A car said to be "so generic it might as well have been in GTA 3"

The Mazda Capella, or 626 as it became known outside of Japan, was a mainstay in Mazda’s lineup for some 30 years before being replaced by the Mazda6 in the early ’00s. Growing throughout the years to battle the likes of Honda’s Accord, the 626 dropped everything that made it unique and became bland, really bland as Mr. Regular explains in this video from Regular Car Reviews.

The Mazda 626 was popular but not where you’d expect

This Review of a 1997 Mazda 626 Will Take You Back to Much Simpler Times With A Few Laughs Included
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The Mazda 626 is no longer with us. The last time you could’ve bought a new 626 was way back in 2002 so you could argue it’s somewhat irrelevant, just another curvy sedan from the ’90s that tries to pass as mildly luxurious via some fake wood trim inside and some comfy seats that almost give you the impression you’re in something German.

In fact, the biggest trick that the 626 ever pulled was to cosplay as a German sedan or, rather, a quirky alternative and Germans themselves bought it. Tons of it. Over four (4) million 626s were sold in Germany alone.

Back in the ’70s when Mazda first introduced the Capella, the Japanese saw fit to offer it with either a variety of desaturated inline-fours raging from a 1.4-liter unit all the way up to a 1.8-liter unit, neither putting out more than 100 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque, or the 12A/12B rotaries. The latter was said to deliver 130 horsepower which made the Capella (sold as the ’RX-2’ abroad when the Wankel was installed) a more sporty option compared to Nissan’s Bluebird. But then came the oil crisis of the ’70s and Mazda’s powerful but insatiable rotaries took a tumble.

This Review of a 1997 Mazda 626 Will Take You Back to Much Simpler Times With A Few Laughs Included
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While the company stuck with Wankel technology for many more decades - as an act of defiance of the auto industry if nothing else - the second-gen Capella, sold as the 626 abroad (the first-gen model was known as the 616 abroad when equipped with the four-bangers), was only available with a variety of piston engines. Thus, the flair, you could argue, was gone. The Mazda 626 became part of the establishment. But not quite.

You see, Mazda always strived to make its cars a tad less boring and a tad sportier than the opposition and this remained at least somewhat true even with the fifth-gen model that was on the market between 1991 and 1997

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This Review of a 1997 Mazda 626 Will Take You Back to Much Simpler Times With A Few Laughs Included
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While there was no such thing as a Mazdaspeed version at the time, the range-topping 626 V6 as seen in the RCR video was quite peppy. The KL-series 2.5-liter V-6 put out 164 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque in American-bound cars putting it almost on par with the 170 horsepower C27A 2.7-liter V-6 offered at the time in the Honda Accord.

What the Mazda got going for it was price, the 626 V6 always being the cheaper alternative to the Accord V6, and pundits kept saying back in the day that it was a "sporty alternative". Mr. Regular finds little of that sporty nature but, then again, the GE-generation 626 he drove was equipped with the four-speed automatic and, moreover, the ’91-’97 626 was bigger than all of its predecessors, effectively an all-new car underpinned by Mazda’s GE platform.

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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