By on February 22, 2022

Today we complete our Rare Rides Icons coverage of the mass market, midsize, mid-Eighties Japanese sedan. We’ve covered the V20 Camry, the CA Accord, and most recently the PU11 Maxima. Now we take a look at the alternative to all those, the Mazda 626.

Mazda’s 626 was known as Capella in its home market and was a new larger (but compact) entry into Mazda’s lineup in 1970. In its first generation, Capella fit into Mazda’s showrooms between the smaller Familia (later a 323), and the larger and more luxurious Luce (later a 929). Export versions of this rear-drive car were called 616, or in the North American market, 618. The 618 was a relative blip on the radar though, as Mazda was still new to the American market. Mazda Motor of America wasn’t established until 1971.

In its second (CB) generation in 1978, Mazda consolidated the Capella’s branding and started to make it larger. Capella was called 626 in all export markets apart from the UK, which used the name Montrose. The CB 626 continued to establish Mazda as a provider of mainstream family cars, and Mazda shipped it to North America in 1981. By then the CB was about finished, as for the 1983 model year Mazda moved to the third (GC) generation 626.

In its third guise, the 626 moved to front-drive, and Ford started to display some say in Mazda’s product planning. The 626 was sold as the Ford Telstar in certain markets, and after Mazda was finished with it was turned into the Kia Concord and Capital. Those two were primarily sold in the South Korean market. The GC 626 was particularly successful in Europe, where it won awards for build quality. But Mazda was ready to take the 626 in a new, more international direction. For the 1988 model year in North America (1987 elsewhere), Mazda followed a similar modernization suit to its Japanese competition. It was time for GD.

The new GD was again a transverse, front-drive vehicle. And as before, it was sold as the Ford Telstar in certain markets. Unlike the Maxima which looked similar in its mid-Eighties revision, Mazda made a clean styling break. The GC 626 was very angular, with an upright, almost formal greenhouse that had two windows on either side and a fairly thick C-pillar. It ended in a high rear deck with a rear-end trimmed largely in matte black plastic.

In contrast, the new sedan was notably more rounded, with an overall look that was aerodynamic and modern. Styling was more relaxed on the GD, and side glass adopted the three-window design popularized by the Audi 5000 and Ford Taurus. The extra window slimmed the C-pillar and lent itself to a sleeker look. Said window was useful for the five-door version, which needed more side glass to meet the liftback. The exterior trim was slimmer and more integrated than before, especially at the rear. Gone were the masses of black plastic, replaced by tidy-looking rear brake lamps.

Changes to the interior of the GD 626 mirrored those on the outside, where hard-edged dash shapes were replaced with more organic curves. Controls stayed approximately where they were before. Dials used a more modern orange needle and white font color scheme, instead of the orange on orange of the prior year. With the new 626, Mazda opted for a more traditional window switch layout: In the GC generation, the driver’s window switch was on the driver’s door, while the other three window switches were located in front of the shifter in the console. GD saw them all migrate to the door.

Though it had an all-new look, the 626 stayed about the same size as it was since the early Eighties. The wheelbase grew from 98.8 inches with GC to 101.4 in the GD, as Mazda shrunk overhangs for a more balanced look and more interior room. Length stayed exactly the same on the sedan as the prior generation at 177.8 inches, with the same width of 66.5 inches.

Mazda planned to make big inroads into the family sedan market with its new 626 and expanded the number of production locations. Japanese production took place in Hofu as it had before, as well as in Bogota, Colombia and Bekasi, Indonesia. There were new production locations in Zimbabwe, and in the U.S. at Flat Rock, in Michigan. The Flat Rock plant produced the MX-6 and Ford Probe at this time but did not build the 626 until the ’93 model year.

Previously the 626 was offered as a two-door coupe, with four doors as a sedan, and as a five-door liftback. For the GD generation, Mazda added a station wagon to the 626 lineup, which rode on a slightly edited version of the GD platform called GV. The wagon never made it to North America; 626 was represented only by the four- and five-door variants. In North America and Australia only, the former 626 coupe turned into the MX-6 and was marketed as a separate car.

Mazda offered a wide variety of engines in the GD 626, dependent on the market. At the lower end was a 1.6-liter inline-four, and at the top end was a 2.2-liter turbocharged inline-four. In between, there were six other gasoline engines and two different diesels. Notable among the gasoline engines were 1.8- and 2.0-liter mills with dual overhead cams. Of the diesels, the higher performance 2.0 RFT version used a Comprex supercharger sourced from the Bongo cargo van. Mazda did not offer a six-cylinder powerplant at this time.

All cars were hooked to a four- or five-speed manual, or a four-speed automatic. Mazda’s engines of the era were tuned to provide torque, rather than impressive power figures. Worth a mention, Mazda introduced four-wheel drive in this generation 626. Four-wheel drive was limited to certain trims of the 626 and was never offered on the coupe version. North America was excluded from any four-wheel-drive 626s.

There were three trims of the 626 in North America at its 1988 introduction. On offer were the DX, LX, and Turbo, with additional sub-trims for the Touring (hatchback) and 4WS, or four-wheel steering. The standard engine for the North American market was the largest available on the 626, the 2.2-liter. Also used in the Ford Probe and the B2200 pickup, the engine was good for 110 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque. In Turbo trims, the F2T equipped with an IHI turbocharger and intercooler produced 145 horses and 190 lb-ft of torque.

Key differences between the trims included a step up to more standard equipment in the LX, and the addition of all LX equipment and special polished 15-inch alloys in the Turbo. Pricing was generally competitive with offerings like the V20 Camry, but with Turbo and 4WS eclipsed the Camry V6 LE considerably. The base DX asked $11,258 ($27,356 adj.), and the LX started at $13,158 ($31,973 adj.). LX was the base trim for the five-door Touring, at $13,358 ($32,459 adj.). Turbo sedans were $14,808 ($35,903 adj.), and the Touring Turbo asked $15,008 ($36,469 adj.). Top-tier was the Touring Turbo 4WS, which commanded $18,058 ($43,880 adj.).

The 626 was quickly refreshed for the 1990 model year, where noteworthy changes included the addition of new chrome window trim, a revised grille, and new alloy wheel designs. Shortly thereafter the Hofu plant stopped building the GD 626, as Mazda prepared a new model. The wagon version on the GV platform continued in production for some time, though not by the Japanese plant. Other markets received new GV wagons through late 1997.

In North America, the five-door 626 proved an unpopular choice and was discontinued after 1991. That made for a more limited sedan-only final year of the GD 626 in 1992. The following year brought the new GE generation, which saw the discontinuation of the Capella name. Mazda had a new plan to create luxury brands to rival Lexus and Acura: Amati in the U.S., Eunos (an extant brand), and ɛ̃fini elsewhere. But it was the worst possible timing to launch a luxury project, as the Japanese asset crash brought Mazda’s luxury brand to a quick end. Perhaps Amati should receive some coverage in Abandoned History.

[Images: Mazda]

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22 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Second Generation Mazda 626, a GD Car...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The hatch version was nifty.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I love the inflation adjusted prices. The 1988 Mazda 626 DX was essentially the same size as today’s 2022 Hyundai Accent, but cost more that $10,000 MORE in today’s money.

  • avatar
    SirRaoulDuke

    Back in the day I would have given my left testicle for a Touring Turbo.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Drove one of these with a 5 speed manual when they came out. Peppy and handled well.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I will save my comments for Part IX.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    These were pretty with a lot of great styling details. And they were briefly, upon introduction, the most appealing compact sedan on the market. But the second the 2.2L 1990 Accord was introduced they suddenly had little reason for being anymore. And then the 1992 Camry just embarrassed everyone else. Mazda’s next revision of the 626 was again attractively styled but had a hard time keeping up with the out-of-the-park Honda and Toyota efforts on the substance.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    My Mother had one of these, an ’89. Perfectly fine car of no particularly great merit beyond the low-speed steering which was outstanding. Entirely scrub free, it would round any corner in town without losing speed on the overrun. Compared to my Audi 4000 Quattro, it was amazingly deft at such matters. Plus the darn thing never went wrong and it was light and pleasant inside. Just a nice ordinary car.

    I had already testdriven the 626 turbo a year before, and that 145hp was the most under-rated 145hp I ever came across, just as C/D implied. Couldn’t get a decent deal to unload my ’85 5000 turbo on it, but got the new 4000 for a huge discount. It was at the height of the Audi unintended acceleration scare, so Audi was dealin’ for owners. $5K bucks just for the inconvenience of owning a 5000, plus since nobody was buying Audi, well, deals were abroad. The AWD freaked me out in winter, as it did all my pals, so never regretted not getting the 626 turbo. When I got a ’90 Talon AWD turbo in addition to the 4000 due to a financial win, I subsequently had a real race with a 626 turbo. Nothing in it despite the Talon’s supposed extra 50 hp. That’s when I found out the Talon would do 240 klicks, no more, on miles of open road, foot flat to the floor. Like I say, that Mazda’s 145 hp was net net net.

    Compare one of these cars to a new Hyundai Accent and call ’em even? Not even close, the Mazda would steam away from the Accent in niceness and plastics quality, and is wider and bigger inside with much nicer furnishings. All cars are too long these days. The original Audi A4 of 1997 is the same length as the A3 today, but there’s no comparison for room inside. The A3 is tiny in the rear. It’s these laid down windshields, in my opinion, that lead to useless extra length, and B-pillars mounted too far forward that obstruct side vision, unless you have a fetish for studying grained plastic. It’s why I couldn’t stand the A3 or Mk7 Golf. Useless ergonomics.

    The next Mazda 626 was a useless slug, though. A real Ford, I guess. A work colleague had one and vanilla is too kind a word to describe it. A real step back.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    I haven’t seen one of these in real life in many years, but the look has aged well.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, the simplicity in all the details is very appealing.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      “I haven’t seen one of these in real life in many years, but the look has aged well.”

      The Mazda 626 platform was used for some Ford vehicles.

      I understand that the 2002 Ford Escape V6 I had for a while was based on the Mazda 626, as well. It was a very competent car.

      The only problem with the Escape V6 was that Ford tried to butch it up for sales, so it had worse NVH than the 2004 F-150 I owned at the same time. They made the jacked up Mazda 626 noisy and rough so you’d know it was a Ford Truck, and they made the actual Ford Truck as smooth as possible. Marketing. [shrug]

      In any case, the Mazda 626 platform kept on going longer than the original design. We may have all seen more of these than we think!

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Make mine a Eunos 300, please.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    A good example of just how boring Japanese cars were back then.

  • avatar
    Ah_non_e_mouse

    Had a 1988 4 door 626 turbo. Loved that car with its oscillating centre vents and burgundy interior (dark gray exterior, quite similar to today’s Mazda machine gray). Came complete of course with 1980’s digital dash and auto-reverse tape deck with separate booster/equalizer ! Drove it for 10 years before selling it. Even managed to keep it rust free with annual rust protection spray.

    A real sleeper car, there was not much that I couldn’t take at the stop lights although torque steer was a bitch. Really only outright sports cars could beat it. At the time I thought the 15” wheels with 195/60R15 tires were massive as I came from a 323 which had 13” wheels (low profile 70 series !).

    It was reasonably reliable by today’s standard although the failing engine gaskets (valve cover and oil pan) were a low point and the resistor for the HVAC blower (twice). Never had any problems with the turbo, probably because I was using Amsoil and always sat for 30 seconds with the engine running before I turned it off. Other than that over 10 years I replaced the radiator, gas tank, A/C system, brake pads and rotors, tires, and power steering oil cooler line. Survived a crash with a car that pulled out of a side street in front of me (T-boned him) and drove it for another 7 years.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Mazda’s connection with Ford drug them down. Ford got better quality small cars and trucks. Since Mazda has now lost the Ford connection their quality has improved and they have compelling products. I have never owned a Mazda but one day I will.

  • avatar
    jp2175

    I had a 1991 626 DX 5 speed that we bought new. I have to say it was a great, great car. Handled great, was fun to drive. Always got 27 mpg and was supremely reliable. It was a black sedan with the snowflake rims. Only issue I can remember was that there was no adjustment for the rear alignment…

  • avatar

    Brings back memories of my youth. I wanted to buy this car in 1997 but eventually bought Toyota. Used 1989 of course – Toyota was rated more reliable by TUV.

  • avatar
    andavid

    I actually learned how to drive in one of this, it was 1988 and it was as basic as ti could get, it had black bumpers, vinyl door cards and had only two luxuries, A/C and AM/FM/Cassete stereo (which I thought sounded pretty good at the time), also it did have a split folding back seat. I was only 10yo at the time (maybe that’s why I like Mazda so much now hahaha)

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