The Mazda 626 is out of production, but there are lots of them on the road in the twenty-odd years since their introduction, Mazda has sold over a million of them and just since 2000, about forty thousand folks have come to this very site to read up on them, inasmuch as I have owned two of them and have seldom shut up about them.
In Vent #124, readers were introduced to Molly, a 1993 626 LX in gorgeous Hunter Green Metallic that I had picked up after too many misadventures with, um, something else. Her interior was slick, her engine was sturdy, but she was given to occasional electrical glitches, particularly in the rain, and I saw the best mechanical minds of my generation tear their hair out trying to figure out just what it was that made her so temperamental. Nonetheless, when she was running well, which was most of the time, she was a rewarding automobile, and I hated to see her go almost as much as I hated to see my new payment book.
Which brings us to Sandy, a 2000 LX in Mojave Beige Mica, whatever the heck that is, who took up residence here two years ago today under circumstances which, in retrospect, seem almost appropriate. She came off the line fairly early September 1999, in fact and was dispatched to a dealership near Dallas, where she sat unsold for nine months. The Dallas dealer sent her to a store in Oklahoma City, where she sat unsold for five more months. By the time I showed up, there were only two 2000s left, and I saw no advantage in waiting for a 2001 when the dealer was willing to cut $2500 off the sticker and let me keep the $2000 factory rebate on leftovers. I drove the other one first, decided that black was an insane color for a car in Oklahoma (the summers are incredibly hot and the dirt is incredibly red), and chose accordingly. The name wasn't revealed to me what, you think I make these up? until after they'd cleaned her up and stuffed a tape player into her dash, when it dawned on me that this was, after all, my very first blonde. Forget that "beige" stuff.
I first reported on Sandy in Vent #219, at which time I observed that there weren't that many differences between her and her sister: despite a redesign in 1998 and some tweaks here and there, these cars have basically the same engine and mostly the same gauges. Mazda worked hard on buffing off the rough edges during those years, quieting what once was a nervous idle and replacing the least-useful cupholders in automotive history with ones that actually will hold a reasonable (no Big Gulps, but hey) cup. "It's still," I opined at the time, "a medium-sized car with medium-sized ambitions," and that hasn't changed, but my own automotive ambitions were something less than lofty, the inevitable result of a combination of modest income and inadequate garage facilities. When asked to do the improbable, though, she never balked; in July of 2001 I hit the road for over 4000 miles, did it again in July of 2002, and never did she utter a grunt of complaint. What's more, she beat the EPA mileage sticker, despite being driven by a person who is generally indifferent to maximizing gas mileage, and despite having spent a lot of time climbing steep grades in third sometimes second gear.
No recent automobile is really inexpensive, what with stickers averaging nearly thirty thousand bucks these days, but operating costs have been minimal for these two years: scheduled maintenance has been only around $250, and half of that was a transmission flush, something which isn't in the manual but upon which I insist on getting every two years. Unscheduled maintenance includes merely this: replacing a wiper blade bent by a vandal, fixing a chip in the windshield, and replacing a keyless-entry fob I broke. Not bad for twenty-four months. There is one button on the dash that is occasionally obstinate, which I will have repaired under warranty at the next oil change mercifully, this doesn't require removal of the dash and that's pretty much it, except for the discoloration of a trim piece around the driver's door where what's left of my hair scrapes against it while getting in. The price one pays for not being short, I suppose. More to the point, like any 626, even the softened-up '98s and '99s (the suspension was stiffened for 2000), this car is still a blast to drive. If you came here wondering if you ought to buy that last 626 on your dealer's lot the 2002 is the last of the line wonder no more. This isn't the fastest or the prettiest mid-sized sedan, nor does it have the highest possible resale value, but if you believe that automotive intangibles count for something even if you're just darting over to the Hy-Vee, there's a good chance you'll drive away in one of Sandy's sisters. And no, I don't get a dime from Mazda for telling you so; they're not exactly fond of me.