an average of 23,000 per year, which is probably why Mazda didn’t bother with a replacement.
It takes guts to try and conquer a place in the sun at the top of the heap, but it takes brains to know when to throw in the towel. The Millenia was, by all accounts, a very good car. Well built, pleasantly styled, competitively priced. Alas, even on its home market, a Mazda badge just wasn’t convincing to enough people in this segment. Competency doesn’t make a flagship float, but snobbery can sink it.
Curbside Classic: 2000 Mazda Millenia S – Identity Crisis, by Tom Klockau
COAL: 1996 Mazda Millenia – Repo Special, by James Pastor