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If there is exclusivity in anonymity, then the Mazda Millenia is one of the most exclusive luxury cars in the world. Perhaps it's because Mazda, unlike Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus or Nissan/Infiniti, never created a separate brand channel for its premium product, in spite of its attempts to do so. The Millenia's styling hasn't helped either; it's sleek and clean and attractive but not particularly distinctive. Whatever the reasons, the Mazda Millenia has slipped under the radar of most luxury and near-luxury-car buyers.
And that just shouldn't be, because this is a great luxury sedan that offers good value as well. The Millenia S, particularly, with its supercharged 210-horsepower Miller-cycle V6 engine, remains one of the most interesting cars in the near-luxury class. A crisp-handling sedan that encourages you to take the long way home, it offers the kind of gracious creature comforts that'll make you want to skip home altogether for a road-trip adventure instead. Originally planned to be launched as a premium-brand product, the Millenia is superbly engineered and is built at one of the world's highest quality assembly plants.
Stepping out for the beginning of the new millennium, the Millenia sports fresh new styling up front for 2001.
The base Millenia's 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter dohc V6 is a tepid performer. It takes more than 9 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, which is not quick for a proper luxury sedan.
By contrast, the smaller-displacement Miller-cycle engine in the S sprints to 60 mph about 7.5 seconds. Yet it achieves a slightly better EPA mileage rating of 20/28 mpg city/highway.
Mazda's unique Miller-cycle engine has been named one the world's "10 Best Engines" for the last four years by Ward's, an automotive trade journal. 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 pound-feet of torque. Beyond the $3,000 it adds to the Millenia's initial purchase price, the Miller-cycle package has no downside.
Put into action, the Miller-cycle engine makes an authoritative growl. Its torque delivers immediate go-power, yet the front-wheel-drive equipment has been engineered to eliminate torque steer even at maximum thrust. And that's not the case with some of the Millenia's competitors. (Torque steer is a tugging of the steering wheel that occurs in powerful front-wheel-drive cars.) The crisp acceleration 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 four-speed automatic transmission.
The Millenia ride is stellar, a splendid combination of genteel smoothness and real athleticism. Helped by the generously wide tires, the Mazda tops most of its entry-luxury competitors with high cornering limits. 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, but tells you what you need to know. Sound deadening, already on par with the competition, has been improved for 2001.
Four wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard. (ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in a panic braking situation.) Braking is adequate, although some other cars in this class stop in shorter distances.
The Mazda Millenia is an elegant example of affordable luxury. It offers a broad range of attractive attributes, and its assembly is uncommonly fine, on par with the very best. It has an almost timeless appearance, 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 leather upholstery to the tactile solidity of the switchgear, confirm that this car is worth its purchase price.
But what truly sets the Millenia 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.
Given its hotly competitive price, it is no wonder that sales of the Millenia 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 and buy a Millenia, anonymously.
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