Mazda has managed to make a lot of interesting cars over the years. From their early 360cc Kei-class cars to their dogged loyalty to the rotary engine, to the raw, pure joy of a Miata, and even using such deeply geeky things as Miller-cycle engines, Mazda has a long track record of Not Being Boring. Still, when they made boring a goal, they absolutely succeeded, as the Mazda 626 tepidly proves.
The Mazda 626 was suggested to me as a Meh Car candidate by a reader named Brian, because no normal human can just remember a car like the Mazda 626 without some outside assistance.
Specifically, I think the U.S.-market sixth-generation (1997-2002) Mazda 626 is the real blah jewel in this meh crown, with many of the earlier generations—which go back to 1970—managing to have some sort of charm or character that seems to have been very effectively genocided by the sixth gen, the last of the 626s.
These American-spec 626s were built in Michigan (the car was called the Capella in some other markets), and were not sold anywhere else in the world, a fact that I find sort of insulting, in hindsight.
The Mazda 626 was Mazda’s mid-size sedan, positioned below the Millenia, which was interesting because of the unusual Miller-cycle engine I mentioned above. The 626 was only offered as a sedan here in the U.S.; other parts of the world got a notably less-meh five-door hatch and a wagon.
The styling of the 626 is so astoundingly late ‘90s-early ‘2000s generic it almost seems like it was designed from the start to be featured, de-badged, in the background of insurance advertisements. Looking at one, especially in the gold-ish metallic beige color, is sort of like looking at just the general concept of ‘car’ as opposed to a specific object. It almost hurts your eyes.
Look, let’s put some other badges on the car just to see how little difference it makes:
See? No one cares. It could pass for almost anything.
Mechanically, the 626 was pretty conventional as well. It had a 2-liter four making between 125 and 130 horsepower, or a slightly more fun 2.5-liter V6 making 170 hp. Neither engine was much different from what anyone else was offering, and most were mated to a four-speed auto that was all but guaranteed to make you never, ever give a shit about it unless it caught on fire.
One small meh exemption was that it does seem that it was possible to get a five-speed manual with the V6, which is notable, but still not quite enough to pull the 626 out of the deep, grey waters of Lake Mehneblaha.
The advertising tried hard to deny the remarkable unremarkability of the car, calling it ‘more interesting,’ which seems about as big an advertising lie as Volkswagen’s ‘Clean Diesels.’
Just in case you think I’m a sick, miserable monster who’s picking on the poor maligned 626 just to make up for some deep-seated insecurities of mine (there’s a bunch, if we’re honest), here’s what the level-headed car reviewers over at Edmunds had to say, back in the day:
“A bland, bread-and-butter sedan that’s not big enough for families and not sporty enough for enthusiasts.”
I’m surprised Mazda never tried to use that in their print ads.
The 626 was a decent enough car, but, remember, that’s by no means a meh car disqualifier; in fact, it helps. Meh cars aren’t bad, they’re just dull, and the 1997 -2002 Mazda 626 is so dull that, if you were to have a picture of one shown to you while you were in a coma, your coma would go into a coma and, as a result, you’d wake up.
I think that’s why paramedics carry pictures of them around.