The cars we loved.
There was once a time when the word luxury and Japanese car were not sonimounus. That changed with Acura in 1986 and Infiniti/Lexus by 1989. The luxury car market was forever changed. Noticeably absent from the largest Japanese auto companies was Mazda. But like a Japanese Chrysler, Mazda had run into financial troubles once again and had to postpone it’s plans for a flagship luxury brand to be named Amati.
The first product in the new brand was to be a midsized sedan that would be a step up from the rear drive Mazda 929 called the Millenia. Oddly enough the Millenia would be introduced to North America before Japan, as Mazda was dismantling the Eunos brand and would debut the Millenia as a Xedos replacement in 1997, two years after America. With no luxury marketing and special dealer backing, the Millenia would have to be sold at Mazda dealerships were most buyers were more accustomed to small or sporty cars. The sleek front wheel drive Millenia was an early standout in the Japanese luxury car sweepstakes because it combined attributes that Mazda was well-known for: efficiency and performance.
Performance came from a revolutionary new supercharged Miller-Cycle engine. By basically adding a third combustion cycle to the internal air/fuel mixing process, the Miller-Cycle design was able to produce more power from a smaller displacement. As a result the supercharged 2.3L DOHC V6 in the S model was able to produce a healthy 210 hp in a displacement more likely to be seen in much smaller four cylinder powered cars. So big was the impact made by the Millenia S, that it was placed in the same league as more expensive sports sedans like BMW’s 3 series.
In a 1995 Motor Trend magazine comparison between Oldsmobile’s Aurora and BMW’s 5 Series, the Millenia S came out looking like a champ. A fully independent strut type suspension combined with a long 108 in wheelbase insured a comfortable ride on most road surfaces. While the Millenia was no sports sedan it acquitted itself better than any early Lexus could on curvy roads. The Infiniti Q45 was faster to 60, but the Millenia was no slouch at 8 seconds. The Millenia was considered one of the better highway cruisers of it’s day and could deliver an impressive 28 mpg, something that many luxury car makers overlooked as the 90’s began. There was only one transmission available, a four speed automatic. The Japanese performance sedan was still a few years off, but the Millenia would offer a short glimpse into the future as the Luxury makers went from emulating Cadillac to chasing the Germans.
Like many German products, the Millenia interior was tasteful and was made with higher quality materials than the typical Mazda. Mazda’s take on futuristic styled simplicity resulted in a user-friendly ergonomically correct cockpit – typical of high-end Japanese luxury cars. At around $30,000, the Millenia S cost considerably less than the Acura and Infiniti competition. Although it was Mazda’s flagship car, it lacked the marketing overhead of being sold as a separate brand and was free of the expectations that came with being sold through a specialty luxury dealer network. With just three models to choose from, it all came down to Miller-Cycle or not. The base with the 2.5 came with or without leather and the more powerful S was inseparable from the 2.3. The majority sold were versions with the normally aspirated 2.5. At 2.5L, its V6 was a normally aspirated SOHC unit that made 170 hp.
Very few changes would be made to the Millenia during the course of production A special Millennium Edition in 2000 combined the attributes of the S model with a unique interior featuring synthetic suede. The largest change was a facelift in 2001 that saw torsional rigidly increase by 35%. 2001 also saw the addition of 17 in wheels, larger front breaks and new electroluminescent gauges. The steering wheel was revised to include audio controls, making it like nearly every other premium car by that time. Sales were always small compared Lexus and Acura. Eventually production would stop in 2003. By this time the Millenia’s sleek rounded shape had aged well, but its eventual replacement, the Mazda 6 would represent Mazda’s current thinking, but with more sport than luxury. To this date Mazda has not introduced a true replacement for the luxurious Millinea, but has used Miller-Cycle technology in other cars.