LAGUNA, California — Many of today’s midsize sedans, whether German, Japanese or American, come with styling that doesn’t entice soccer moms and with performance that doesn’t entertain motorheads. And, with the redesigned 2000 626, Mazda hasn’t broken radically from this trend.
What the Asian automaker has done is create a series that promises with an outcome that could create a better brand. Although it is not poised to change the course of driving history and is unlikely to revolutionize automotive design, the new 626 series takes cues from standard sedan styling and adds a distinctive flavor, spiking midsize practicality with a bit of a performance buzz.
The overall look of the 626, Mazda’s only U.S.-built vehicle, is more elegant and refined than many others in its segment, such as the Ford Taurus, for example. That elegance, while a stylistic advantage, is also countered with a sporty element that breathes life into what could be simply another new offering. The redesigned front end, for instance, is both functional and appealing, with a sharp sloped hood tapering to a front bumper designed for lower air intake.
A low beltline imparts that semimuscular, sporty appearance that has become the norm in this segment, but stretches to a rear section that is somewhat surprising. Slightly raised in the now-typical wedge fashion, the rear of the 626 doesn’t rise too high, and thus keeps the car’s front and rear ends in balance with each other. Chrome accents, including a larger garnish around the license plate, dress up the outside of the new version, as do standard 15-inch steel wheels (15- and 16-inch alloy wheels are also available).
Better under the hood
This remarkable (but not exceptional) shell houses an improved drivetrain with performance designed to impart the spirit of Mazda — demanding that drivers "be moved" behind the wheel. Four models cover all the bases: the LX in-line four and LX V 6 are the entry-level models in terms of options, but the V-6 version creates some flexibility for drivers seeking better performance without all the bells and whistles. The more upscale ES four-cylinder boasts leather and other trimmings, while the top-of-the-line ES V-6 includes the works, with the spicy sauce of V-6 power.