When the Japanese company Mazda entered the American market in 1970, it became very successful with its unique Wankel rotary engine. It developed cars with this type of engine to differentiate itself from other Japanese manufacturers. The risky move turned out to be a good one—Mazda even went as far as to release the Mazda Rotary Pickup solely for North American buyers. In 1973, however, there was an oil crisis that halted the production of cars with rotary engines. The American market turned to vehicles with better fuel efficiency, and Mazda needed a vehicle to compete with more fuel-efficient cars near the end of the 1970s. The Mazda 626 was the answer—it was one of the car manufacturer’s first few compact piston-engined cars. The Mazda 626 became a top seller for the marque since its release in 1979.
1979-1982: The first run
When the Mazda 626 was released in 1979, its coupe and sedan versions were manufactured with identical features. They both had front MacPherson struts and a solid axle in back mounted on four links and riding on coil springs. The only engine offered was a 2.0-liter SOHC eight-valve with 80 horsepower backed by either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. It sold really well and developed a solid reputation for being a reliable vehicle. In 1980, the engine’s output decreased to 75 hp due stricter emissions regulations. From 1981 to 1982, very little was changed in the 626—a move that proved to be beneficial, as it continued its first run successfully.
1983-1997: A few engine upgrades
During this period, the Mazda 626’s rear-drive was changed to a front-drive platform. It was named "Import Car of the Year" by Motor Trend, an award that the 626 earned due partly to the upgrade to a 2.0-liter engine bumped up to 83 hp. This provided a smoother and quieter operation for the car. Among the features it shared in common with the first generation 626 was a unibody structure, front struts, and a 98.8-inch wheelbase. The engine would soon be upgraded to 110 hp in the late 1980s. Near the end of 1997, the 626’s engine was upgraded to 118 hp.
1998-2003: The final years
1998 saw the 626 as having a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine which generates 125 hp. In 2000, front side airbags became new options for the car, as well as larger wheels, four-wheel discs, and rear heat ducts. For the model year 2003, the Mazda6 replaced the 626. Although there was to be no sixth-generation 626, there are still a lot of them on the road today. The 626 continued as Mazda's bread-and-butter car even to its last days in 2002—a straightforward and reliable car.