Like a secret handshake or supermarket math, not many people know about the 626. It just doesn't come up on their radar screens. Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords these are the cars that automatically pop into people's minds when it comes to mid-sized family cars. But the 626 is worth not overlooking if you are in the market for an imported, mid-sized sedan, especially one that won't bore you into a coma once you're behind the wheel.
Don't be gulled by the soporofic exterior styling. Slide behind the wheel. Hopefully it will be the wheel of a V-6 powered model, with a five-speed manual gearbox. The bantam-sized 2.5-liter V-6 is nice and punchy, eager to rev past 6000 rpm. It may only have 170-hp — not so much these days — but like an undersized tight end, more than makes up for that with lots of heart.
Though hemmed in by four doors and a nominal mission as a grocery getter, the V-6 equipped 626 ES or LX can be a real gear-jammer. Disengage the traction control and spin it to 3500 or so and let out the clutch. The thing scoots! It may not be as quick or as fast in absolute terms as the more powerful Toyota Camry V-6 or Honda Accord, but it's definitely eager and seems to enjoy being driven hard on occasion.
2001 Mazda 626 interiorEnlarge Photo