If Mazda sold a premium brand, like Honda's Acura or Toyota's Lexus, or Nissan's Infiniti, then the Millenia would be its flagship. The Mazda Millenia offers value among luxury sedans. With its Mazda nameplate, however, the Millenia often slips under the radar of buyers shopping for a luxury or near-luxury car.
The Millenia S packs supercharged 210-horsepower V6 engine and is one of the more interesting cars in the near-luxury class. It's crisp handling encourages you to take the long way home. It's gracious creature comforts make you want to head out on a road trip. This car is superbly engineered and is built at one of the world's highest quality assembly plants. It was, in fact, originally conceived as a premium-brand product and competes with the Infiniti I35, Acura TL, and Lexus ES 300.
Millenia ($28,075); Millenia S ($31,075)
Mazda redesigned the Millenia last year (2001), replacing every panel forward of the windshield, and the rear fascia and taillights. It looks sharper, cleaner, and better defined. Launched in 1994, the Millenia is beginning to age, but still looks good. It's an attractive car, but tends to get lost among more contemporary designs.
The Millenia S is distinguished by its 17-inch wheels and tires and its small front spoiler.
Stem to stern, the Millenia's fit and finish is absolutely world-class. The Millenia is built in a state-of-the-art assembly plant in Japan and Mazda's three-year warranty goes to 50,000 miles. The Millenia's chassis was reinforced last year. Chassis rigidity is important in making the car ride well, handle crisply and feel solid.
The interior of the Millenia is tasteful, distinguished, and deluxe. The leather upholstery is utterly first quality, buttery and rich. The center panels of the seat cushions and backs are elegantly gathered to give the interior living-room sumptuousness.
The whole interior is finished in gentle, understated earth tones. The upper section of the dashboard is finished in a soft, pleasing gray or a warm, inviting beige. The lower areas are keyed to the earth tones of the rest of the interior. It is a rich, clean look, accentuated by a tasteful splash of wood on the center console.
Front seating in the Millenia is excellent, with good bolstering and lateral support. Power adjustments include lumbar support for the driver. An electric steering-wheel adjuster allows infinite adjustment up and down. Auxiliary audio controls are mounted on the wheel. Automatic-down is only provided for the driver's window.
Controls are formed of handsomely tapered shapes so that your eye is automatically directed to each function. The gauges seem to disappear when the ignition is off; turn on the key, and first the red pointers, and then the white numbers, come alive in the darkness.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are straightforward and an ambient outside temperature readout is provided. Front and rear defroster buttons are placed immediately next to one another, and their similarity make you think twice. Of course in frosty conditions you may need both simultaneously anyway.
The rear seats offer only average space. Cargo netting is affixed to the rear of the front seats, a fashion that has come and gone. A trunk pass-through feature incorporated in the rear fold-down center armrest makes it easy to load a pair of skis or other long items.
The Millenia S is fun to drive. Its engine growls with authority when put into action. Its impressive torque delivers immediate go-power. Clever engineering has eliminated torque steer from the Millenia's front-wheel drive even at maximum thrust. And that's not the case with some of the Millenia's competitors. (Torque steer is a tugging of the steering wheel that occurs in powerful front-wheel-drive cars.) The crisp acceleration of the Millenia S is thoroughly appropriate to a well-balanced luxury sedan. At the same time, the engine is supremely smooth. Power is transmitted through an excellent four-speed automatic transmission.
With its supercharged Miller-cycle engine, the Mazda Millenia S sprints from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. Yet it achieves an EPA mileage rating of 20/28 mpg city/highway. It is more powerful yet more efficient than the base model's engine.
The unique supercharged engine that comes on the Millenia S earned industry awards when it was introduced. It uses a Lysholm compressor (a scroll-type supercharger) to boost intake pressure, along with late intake-valve closing to produce an impressive amount of power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. This system allows the 2.3-liter engine to perform like a much bigger (3.3-liter) engine, while still retaining the fuel economy of a smaller engine. The result is a vigorous 210 horsepower and the brawny, quick response of 210 pounds-feet of torque. Beyond the $3,000 it adds to the Millenia's initial purchase price, the Miller-cycle package has no downside. (Plus the Millenia S comes loaded with luxury features.)
By comparison, the base Millenia's 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter dohc V6 is a tepid performer. It takes more than 9 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, not quick for a proper luxury sedan. This makes the base Millenia seem a bit pale in comparison to the more powerful and similarly priced Acura TL and Infiniti I35.
Ride quality is stellar, a splendid combination of genteel smoothness and real athleticism. Helped by its generously wide tires, the Millenia S tops most of its entry-luxury competitors with high cornering limits. Body roll is mild and well controlled. The rack-and-pinion steering transmits excellent road information, combined with rock-solid on-center feel. All in all, the suspension doesn't disturb you overmuch with news of the road's roughness, but tells you what you need to know. Sound deadening was improved last year and remains extremely effective.
Four wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard. (ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in a panic braking situation.) Braking is adequate, although some other cars in this class stop in shorter distances. Traction control is standard in the Millenia S. It can be switched off when, for instance, the car is being operated with snow chains.
The Mazda Millenia is an elegant example of affordable luxury. It offers a broad range of attractive attributes, and its assembly quality is uncommonly fine, on par with the very best. It has an almost timeless appearance, representative of the best in Japanese design, with just a dash of hunkered-down aggressiveness to set it apart.
Inside, the Millenia delivers comfort and ergonomic competence of a high order. The materials used, from the elegance of the leather upholstery to the tactile solidity of the switchgear, confirm that this car is worth its purchase price.
The Millenia S is the model of choice, with its powerful yet efficient supercharged engine. A paragon of resource-friendly fuel efficiency, it seems to do the impossible, using a small 2.3-liter engine's fuel appetite to deliver a much larger engine's responsiveness and excitement.