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The Mazda Millenia S, with its unique 210-horsepower Miller-cycle V6 engine, is one of the most interesting cars in the near-luxury class. A crisp-handling sedan that encourages you to go home the long way, it's coupled with the kind of gracious creature comforts that'll make you want to invite the boss along.
And in the matter of value for dollars, the Millenia S must be considered entry-luxury's secret weapon -- especially in 1999. That's because the generously equipped Millenia S, furnished with just about everything you could expect in a deluxe sedan, sells for 15.2 percent less than it did in 1998. Without degrading this car's content in any way, it's been discounted $5,550, to a Filene's Basement price of $31,045.
But with all the luxuries on board, no one will know you bought this sleek, energetic automobile on sale. To the contrary, given the rarity of Mazdas on the road, a Millenia S will set you apart from the everybody's-got-one sedans in valet parking. At a generous discount, you'll be the "interesting stranger" people want to know more about.
The Millenia line consists of just two models: base Millenia and Millenia S.
Like the Millenia S, the base Millenia benefited from a major price reduction. The Millenia's price was reduced by $2,450, to $26,545. But the base model is a hard sell. It comes with a 2.5-liter dohc V6 rated at 170 horsepower. The resulting package is a tepid performer that takes more than 9 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. That's not particularly quick for a proper luxury sedan.
By contrast, the smaller-displacement Miller-cycle engine in the S sprints to 60 mph in the mid 7-second range. At the same time, it achieves an excellent EPA mileage rating of 28 mpg highway/20 mpg city.
This top-of-the-line Mazda's styling is appealing without attracting undue attention to itself. For 1999, its appearance has been freshened with an attractive new grille and new front and rear light assemblies. The result is a shape of nice muscularity. Distinctive character lines at the windowsill and lower cladding assure that the Millenia avoids the excessively melted roundness of earlier Mazda 626s.
Our Millenia S model's sporty look was further enhanced by all-business, low-aspect ratio 215/50 tires mounted on optional chrome 17-inch wheels ($500). These chrome wheels are new for '99, and once you see a Millenia fitted with them, you'll never settle for less.
Other standard Millenia S amenities include a power moonroof, keyless remote entry and leather interior. In the S, an eight-way power passenger seat matches the similar driver's seat standard in both the S and base Millenia. Otherwise, stem to stern, this car's fit and finish is world-class, absolutely as good as it gets.
From first glance to last, the Millenia S interior's appearance is tasteful, distinguished, deluxe. Its ergonomically excellent dashboard and controls, formed of handsomely tapered shapes and trimmed with handsome wood, direct your eye to each function. A large analog tachometer and larger speedometer, complemented by fuel and water temperature gauges, keep you informed. An electric steering-wheel adjuster allows infinite adjustment up and down, tailoring the driving position to you. Less satisfactory is the fact that only the driver-side window has an automatic-down provision and no automatic-up circuitry. Some of the competition has one-upped Mazda here.
The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is mounted on the dash just beyond the driver's right hand. It includes straightforward controls for mode (defrost/up/down), fan strength and a radial knob controlling the climate control's temperature selection. Also provided is an ambient outside temperature readout. The front and rear window defroster buttons are placed immediately next to one another, and at first, these symbols' similarity make you think twice. On the other hand, in frosty conditions you may need both simultaneously anyway.
Traction control, standard in the Millenia S and optional in the base model, can be switched off. That's a useful feature when, for instance, the car is being operated with snow chains. And speaking of winter, our test Millenia S was furnished with the optional 4-Seasons Package ($300). This grouping includes heated front seats, a heavy-duty wiper motor, a large-capacity wiper-fluid tank and two-position wipers. As in numerous cars, the Millenia's standard cruise control is accessed with a main off/on switch.
Front seating in the Millenia is excellent, with good bolstering and lateral support and a fully adequate range of electrical adjustment. The rear seats offer only average space, however, and flimsy-looking cargo netting is affixed to the rear of the front seats, a fashion that has come and gone. A major rear-compartment improvement in the '99, however, is the trunk pass-through feature incorporated in the rear fold-down center armrest. This makes it easy to load a pair of skis or other long items into the car.
The Millenia S's leather upholstery is utterly first-quality, buttery and rich. The center panels of the seat cushions and backs are elegantly gathered to give the interior living-room sumptuousness. The whole is finished in gentle earth tones that are understated without being mud-hut maudlin.
The Millenia S doesn't really come into its own, until its Miller-cycle V6 goes to work. Its unique Miller-cycle engine has been named one the world's "10 Best Engines" by Ward's, an automotive trade journal for the past four years. It uses a Lysholm compressor -- a scroll-type supercharger -- to boost intake pressure along with late intake-valve closing to produce an impressive amount of power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. This system allows this 2.3-liter engine to perform like a 3.3-liter engine, while still retaining the 2.3-liter engine's economy of operation. The result is a vigorous 210-horsepower with the brawny, quick response of 210 foot-pounds of torque. The package has no downside.
Put into action, this engine makes an authoritative growl. Its torque delivers immediate go-power, yet the front-wheel-drive equipment has been engineered to deliver not a hint of torque-steer even at maximum power. (That's not the case with some of the Millenia's competitors.) The crisp acceleration performance of the Millenia S is thoroughly appropriate to a well-balanced luxury sedan. At the same time, this engine is supremely smooth.
Power is transmitted through an excellent 4-speed automatic. The Millenia ride is also stellar, a splendid combination of genteel smoothness and real athleticism. Helped by the generously wide tires, this sedan's high cornering limits are better than most of its entry-luxury competitors. Body roll is mild and well controlled.
The rack-and-pinion steering transmits excellent road feel, combined with rock-solid on-center feel. All in all, the suspension doesn't disturb you overmuch with news of the road's roughness, telling you only what you need to know. Sound deadening is also very good, on a par with the competition. Braking is adequate, although some others in the class demonstrate shorter stopping distances.
The Millenia S is an elegant example of affordable luxury. It offers a broad range of attractive attributes, and its assembly is uncommonly fine, on a par with the very best. Its pleasingly contemporary appearance is representative of the best in Japanese design with just a dash of hunkered-down aggressiveness to set it apart.
Inside, the Millenia S delivers comfort and ergonomic competence of a high order. The materials used, from the elegance of the S model's leather upholstery to the tactile solidity of the switchgear, confirm that this car is worth its purchase price.
But what truly sets the Millenia S apart is its award-winning Miller-cycle engine. A paragon of resource-friendly fuel efficiency, it seems to do the impossible, using a small 2.3-liter engine's fuel appetite to deliver a much larger engine's responsiveness and excitement.
The Millenia S is a complete luxury automobile, and given its hotly competitive new price, it's no wonder sales have begun to climb steeply. So if you're in the market for luxury sedan and want to spend your money wisely, then sneak down to your local Mazda dealership. Just don't tell anyone our secret.
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