Millennium Edition builds on excellent S model.
by Ted West
Base Price $25,245
As Tested $31,445
It was inevitable that Mazda would launch a Millennium Edition of its Millenia luxury car. After all, Mazda deserved that even more than Buick deserved a special edition of the Century. Presumably Mazda can carry this theme through 2001 to celebrate when the new millennium actually begins.
While that adds some distinction within the Mazda Millenia line, anyone who buys a Millenia will enjoy exclusivity because many shoppers miss this luxury car. It shouldn't be, because this is a great luxury sedan that and offers good value: Mazda dropped prices of the Millenia over last year. The entry price has been reduced by $1,750 over last year to $24,995.
Mazda Millenia S, with its supercharged 210-horsepower Miller-cycle V6 engine, remains one of the most interesting cars in the near-luxury class. A crisp-handling sedan that encourages you to go home the long way, it's coupled with the kind of gracious creature comforts that'll make you want to invite the boss along.
Three models are available for 2000: Millenia ($25,245); Millenia S ($30,245); Millennium Edition ($30,995).
The S and Millennium Edition models come with Mazda's Miller-cycle engine, a 2.3-liter V6 that uses an innovative scroll-type supercharger to produce 210 horsepower without compromising fuel economy or smoothness. The base Millenia comes with a 2.5-liter dohc V6 rated at 170 horsepower.
Millenia comes standard with a four-speed automatic transmission, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, automatic climate control system, 16-inch alloy wheels, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo, remote keyless entry with two fobs, fog lamps, eight-way power driver's seat and dual de-powered air bags.
Millenia S adds leather seating surfaces, electronic traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, eight-way power passenger's seat and a Bose audio system.
The limited-edition Millennium Edition is available in two exclusive colors, Highlight Silver and Millennium Red. To the S model, it adds 17-inch chrome alloy wheels, charcoal-colored suede seat and door trim, revised wood grain trim panels, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, leather-wrapped transmissions shift and handbrake levers, special Millennium Edition badging on the C pillars and logos on the door panels and scuff plates. It comes with the excellent Miller-cycle engine and trim from the Millenia S model.
The Millenia is Mazda's flagship luxury car and its styling is appealing without attracting undue attention to itself. Its appearance was freshened last year with an attractive grille and front and rear light assemblies. The result is a shape of nice muscularity with distinctive character lines at the windowsill and lower cladding.
Low-aspect ratio 215/50 tires mounted on chrome 17-inch wheels give the Millennium Edition a sporty, distinctive look.
Stem to stern, this car's fit and finish is world-class, absolutely as good as it gets. The Millenia is built in a state-of-the-art assembly plant in Japan. Mazda's warranty period goes a few extra miles to 50,000.
The interior of the S and Millennium Special Edition models is tasteful, distinguished, and deluxe. The leather upholstery is utterly first quality, buttery and rich. The center panels of the seat cushions and backs are elegantly gathered to give the interior living-room sumptuousness. The whole is finished in gentle earth tones that are understated without being mud-hut maudlin.
Its ergonomically excellent dashboard and controls are formed of handsomely tapered shapes and trimmed with handsome wood. Your eye is automatically directed to each function. A large analog tachometer and larger speedometer, complemented by fuel and water temperature gauges, keep you informed. An electric steering-wheel adjuster allows infinite adjustment up and down, tailoring the driving position to you. Less satisfactory is the fact that only the driver-side window has an automatic-down provision and no automatic-up circuitry. Some of the competition has one-upped Mazda here.
The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is mounted on the dash just beyond the driver's right hand. It includes straightforward controls for mode (defrost/up/down), fan strength and a radial knob for selecting temperature. Also provided is an ambient outside temperature readout. The front and rear window defroster buttons are placed immediately next to one another, and at first, these symbols' similarity make you think twice. On the other hand, in frosty conditions you may need both simultaneously anyway.
Traction control, standard in the Millenia S and optional in the base model, can be switched off. That's a useful feature when, for instance, the car is being operated with snow chains. An optional 4-Seasons Package ($300) includes heated front seats, a heavy-duty wiper motor, a large-capacity wiper-fluid tank and two-position wipers. As in numerous cars, the Millenia's standard cruise control is accessed with a main off/on switch.
Front seating in the Millenia is excellent, with good bolstering and lateral support and a fully adequate range of electrical adjustment. The rear seats offer only average space, however, and cargo netting is affixed to the rear of the front seats, a fashion that has come and gone. A trunk pass-through feature incorporated in the rear fold-down center armrest makes it easy to load a pair of skis or other long items into the car.
Though it's $5,000 less than the S model, the base Millenia's 170-horsepower 2.5-liter dohc V6 is a tepid performer. It takes more than 9 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, which is not quick for a proper luxury sedan.
By contrast, the smaller-displacement Miller-cycle engine in the S sprints to 60 mph about 7.5 seconds. Yet it still achieves an excellent EPA mileage rating of 20/28 mpg city/highway.
This car really comes into its own when its Miller-cycle V6 is put to work. Mazda's unique Miller-cycle engine was named one the world's “10 Best Engines” by Ward's, an automotive trade journal for the past four years. It uses a Lysholm compressor - a scroll-type supercharger - to boost intake pressure along with late intake-valve closing to produce an impressive amount of power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. This system allows this 2.3-liter engine to perform like a 3.3-liter engine, while still retaining the 2.3-liter engine's economy of operation. The result is a vigorous 210-horsepower with the brawny, quick response of 210 foot-pounds of torque. The Miller-cycle package has no downside.
Put into action, the Miller-cycle engine makes an authoritative growl. Its torque delivers immediate go-power, yet the front-wheel-drive equipment has been engineered to eliminate torque steer even at maximum power. And that's not the case with some of the Millenia's competitors. (Torque steer is a tugging of the steering wheel that occurs in powerful front-wheel-drive cars.) The crisp acceleration performance of the Millenia S is thoroughly appropriate to a well-balanced luxury sedan. At the same time, this engine is supremely smooth. Power is transmitted through an excellent 4-speed automatic.
The Millenia ride is stellar, a splendid combination of genteel smoothness and real athleticism. Helped by the generously wide tires, this sedan's high cornering limits are better than most of its entry-luxury competitors. Body roll is mild and well controlled. The rack-and-pinion steering transmits excellent road feel, combined with rock-solid on-center feel. All in all, the suspension doesn't disturb you overmuch with news of the road's roughness, telling you only what you need to know. Sound deadening is also very good, on a par with the competition.
Four wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard. (ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in a panic braking situation.) Braking is adequate, although some others in the class demonstrate shorter stopping distances.
The Mazda Millenia is an elegant example of affordable luxury. It offers a broad range of attractive attributes, and its assembly is uncommonly fine, on par with the very best. Its almost timeless appearance is representative of the best in Japanese design with just a dash of hunkered-down aggressiveness to set it apart.
Inside, the Millenia S and Millennium Edition models deliver comfort and ergonomic competence of a high order. The materials used, from the elegance of the leather upholstery to the tactile solidity of the switchgear, confirm that this car is worth its purchase price.
But what truly sets the Millenia apart is its award-winning Miller-cycle engine. A paragon of resource-friendly fuel efficiency, it seems to do the impossible, using a small 2.3-liter engine's fuel appetite to deliver a much larger engine's responsiveness and excitement.
The Mazda Millenia is a complete luxury automobile. Given its hotly competitive new price, it is no wonder that sales of the Millenia have begun to climb steeply. So if you're in the market for luxury sedan and want to spend your money wisely, then sneak down to your local Mazda dealership.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.