Accent on driver convenience
Having been favourably impressed by the Escort-sized Mazda 323 saloon, it was interesting to be allowed to make an early appraisal of the new Mazda 626, especially as this came to us in 2-litre top-model GLX two-door coupé form — a smart car in light Air Force blue that I hoped would not cause adverse attention from “Kamikazi pilots”. Unlike the old Mazda 626, this is a transverse-engined front-drive car, with all-round coil-spring independent suspension. Possibly intended to be a Capri-challenger, it has a pleasant 5-speed gearbox with the highest ratio ahead of the reverse location, and is full of typically Japanese driver-and-passenger conveniences, if you take my meaning; I could have done without the “ice-cream vendor” bell that rang if you hadn’t quite closed a door, although turning the ignition-key kills this . . . Surprisingly, there were no seat-belt reminders.
The Mazda 626 is a commodious car even in coupé guise, with lots of rear-seat space. The seats are comfortable, access to the rear being easily gained after a lever has been operated to tilt the front-seat squabs forward, a “memory lever” ensuring that afterwards the driver’s squab returns to the required rake.
The minor controls are in the form of hinged-flaps or switches, on pods one each side of the instrument-binnacle, those on the right looking after hazard-warning, lights, and the rear-window heater, the matching switches on the left the three very effective wiper / washer permutations. I call these hinged-flaps because, to cancel a service, you flick them upwards — it was very convenient, once one became accustomed to switches instead of stalks controlling the windscreen cleaning, etc. Being Japanese, the action is good. One stalk control only is used, on the right of the steering-column, for the turn-indicators and dipper and flasher. I prefer a right-hand control for this purpose but it is unnatural now that most cars have the European l.h. system.
The main instruments are a 120 m.p.h. speedometer, with k.p.h. markings and decimals for the six figure total and trip mileometers, and an 8,000 r.p.m. tachometer red-zoned from 6,250 r.p.m. These are supplemented by a steady-reading fuel-gauge and a heat-gauge, actually located one above the other. A fuel-level warning-light comes on with some two gallons in the 13.2 gallon tank. Below these dials is a row of a dozen or more warning-lights. The horn-push is the pad in the centre of the 14½” dia. steering-wheel. There are push-buttons to start and stop the four-speed heater-fan, and the heater is effective but tended to smell stuffy; the two slide-controls for heating and ventilation have the expected symbol-markings, and feed via adjustable vents. Further conveniences are the buttons down by the floor with which the driver can open the normally-key-locked high-cill boot and the petrol-filler flap, and there is central (power) locking for the two wide doors.
Apart from the door-open warning chimes, there is a chime if the ignition-key (which suffices for all services) is left in or one of nine other emergencies (in the Oriental mind) have occurred.
Two other unusual aspects must be mentioned. The first of these is two economy lights, which remind one that the accelerator is too far depressed, or that a higher gear is required, for maximum petrol thrift. The other is a press-button control on the fascia which stiffens-up the front suspension-dampers electronically, to a “Sport” setting from a softer “Normal” setting, or if put to “Auto”, the front damper setting will remain soft up to about 50 m.p.h., then go to the harder damping, returning to the boulevard or town ride from around 38 m.p.h. It reminded me of the over-ride for the back shock-absorbers on the older Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. I tried to determine how well this all worked, along the appropriately winding road between Cross Gates and Newtown in Wales. But, as with those Derby-cars, I was not over-convinced, apart from the comfort angle, and the test schedule was not long enough to use a skid-pan or a steering-pad for further evaluation, nor was the promised new Motor Sport fifth-wheel available for taking performance figures for this interesting new Mazda. However, it can be described as a car with an excellent stride, comfortable, spacious, and possessed of not only the electronic delights described earlier but a good electric sunroof, which was buffet-free unless in a strong cross-wind, lumbar-support and cushion-heater to go with the usual seat-amenities, and ingenious electric window-lifts which, from rocker-buttons on the console, will either rush open or shut or can be stopped as required.
No catalogue was supplied with the test-car so I cannot say which of the former special items are extras or standard equipment. But most definitely Mazda customers are assured of all or most of the Japanese-devised creature-comforts. It was, therefore, somewhat surprising to find a manual choke, which the engine needed for a few yards from cold, and manual adjustment for the two exterior rear-view mirrors. However, instrument-panel lighting-intensity is adjustable, there is a digital clock (which was obscured by the gear-lever when driving with the seat fairly far forward), and if the wide screen-cill shelf is shallow-lipped, the big cubby beneath it is lockable, there are other useful stowages, and also door pockets, these somewhat obscured by the door “pulls”. A roof-grab for the front-seat passenger is provided, and the openable back compartment side windows can be operated electrically, from front or rear. There is a roof lamp supplemented by two screen-cill interior lamps.
I have not driven a Ford Capri recently enough to compare with this new 2-litre Mazda 626. But I would think the Capri has crisper handling and more performance, perhaps at the expense of the Mazda coupé’s family-car quietness and good ride. However, after experimenting with the hard damper-setting I began to think the Mazda’s handling might not be all that far behind — one can imagine small Jap fingers pressing the “Sport” button when the map indicates twisting terrain ahead. For a front-drive car of this power there is little difference in control from a rear-drive vehicle, except that the rack-and-pinion steering (3¾ turns, lock-to-lock) pulled very slightly under acceleration, if enough power was used, when wheel-spin can be promoted. The test car had manual steering, heavy for parking or on the tighter slow turns, but otherwise satisfactory, with willing castor-return, apart from some mild steering-wheel kick, as if the front wheels might be improved by re-balancing. There is a trace only of understeer.
The disc / drum braking system is in keeping with the Mazda’s sporting performance, which was such that I was just able to keep ahead of a vintage Bentley on the journey home from VSCC Silverstone to near Stratford-on-Avon! But it was a quick Bentley, conducted by a crash-hatted driver.
The Mazda’s gear-ratios are 3.307, 1.833, 1.233, 0.970 and 0.795 to 1, reverse being 3.133 to 1. Fifth gear equals 3,200 r.p.m. at an indicated 70 m.p.h. The test-car was shod with Japanese Dunlop SP Steelexcel 185-70 HR14 radial tyres on wheels with plain nave-plates, more acceptable, to my eye, than the “hot-cross-buns” on some recent sporting English and Continental models. There is some “fail-safe” on the brake-vacuum when the engine is off. The new Mazda has a wheelbase of 8′ 2.8″. The heavy bonnet lid has to be propped open, when dip-stick, fillers, and the GS battery are immediately accessible. The test-car had mud-flaps behind each wheel, adjustable steering-column, front and rear seat-belts, and even straps for the luggage in the roomy boot which has the spare wheel and jack, etc., under the carpeted floor. The steering wheel is fairly large but thin-rimmed, with thumb grips. The body is sleek and smartly lined, with side rubbing strips, and the Stanley headlamps gave excellent illumination, on dip and full beam. Oh, and did I mention the courtesy-illumination of the key-hole in the driver’s door?
As I have tried to imply, the new 2.0 GLX Mazda is a convenient car, normally quiet-running, although a rattle developed an the region of the fascia. It should appeal especially, I imagine, to those who love Oriental electronics. In average usage it gave a creditable 31.2 m.p.g. of 4-star and this newcomer to the Toyo Kogyo range costs £6,699. — W.B.