Classic CARmentary: 1999 Mazda 626LX V6

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

For those of you either too young or not in the U.S., Eight is Enough was a popular television show (based on the autobiographical book by columnist Thomas Braden) about a couple with eight children that ran from 1977 to 1981.  I use that reference in the opening paragraph to demonstrate that the 626 was about as old as the Accord and several years older than the Camry.  Like the Toyota Corona it competed against, the 626 was rear-wheel drive, but went front-wheel drive the same year the Camry replaced the Corona (1983).  While in my opinion the 626 was much better looking than the Accord or Camry – my parents even considered buying one – sales lagged the two stalwarts, and it’s been that way ever since.  No matter how good the 626/Mazda6, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Although I mention it was during the final season of the show, a little research showed it was actually the season 4 premier episode.  This makes more sense because, airing in September, 1979, it was the height of the second gas crisis and Tom was trading in his gas-guzzling circa-1977 Cougar sedan for something more efficient.  By the way, at the end of that same episode, Tom also traded in the family Town & Country for a Pinto Squire.  Man I’m old.

The following review was originally posted on December 28, 1998.

The Mazda 626 has been around a long time. Consider this: Tom Bradford bought one during the last season of Eight is Enough. Yet, it’s only a minor player in the mid-size wars. Pity, as it’s as good as the two benchmarks: Camry and Accord.

Part of the blame can be placed on Mazda itself. The 626 was redesigned for 1998. Despite being longer and roomier than the model it replaces, it’s also nearly indistinguishable. The best way to tell you’re looking at a new 626 is from the rear, where narrower tail lamps and a small trunk lip make it appear more muscular. Around front, the headlamps are taller and angled slightly. As before, the 626 is available in base DX, luxury LX, and sporty ES configurations.

The interior is generic Japanese, which also means that you can get inside and drive it without reading the manual. The gauges are clear, and all of the controls are arranged logically (with trick swinging middle vents). The climate control and stereo should be commended for their simplicity. The front seats are comfortable, and although you sit lower in the 626 than in other sedans, the optional six-way power seat can easily remedy that. Thanks to a 2.4 inch longer wheelbase, rear passengers have more legroom. Cargo volume is up 0.4 cubic feet to a respectable 14.2.

More excitement can be found under the hood. Our LX had the optional 170 horsepower, 2.5 liter V6 connected to a five-speed manual transmission, a combination not available on the Accord and some Camry models. The V6 is wonderfully smooth and a nice change from the bucking and constant shifting that is characteristic of five speed/four cylinder combinations. With the fat 60-series tires and optional traction control, you can play sports sedan even if you don’t look the part. For the less enthusiastic, a four-speed automatic is optional.

The 626 isn’t any cheaper than the Camry and Accord, nor is it any better. But it is just as good, and as Toyota and Honda each sell more than four of theirs to one 626, you won’t see yourself coming and going.

For more information contact 1-800-639-1000


Type:Four-door Sedan
Engine:170-horsepower, 2.5 liter V6
Transmission:Five-speed Manual
EPA Mileage:21 city/27 highway
Tested Price:$22,310