Let's assume you're a new-car prospect who's ready to step up from a conventional, under-powered and sparsely equipped midsize sedan to a car with more style and performance. Let's further assume that you're reluctant to stray too far from the price range of your current sedan.
Are you being unrealistic? Not necessarily, if you put the 1994 Mazda 626 LX-V6 four-door sedan at the top of your list. Our test vehicle carried an MSRP of $20,745, placing it at the low end of the midsize sedan price range. And for that amount of money, we got a full complement of standard and optional equipment - air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo with cassette player, many power assists, dual air bags and antilock brakes (ABS). Powering this package was a state-of-the-art 2.5l-iter, 24-valve V6.
Before you start scrambling for that down payment, though, you should be aware of some concerns we had about this car's size and overall roominess, in addition to some other minor complaints.
The Mazda 626 LX-V6 is a contemporary-looking, dramatically curved midsize sedan that resembles - but doesn't copy-vehicles such as the Lexus or Chrysler LHS. That said, our impression was that it looked a little too small for a vehicle with a price tag in excess of $20,000.
A rich Hunter Green Metallic covered our test vehicle. If flawless fit-and-finish is a Japanese manufacturing custom, this slippery, aerodynamic sedan was right in line. The front bumper, full-length side moldings and recessed door handles color-matched the body perfectly.
If there was a dominant geometric shape within the 626 LX-V6s styling, it was the ellipse. In front, elliptically shaped headlight/side marker lenses flanked a rather diminutive but complementary grille. The lenses combined with sectioned scoops in the bumper to give this car a slightly racy countenance a nice change from the standard midsize front-end treatment.
The same distinctive half-ellipse, half-teardrop effect was echoed in the full-width taillight assembly in back and in the combination of the gently bubbled roofline and side-window glass. Comparable shapes were even evident in the unusual-looking 15-inch aluminum wheels. Both front and rear fenders sloped dramatically down and away from the raked windshield and rear window, respectively. While the cosmetic affect was unusual and eye-pleasing, it did create one functional flaw: We simply couldn't see the rear fender crowns or trunk lid when we were in reverse. This condition led to a little "parking by sound" before our test driver got the location of the rear fenders in his mind's eye.
From the instrument panel to the door handle recesses, the same smooth styling was echoed throughout the interior of the 626 LX-V6. A graceful dash curvature capped a recessed, well-illuminated instrument cluster that contained easy-to-read speedometer and tachometer dials, analog temperature and fuel gauges, main and trip odometers and a shift position indicator.
The four-spoke steering wheel was comfortable to grasp and contained well-positioned cruise control, head light dimmer and horn buttons. The dashboard housing above the center console had a button-operated air conditioner with a unique automatic swing control that directed the center vents to sweep back and forth over the interior. The same upper console also contained nicely situated dual cupholders, a storage recess for sunglasses and a push-release ashtray.
Controls for the 626 LX-V6's power windows an door locks were conveniently positioned on the driver's armrest and were unusual "lift up" switches in lieu of more common push buttons. They seemed to offer a little more ease and preciseness in opening. However, the power door locking operation required our driver to hold up the door handle and then activate the lock control-a decidedly cumbersome process.
For comfort, support and style, seating in the 626 LX-V6 was uniformly excellent. Solid cloth trim combined with a tweed middle to impart a distinct appearance. The front bucket seats were deeply padded and reclined easily. A design flaw existed between the front buckets, though, where the armrest was positioned too low for comfort. It was considerably lower than the armrests in the doors, forcing drivers who prefer to support both elbows into a starboard list.
Rear seating could accommodate three adult passengers only when absolutely necessary; quite frankly, rear-seat shoulder- and legroom fell short of our standards for a true midsize sedan. However, the rear seatback did fold down to make room for oversized cargo.
Ehe 2.5-liter, 24-valve V6 engine in our 626 LX-V6 produced 118 hp at 5,500 rpm. It wasn't the biggest nor the highest-powered midsize V6 sedan we've tested, but its breath-taking response did come as a pleasant surprise. We took the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph and from 60 to 80 mph in brief, pulse-quickening times and didn't even come close to redlining the tachometer.
The four-speed automatic transmission shifted a little harshly at lower speeds but teamed well with the V6 at higher speeds. When we were going faster, the car shifted gears so quickly that we didn't even bother to put the transmission's manual shifting option into action.
The V6 also featured a hold mode, which helped keep the transmission from shifting into overdrive-giving our driver more control on steep grades and slippery surfaces.
Extreme close-ratio, variable-assist power steering demanded only a quarter-turn of the steering wheel for most of the cornering and maneuvering moves we made. The car's front disc and rear drum ABS performed just as expected, and the four-wheel independent suspension contributed a firm but smooth ride.
The 626 LX-V6 was up to the task in fuel economy as well. The EPA sticker on our test vehicle listed a better-than-respectable rating of 20 city and 26 highway.
In terms of overall performance and price, we have no doubt that the '94 Mazda LX-V6 is an attractive vehicle for serious midsize sedan buyers to consider. Its contemporary styling reflects enough unique touches to enable it to stand out when compared to a uniformly nice-looking class of sedans for 1994.
Know going in, however, that the comparative lack of rear-seat room could be a problem, and that the car's overall size isn't nearly as impressive as that of the competition.
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