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 more fun to drive, however. 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.
It's most fun when equipped with the V6 engine. 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 does not measure up to the impressive power of Honda's or Nissan's V6 engines. However, the nimble 626 is considerably lighter than comparably equipped versions of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Mazda's V6 sings with a sporty exhaust note that is pleasing to the ear. It's fun to rev.
Mazda's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rates 125 horsepower at 5500 rpm, and 127 pound-feet at 3000. It delivers good performance and is rated by the EPA at 26 mpg City/32 mpg Highway.
Mazda's five-speed manual transmission offers crisp shifting and makes the 626 feel more like a sports sedan. The optional four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly with minimal hunting between gears on uneven terrain.
Excellent handling and a smooth ride quality are benefits of the 626's highly rigid chassis. 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 vibrations are dampened effectively, while noise is held in check through careful application of sound-deadening insulation. Steering is variable-rate power-assisted rack-and-pinion. This car is very stable at speed.
Four-wheel disc brakes provide the stopping power for the V6 models. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control are available only with an automatic transmission. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in emergency braking maneuvers, while traction control reduces front wheel spin in slippery conditions.