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Mazda's 626 is a sporty alternative to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. V6-powered Mazda 626 models cost less than the hot Nissan Maxima, while four-cylinder 626s compare well with the Nissan Altima. So consider Mazda when shopping for mid-size import. Be different.
Extensively redesigned last year, the Mazda 626 is an attractive sedan, though, like the Camry and Accord, won't attract a lot of attention. More important, it comes with a much stiffer body structure than pre-2000 models, so it rides, handles, and stops better than ever. Its stiff chassis and well-tuned suspension give it a sure-footed feel that'll encourage you to press down the accelerator pedal as you exit a tight corner. And when you do, you'll appreciate the power Mazda engineers have coaxed out of the optional V6 engine. In short, the 626 is more fun to drive than most of the mid-size competition.
Further refinements for 2001 include a new, modular audio system. Like all Mazda products, the 626 comes with three years of free roadside assistance and slightly longer warranty coverage (to 50,000 miles); Mazda says its dealers will even provide a free loaner when and if your 626 requires warranty repairs.
There are several reasons why the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord dominate the market, but chief among them are their smooth ride, quiet operation, and solid-gold reputation for reliability. As transportation appliances, they are the leaders.
The Mazda 626 is a lot more fun to drive. This car has a personality. It provides excellent communication between the driver and the road. It steers so precisely, so exactly where you want it to go, that each corner on the route home becomes a stimulating experience.
Downshift into a lower gear, and the V6 growls to life. Smooth and gutsy, it produces 165 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque. That doesn't quite measure up to Honda's superb VTEC V6, which delivers a full 200 horsepower, but the 626 should have no trouble keeping up. More importantly, the 626 delivers a sporty exhaust note that is pleasing to the ear; making it fun to rev.
Mazda's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rates 125 horsepower at 5500 rpm, and 127 pound-feet at 3000. It provides good performance and is rated by the EPA at 26 mpg City/32 mpg Highway.
Completing the performance picture is Mazda's crisp-shifting five-speed manual transmission. The four-speed automatic transmission also shifts smoothly, with minimal hunting between gears on uneven terrain.
The highly rigid chassis of the 626 provides a stable platform for excellent handling and smooth ride quality. The suspension employs MacPherson struts up front and Mazda's twin-trapezoidal links in the rear, plus big stabilizer bars at both ends. Potholes and road vibration are dampened well, while noise is held in check through careful application of sound deadening insulation. Steering is variable-rate power-assisted rack-and-pinion. On V6 models, four-wheel disc brakes are complemented with optional ABS and traction control. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in emergency braking maneuvers, while traction control reduces front wheel spin in slippery conditions.
The Mazda 626 is handsome and roomy. It offers taut, precise handling. And it's quick when fitted with the V6 engine. No matter which model you choose, you'll find plenty of desirable standard equipment, and the price tag makes this mid-size sedan more than competitive.
Because it has fewer dealers and a smaller advertising budget than Honda and Toyota, Mazda doesn't always find its way onto the shopping lists of busy consumers. But if you want a practical mid-size sedan that's also fun to drive, you can't afford to overlook the Mazda 626.