In actual fact, she was assembled in September of 1999, or so says the label, but today Sandy, my 2000 Mazda 626 LX, after sitting unsold for over a year, on the lots of two different dealers — in two different states, fercryingoutloud — completes one year of faithful service to yours truly.

Sandy is now showing 8668 miles, and about half of that total came during a three-week blitz of the eastern US. This should tell you that she's not being treated with kid gloves: either she buzzes through town on a handful of short trips, or she's on the road for hundreds of miles at a time.

But in that time, she has proven to be frugal as well as faithful. Scheduled maintenance (three oil changes, one tire rotation) has cost a mere $70; nonscheduled maintenance (replacing a wiper blade bent by a vandal, patching a windshield stone chip) was $55. There was one recall, which took all of thirty seconds. Fuel mileage has been almost exactly what the government predicts: 22 mpg in town, 28 on the highway. (The World Tour figure was 29.2 mpg.) This is on the low side for a midsized sedan, mainly because the little 2.0-liter engine has to work hard to provide any major motivation. Fortunately, it seems to enjoy the work. And if you're not going to Zoom Zoom, you shouldn't be in a Mazda in the first place.

Compared with her predecessor (a '93 named Molly), Sandy is definitely identifiable as a sibling, but these sisters aren't at all twins, despite having the same engine. Molly was more of a tease; Sandy doesn't fool around much. Molly would shake, rattle and roll if you brought her to a stop; Sandy remains placid. Molly had a lot less superfluou