Buy/Drive/Burn: It's 1995 Again, and You're Buying a Sporty Luxury Sedan
In our last Buy/Drive/Burn entry, we traveled to the heady year of 1995 to peruse a trio of alternative luxury cars. One American and two Swedes vied for a place in the fantasy garage. The comments seemed to indicate a desire for more Japanese cars in the running, and commenter JohnTaurus suggested a trio we might discuss.
The year is 1995 (again). The cars are three unsuccessful Japanese luxury sedans that time forgot. Are you feeling… Vigorous?
In advance, a word: In sticking to JohnTaurus’ suggestion, we have to bend the “all same model year” rule. While the Infiniti and the Mazda were available in 1995, the Vigor departed after 1994. So we will assume the Vigor was purchased new in 1995, as a leftover.
Of course I was referring to Acura’s Vigor — one of the more oddball offerings from the cobbled-together early days of the brand. Though a Vigor had been around in the Japanese market since 1981, Honda didn’t see fit to make it available as an Acura until the 1992 model year. In its home market, the Vigor was a luxury Accord trim (as seen above), offered only in four-door hardtop style.
The Acura was available in either LS or premium GS trim and used a 2.5-liter inline-five engine (the only Honda to use the engine in North America). Stiff (or rather, softer and more comfortable) competition from the Lexus ES300 caused Honda to revise the Vigor for 1994, softening the suspension and improving NVH levels. Unimpressed buyers stayed away, and 1994 would be the last year for the Vigor. Its replacement came in 1996 with the more successful TL.
Mazda Millenia S
The Millenia was to be a brand new direction for the Mazda brand. Part of the ill-fated Amati luxury division the company planned to introduce in the North American market, fate intervened via the Japanese asset bubble collapse before the brand was actually launched. The Millenia was ready by 1993, but was not launched in the U.S. until 1995. Because the sedan was supposed to wear a different badge on the grille, the Millenia had more luxury detailing than other Mazda models. Paint quality, materials, and panel gaps were all set to luxury-level standards.
The S trim was top of the line, featuring leather, keyless entry, a moonroof, heated seats, and a 2.3-liter Miller Cycle V6 engine. Without a luxury badge, its main competitor was the Nissan Maxima. Cost cutting began with a facelift in 1997, and another for 2000. The model would be discontinued after the 2002 model year.
An Infiniti rounds out our trio as the only rear-drive vehicle on offer today. Debuting in 1993 as a replacement for the unpopular (and small) M30 coupe, the sedan occupied the slot in the lineup between the compact Primera-based G20, and the full-size V8 Q45. Under hood was the tried-and-true VG30 engine — the very same one shared by Nissan’s 300ZX. A total of 210 horsepower travel to the rear wheels via a four-speed automatic. The luxury interior of wood and premium finishes was conceived with the assistance of car interior designer Poltrona Frau of Italy. Real wood trim, digital climate control, leather, and bronze tinted glass are standard. The sound is Bose, and the front seats are powered.
Particular to the t trim was a rear spoiler, lace alloys (mmm…), and MacPherson strut front suspension. The sloped rear styling, which today might be called “four-door coupe” made the J30 stand out among sedans, and was also one of the reasons it was unsuccessful. Though it was a midsize externally, interior dimensions were compact — the J30 had less space inside than a Nissan Sentra. The J30 was dropped for 1997, replaced in the Infiniti lineup by the front-drive and Maxima-based I30.
Which of these unsuccessful Japanese sedans burns, and which goes home with you?
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Thanks for taking my suggestion, Corey. As I mentioned, this is a hard one for me. In the mid 90s, I fell In Love with the Millennia and J30. I briefly owned a J30, it had transmission issues, as do a lot of them I see on craigslist. I drove a Vigor manual once and loved it, even though it had 328k on it! I find the Mazda extremely interesting, makes me wish Amati would have made it to see the light of day, because if this was their entry model, the flagship would be off the scale. Reliability forces my choices: Buy the Acura, get a GS with a manual. Drive the J30. You can steer it by the throttle in the rain, lol. Very easy to get sideways in, very controlable. Burn the Mazda. One had to go, and this is the least reliable.