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Second-Hand: Mazda 626

There's the Mazda 626, a competitive front-wheel drive model that enjoys a long history in North America and in Europe, where it was the best-selling import in Germany for a time.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

If you’re a regular reader of this and other automotive publications, you’re no doubt familiar with the constant references to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. If the pair were rocket scientists, they would be in Oslo every year sharing a Nobel Prize.

With all the praise heaped upon these two benchmarks, used-car shoppers are forced to pay a king’s ransom even for an older Accord or Camry.

Then there’s the Mazda 626, a competitive front-wheel drive model that enjoys a long history in North America and in Europe, where it was the best-selling import in Germany for a time.

Each successive generation has arrived more refined, although the consensus has been that Mazda plays catchup with the segment leaders, rather than pushing the envelope. Odd for a

company whose sporty cars (RX7, Miata) have managed to rip it open.

Let’s examine the third (1988-1992) and the fourth (1993-1997) generations of this often overlooked sedan.

The third generation marked the beginning of the car’s assembly in Flat Rock, Mich. in a joint venture with Ford.

CONFIGURATION

Like its competition, the 626 came as a four-door sedan and a closely related two-door coupe, badged MX6. A five-door hatchback was also available between 1983 and 1991.

A little smaller than the class-leading Camry, the 626 is accommodating for four adults. Just don’t strain familial relations by shoehorning three in the back the bench is too narrow. The trunk is spacious and well-shaped, though.

The earlier generation was powered by a 110 hp four-cylinder engine exclusively, although a 145 hp turbo version propelled GT variants.

A 2.0 L four-banger continued to motivate the entry and mid-line models in 1993 and later. A new smooth-running 2.5 L V6, providing 164 hp, debuted in the high-line ES model the same

year.

The fact that Mazda offers a five-speed stick with its V6 engine is cause for celebration; few auto makers provide this combination in a family sedan.

ROAD RAVE

The V6-equipped 626 is a sophisticated road rocket that travels from a standstill to 100 km/h in under 7.5 seconds — faster than a Camry V6 and only a couple ticks slower than the high-buck Nissan Maxima.

Strong acceleration is complemented by a reasonably firm suspension which delivers both good skid-pad grip and a comfortable freeway ride over expansion joints, lost sheets of plywood and jettisoned Teletubby dolls.

The 2.0 L four-cylinder version, with only 118 hp on tap, is a little underpowered when mated with the automatic. The third-generation 626 was equipped with a larger 2.2 L four.

OWNERS’ REPORT

Frank Jablonowski purchased his four-cylinder, five-speed DX model new in 1995, to date accumulating 80,000 km problem-free. Other than replacing the original tires early — he disliked them — and machining the front rotors at 52,000 km, the car has not required maintenance beyond the usual oil changes.

“Would I recommend this model to a buyer looking for a good car? You betcha!” he writes.

Ranjie Sookram was among the first to take delivery of the redesigned 1993 model, an automatic four-cylinder, in 1992.

He logged over 90,000 km in two years, again without incident. Sookram was very happy with it, describing the 626 as “mechanically perfect.” Alas, he traded it in for a 4×4.

Having the benefit of two generations (a ’90 and ’93, both four-cylinder manuals) in the family garage, Bryan Smith writes the ’93 is more driver-oriented with its lower-aspect tires and

firmer suspension.

Each of the Smith cars has travelled about 200,000 km, performing admirably. Smith points out the ’90, like many of its brethren, is surprisingly free of rust.

Still, the car is starting to show its age: there’s a nagging alignment problem and a persistent shudder in the drivetrain has been labelled a typical affliction by the dealer.

The ’93 has spent more time on a hoist. The steering rack was replaced, as were the front struts, entire exhaust system, brake rotors, idle control unit, power antenna and tires.

Smith attributes the newer car’s faults to being more optionladen and having a sportier suspension that doesn’t absorb pot holes as well as the ’90 equipped with 70-series rubber.

Smith voices the one long-standing complaint about Mazda: original equipment (OE) parts are costly.

The price of the front brake rotors were “ungodly.” The aforementioned idle control cost more than $750, reports Smith, and the struts were dear, too.

But things are changing at Mazda. Perhaps due to the increasing use of North American-sourced components at the Michigan plant, some parts costs are returning to earth.

Smith noticed an air filter — which used to retail for $40 is now about $20. A dealer quoted $650 for a clutch replacement, which is not out of line.

Smith found his antenna cheaper at the dealer than through an after-market supplier.

And even Mazda dealers now offer aftermarket products such as mufflers, as affordable alternatives.

Does the 626 deserve to run with the big dogs Camry and Accord? Maybe not. Consumer Reports, in its most recent Used Car Buying Guide, characterizes its reliability as “spotty,”

although it acknowledges the 626 is one of the better sedans in its tests.

Still, of the 626 owners we heard from, all were happy to have wrung as many kilometres as they have between major repairs — at an entry fee significantly less than the premium commanded by the top-drawer brands.

WE NEED YOUR FEEDBACK: We would like to know about your ownership experience on the following models. Please note the deadline dates.

Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire, by June 17

Volkswagen Golf/Jetta, by July 22

Send your letters and comments to Second-hand, c/o Wheels section, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto M5E 1E6. Fax 416-865-3996.

Email: toljagic@idirect.com

Mark Toljagic, a freelance Toronto writer, contributes Second-hand once a month.

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