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The Mazda 626 was a family car produced by Mazda for the export market. It is based on the Japan-market Mazda Capella. The 626 replaced the 616/618 and RX-2 in 1979 and was sold through 2002, when the new Mazda6 took over as Mazda's family car. 4,345,279 626 and Ford Telstar models were sold worldwide.
The 626 was also sold as the Ford Telstar in Asia, Australasia and Southern Africa, but this has been replaced by the European-sourced Ford Mondeo.
The 1971 616 and 1972 618 had been modest successes in the United States, each lasting just a single year. By 1980, the American public was ready for a midsize piston-engined Mazda, and the 626 has been a top seller for the marque ever since.
The first Mazda 626 appeared in most markets in 1979. It was a rear wheel drive compact, little changed from the Japan-market Mazda Capella it was based on. With a 80 hp (60 kW) 2.0 L SOHC straight-4 F/MA engine, it performed well, with both Consumer Guide and Car and Driver magazines comparing it with a BMW. One innovative feature was a split-folding rear seat, which increased cargo capacity and flexibility tremendously. This first 626 was a hit, doubling Mazda's US sales.
The 626, like the Capella, used MacPherson struts in front with a four-link solid axle with coil springs in back. Five-speed manual and three-speed automatic transmission versions were produced, but the recirculating ball steering was something of a throwback in the class. The twin barrel-carb engine was down to 75 hp (56 kW) in 1980, and a wide grille was introduced for 1981.
The front-wheel drive model appeared in 1983 with the GC platform. It was named Import Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine and Car of the Year by Wheels magazine for 1983. The new 2.0 L FE engine was up to 83 hp (62 kW). The rear suspension was now independent, and though the wheelbase remained the same as the previous model, it was an entirely different car.
A 626 GT' (also called the Turbo) was introduced in 1986 using the 120 hp (89 kW) and 150 ft·lbf (203 N·m) FET engine. The rest of the line got a new front clip with dual (rather than quad) headlights and an entirely new interior, and fuel injection on the base engine meant 93 hp (69 kW). A new four-speed automatic was introduced for 1987, the last year of this series.
The 626 was updated for 1988 on the GD platform, also used by the previous-year Capella. It was available as a sedan and 5-door hatchback while the coupe was renamed MX-6. The MX-6 was built in Michigan alongside its platform-mate, the Ford Probe at AutoAlliance International, while the 626 was still a Japanese import.
Consumer response was strong, and Car and Driver magazine named the 626 and MX-6 in their Ten Best list for 1988.
Engines were new and more powerful. The base model now used Mazda's 2.2 L 3-valve SOHC F2 producing just 6 hp (4.5 kW) shy of the old Turbo, and the new Turbo was up to 145 hp (108 kW), which some suspected was an extreme case of underrating.
4-wheel-steering was introduced to the 626 Turbo in 1988 (to mixed reviews) and was transferred to the MX-6 Turbo a year later. It was not very successful and died after 1990, never to be seen on a Mazda again. Mazda's system was electronic and more complex than the 4WS system introduced by Honda on the 1988 Prelude; these two marked the first 4WS systems for the American market.
The 626 line was facelifted for 1990, and the hatchback disappeared after 1991 (in the United States).
UK trim levels were LX (1.8-litre), GLX (1.8/2.0) and GT (2.0/2.2). There was also a 2.0i estate model.
In 1993 the Mazda 626 saw big changes in body style and powerplants since the 626 moved to an entirely different platform. It was now based on the GE platform along with Mazda's more upmarket Cronos. The 626 was again Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for a second time in 1992. The very first 1993 Mazda 626 was assembled in Flat Rock, Michigan on September 1, 1992. The car was known as the 626 Cronos in Canada, but dropped the Cronos for the 1996 model year.
Changes like new transmissions were designed to give the car more of a "sports car" feel, and production was moved to AutoAlliance along the MX-6 and Ford Probe. This, and the car's component sources, allowed the 626 to be certified as the first official Japanese-branded domestic car. The wagon and hatchback models were dropped for the US market but retained elsewhere alongside the sedan.
Mazda's 2.5 L V6 engine (enlarged from the 1.8 L V6 on the 1992 MX-3) debuted to rave reviews. Though the manual transmission was highly regarded, 626s were still saddled with an easily confused automatic transmission. Used-car shoppers should especially beware of 4-cylinder 626s from 1994 through 1997, which have extremely repair-prone Ford automatics.
A passenger's-side airbag was added for 1994, and the V6 spread to the LX trim in addition to the ES. A chrome grille surround was new for 1996, but disappeared on lower-level models for 1997.
1998 brought the fifth-generation 626, now on the GF platform, again built by AutoAlliance International in Flat Rock, Michigan. Its MX-6 and Ford Probe derivations were gone.
From 1997 through 1999 the 626 was given an engine overhaul to give it better pedal feel. However, as most car reviews will attest, it was a bland vehicle with softer handling and fewer features than the 1993 - 1997 version. Front side airbags were new for 2000, as were larger wheels, four wheel discs (except on the LX), and rear heat ducts. The four cylinder engine was also uprated by 5 hp (3.7 kW).
The final Mazda 626 rolled off the Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant on August 30, 2002.
The 626/Capella was replaced with the GG platform Mazda6 (called the Atenza in Japan) in 2002. The Mazda6 is now sold across the world in 3 different body styles: sedan, 5 door hatchback and wagon. World sales have been good for the 6 despite a slower take off in North America.
Few would disagree that this is a vast improvement over the 626 in terms of interior room, styling, or powertrains. Mazda's new 4-cylinder is a much-improved 2.3 L 4 with 160 hp (119 kW); the V6 is a 3.0 L, 220 hp unit based on Ford's Duratec engine block, but with completely reworked cylinders and valvetrain components. Mazda was the last of the Japanese to increase its entry to "midsize" status; the 6 is still the smallest (and most agile) of the bunch. Wagon and 5-door hatchbacks were added for 2004. The Mazda 6 will serve as the basis for the 2006 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr.
The first Mazda6 rolled off the Flat Rock, Michigan assembly line on October 1, 2002, one month after production of the 626 ended.