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.
2001 Mazda 626 interiorEnlarge Photo
2001 Mazda 626
Another 626 competitor, the Mitsubishi Galant, offers no stick-shift option with its optional V-6 engine; ditto the recently introduced Saturn L-Series. Ford's Contour V-6/five-speed was probably the closest thing to the 626, but it has been discontinued due to sluggish sales.
Prices for the 626 begin at $18,735 for the base LX model and run to $22,935 for the loaded-up ES V-6. The LX's standard four-cylinder, 125-hp engine can be upgraded to the 2.5 V-6 for $1200 above the cost of the base car. It is worth the extra cost and highly recommended.
Needful stuff that is pretty much impossible to live without these days, such as air conditioning, rear window defroster, a decent radio with a CD (single disc) changer, cruise control, etc., are included in the base price of the LX. If you order the LX V-6 package, you get better brakes (four-wheel-discs) and HR (130-mph) speed rated tires. The luxury-oriented ES (four-cylinder version) gets a standard automatic transmission, leather seats and trim, plus a wood-trimmed steering wheel.
The ES V-6 is the sportiest version of the 626 and adds more aggressive 16-inch rims shod with 55-series tires. A sunroof and heated outside mirrors are also included; these can be ordered, by the way, as part of a separate option package on the other 626 models for an additional $1300. You can order ABS, side airbags and a few other items separately.
Don't overlook the 626, even if Mazda seems like it wants you to.
2001 Mazda 626
Base price range: $18,735-$22,935
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 125 hp, or 2.5-liter V-6, 170 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 105.1 in
Length: 187.4 in
Width: 69.3 in
Height: 55.1 in
Curb weight: 2961 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 26/32 mpg (2.0 w/manual); 22/28 mpg (2.0 w/auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front depowered airbags; ABS optional
Major standard features: air conditioning, AM/FM stereo w/single-disc CD player, power windows, cruise, steering wheel-mounted secondary controls, intermittent wipers
Warranty: Three years/50,000 miles