The Car Connection Mazda 626 Overview
Drawing its heritage back to the Mazda Capella (as the 626 was known in many markets for several decades), or 616 as it was first known in the U.S., as well as the rotary-powered RX-2 that shared its structure, the Mazda 626 truly began its ascent in its third generation. Updated to a suit its era--the mid-1980s--the wedge-like 626 combined efficient and punchy drivetrains with reasonable interior space and good reliability. The fourth-generation Mazda 626, built from 1987-1991, continued the development of the 626 into a mainstream family sedan, gaining power and capability while retaining its fun-to-drive spirit and relative efficiency.
In 1991, the fifth-generation Mazda 626 entered production, bringing with it a rounder, more aerodynamic shape and its first V-6 engine. Produced in the U.S. from 1992 at a facility shared with Ford in Flat Rock, Michigan, the four-cylinder 626 used a Ford-ZF joint-venture automatic tranmission from 1994 through the end of production in 1997. Unfortunately, this transmission was plagued with problems that weren't uncovered until the end of the fifth-generation car. The resulting unreliability marred Mazda's reputation for building reliable cars for some time. The Mazda 626 also provided the basis for the Ford Probe, through its coupe version known as the Mazda MX-6.
The arrival of the sixth-generation 626 in 1997, again built for North America in the Flat Rock plant, once again brought upgrades to the body structure, styling, and equipment set. The North American Mazda 626 was unlike the 626s built for the rest of the world, however, and was available in sedan, hatchback, and wagon versions, though the wagon, likes its predecessors, used a carry-over version of the earlier 626. Larger and heavier than the global 626, the North American version was widely regarded as bland and soft in comparison to its predecessor. Nevertheless, Mazda continued to offer enthusiast-targeted option by offering the available V-6 engine with a manual transmission.
Six generations was enough for the 626, with production ending in 2002 for the U.S. It was succeeded by the much sportier and more successful Mazda6, which is still built today, and in fact just received a complete redesign, winning accolades throughout the world for its styling and performance.