A redesign of Mazdas midsize, front-drive, four-door sedan could arrive for the 2003 model year possibly as a larger model and accompanied by a wagon. The 626 has few changes for 2002; it carries on with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 2.5-liter V-6 and comes with either a manual or automatic transmission. Sales of the 626 dropped by 18 percent during 2000.
Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, and the 626 is built at a plant near Detroit that the two companies share. Designed in Japan, the sedan uses Mazda engines, and its front-drive platform also serves as the basis for the compact Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape sport utility vehicles. The 626 was last redesigned for the 1998 model year, when it reached true midsize proportions at that time.
With a wheelbase that stretches to just over 105 inches, the 626 sedan measures 187.4 inches long overall just slightly shorter than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The 626 is 69.3 inches wide and 55.1 inches tall.
Seating five occupants, the 626 has front buckets and a three-place rear bench with a split, folding rear seatback. Cloth upholstery goes into the base LX sedan, but leather is standard in the upscale ES. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, remote keyless entry and a CD player. The security system has an immobilizing feature that activates if the wrong key is used in the ignition.
Under the Hood
Mazdas standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 125 horsepower, and the optional 2.5-liter V-6 develops 165 hp. Both engines drive either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags for the front seats are available in an option group for all models.
The 626 has a mildly sporty nature. It has a comfortable ride but securely hugs the pavement. The tires will squeal if the car is pushed too hard in curves, but otherwise, it behaves nicely on the road. The 626 is easy to drive and has an excellent steering feel.
Whether the 626 is powered by the four-cylinder or V-6 engine, acceleration is livelier with the manual shift, which is no surprise. When this car is equipped with the automatic transmission and four-cylinder power plant, forward motion tends to ease a bit as the gears change. The automatic may occasionally shift with a bit of a lurch, but it functions properly most of the time. Seats are comfortable and supportive, and instruments are excellent. The 626 is an inviting automobile in most respects.
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