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Car reviews - Mazda - Millenia - sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Ride and handling, stereo, instrument display
Room for improvement
Rear seat space, driver comfort

27 Jul 2001

SOME four years after Mazda prised the Eunos logos off its luxury sedan and swapped them for its own, the Japanese manufacturer has finally killed-off the nameplate with the facelifted version of the old "800".

Despite no more than a trickle of sales for several years, Mazda has - for the time being at least - vowed to continue to offer its prestige saloon, now with the American (and timely) "Millenia" title, as an alternative to rivals from Lexus and Europe and as a showcase for some interesting, if unorthodox, technology.

With pricing capped at about $70,000, Mazda is banking on prestige buyers revisiting the marque as a result of the upgrade, which includes cosmetic and interior enhancements and a number of mechanical refinements targeting transmission shift quality, steering and brakes in particular.

The 2.3-litre supercharged V6, which uses a unique Miller combustion cycle, remains unchanged.

Not only have all references to Eunos in name disappeared off the beautiful, sublime small sedan, the distinctive front end now adopts the Mazda corporate grille between two sets of integrated lamp clusters.

The rest is typical facelift fodder such as revised wheels - 16-inchers are now standard and feature a new five-spoke design - bumpers and bonnet.

All the trappings befitting a prestige car are included in the named price: leather upholstery (now on the steering wheel and in a lighter shade throughout to give the cabin an airy feel), full electrics, climate control air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes, traction control, cruise control, remote locking with alarm, front foglamps, sunroof and a smattering of chrome and woodgrain throughout the interior.

The airbag count is down on European rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C Class, topping out at two each (front and side) for the driver and front passenger. The centre-rear seating position also goes without a three-point belt and a head restraint.

On the whole, the Millenia is unable to match the flattering interior presentation and number of creature comforts created by its European competitors.

There are some superb aspects, including a powerful, aural nine-speaker, six-CD Bose stereo and an illuminated instrument panel that offers great vision of the essential gauges and dials in all light conditions.

But there are anomalies, too, such as a steering column that adjusts for reach but not height. Tall drivers in particular will not appreciate having the top portion of the speedometer obscured, despite seat height adjustment.

Other items we might have anticipated, but never found, were stereo controls on the steering wheel, a trip computer, the option of satellite navigation and the now fashionable Tiptronic-style gear selection.

The Millenia does well with what it's got. The seats are comfortable if lacking a little in support, storage areas are in abundance and while some might consider the climate switchgear more MPV than sheer luxury, you won't find a harsh word against the use of oversized lettering and user-friendly controls from these quarters,

The lack of room in the rear and, to a lesser extent, the boot, is a reminder that the Mazda flagship is no stretch limo. While bigger in all external dimensions than the 626, on the inside the Millenia has less rear headroom and legroom. Indeed, it has less than the 323 Protégé.

Essentially, the Millenia will fit two small-medium adults in great comfort larger sizes are not well accommodated.

While the specifications sheet also finds it guilty of offering much less luggage capacity than 626 and about the same as the 323, the Millenia has an excellent wide boot opening and a deep cargo area that will swallow plenty of gear and which has found room for a full-size alloy spare.

Boot hinges and the rear suspension both eat into the available space, however there's a skiport (no split-fold) to assist with the impulse buy at the local antique shop.

Perhaps where the Millenia impresses most is on the road. Improvements to the fully independent suspension, four-wheel steering system and body rigidity, along with a bigger 16-inch wheel and tyre combination, have turned the car into the most involving drive to date from a non-SP "800".

There's an excellent response to input from the steering and no inclination to kickback through to the tiller, loads of grip, good balance and a ride that's firm but never threatening to be harsh. Refinement? It's there in spades.

The 2.3-litre V6, which produces 149kW at 5500rpm and 282Nm at 4000rpm, is a beauty. The combined result from the supercharger and Miller combustion cycle (in simple terms, the latter shortens the engine's compression stroke) is extremely good performance from a relatively small capacity engine and high fuel efficiency.

The engine is smooth, purposeful and quiet, and might have been rated outstanding rather than keen were it not required to lug more than its fair share of kilos (kerb weight is 1615kg). And it is not always well supported by the standard four-speed automatic transmission that will at times hunt for the optimum gear.

Fuel economy is first-rate, though when Millenia drinks, premium unleaded is called for.

There is no evidence of torque steer as power escapes through the front wheels under heavy acceleration while at the other side of the speedo arc, the driver will appreciate brakes that are up to the task of pulling the car up quickly and with stability.

Mazda's luxury sedan need not be a museum exhibit behind the big glass showroom walls. Get over the lack of European prestige, rear accommodation and a few (albeit important) items of equipment, and you might just find the answer you were looking for - if you had not already found it in a Lexus.

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