A Mazda 929 makes a great stealth luxo-cruiser, and it comes in stick

Its cool to want an 80s Japanese car now, but here’s a deep cut that’ll separate the wheat from the hipsters. The first-gen Mazda 929 was Hiroshima’s version of a big luxury sedan, not unlike a Toyota Cressida. Both were pre-premium brand launch placeholders while offering just as much opulence. When it debuted in 1988 the 929 was most commonly compared to the Acura Legend. The only difference is Lexus materialized, while Mazda’s Amati fizzled.

Expectations were high for the 929. Mazda had already firmly established a reputation for sporty and fun to drive cars like the MX-6 and RX-7, and the 323 GTX released the same year was a riot. Mazda imbued the 929 with rear-wheel-drive, four-wheel independent suspension, and a 3.0-liter V6 generating a decent 158 horsepower and a rather impressive 170 lb-ft of torque.

That translated to a 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds, according to Motorweek‘s review with a 4-speed automatic. However, Mazda also bestowed a 5-speed manual on the 929, and Car and Driver shaved off a half second with the stick, crossing the 60 mph threshold in just 8.9 seconds.

Both outlets were disheartened that the 929 for not living up to the lively reputation of other Mazdas, or even the Legend. C/D did report that the “willingness to participate in tail-­out cornering is the 929’s one significant gesture toward sportiness.” Somewhat aggressive tires also helped the cause, and four-wheel vented disc brakes returned excellent stopping stability in both tests. Mostly though, the 929 didn’t set anyone’s hair ablaze.

Both outlets also critiqued the 929’s exterior styling. Perhaps it didn’t stand out in 1988, but today it would be a breath of arctic air as it carves a path through a sea of crossovers.

The interior was a different story. Leather was presented as the upscale option, but we’d take the lush velour seats in a heartbeat. The dash was elegant in its cleanliness, while the center stack had a classic 80s bunch o’ buttons for the stereo and climate control that we’d fondle pruriently today. A cavernous trunk and spacious seats, despite the fact that it was built to fall within the 1700mm width limit for the lower Japanese road tax class, make for a cabin we’d love to spend time in. Oh, and the rear windows vanished all the way into the doors.

Back in the day, I remember reading a feature in one of the big four mags about how the Mazda 929 was a surprisingly perfect car to drive in Eastern Bloc Europe. Its plain styling helped the car go unnoticed by overly eager policemen, it was narrow enough to slip through narrow streets, and it was solid as a cathedral. If anyone remembers which magazine that story was in, please let me know.

Prices started at $18,950, but Motorweek‘s tester was optioned up to $19,769 and C/D‘s was ballooned to $$22,288. Today, a long-forgotten 929 in decent condition could probably be found for just a few thousand. Excuse me while I fire up Craigslist.

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7 Responses to A Mazda 929 makes a great stealth luxo-cruiser, and it comes in stick

  1. Azfer says:

    This blogpost comes at an interesting time because I literally watched this Motorweek episode 2 days ago, lol. I never understood Mazda’s rationale for not introducing the hardtop sedan version of the 929 until the HD generation. The one pictured above, which is referred to as just a sedan, was quite bland. The hardtop sedan had the pillarless door design which was so unique and overall better presence than this one.

    Hopefully Mazda finds success with their new SUV offerings so that it is able to waste money on building a true successor to the 929, not the Millenia. Amen.

    • Mark F Newton-John says:

      The HD 929 had the hardtop look, but was not a true hardtop as it still had a B-pillar.

      • Azfer says:

        The HD and even earlier generations had the hardtop look and a B pillar. I wonder why Mazda called it a hardtop sedan then.

  2. Danny says:

    I’ve been keeping an eye out for a 929 of this generation for about 8 months now, but clean examples seem to be long gone. I think there are 30 Cressidas on marketplace for every non running or rust addled 929..

  3. Mark F Newton-John says:

    Only the HD 929 had the best styling. This HC version was just as bad a crossovers since the styling was so conservative and BLAND. Remove the branding, and you won’t know this from any other Japanese sedan at the time.

  4. Bill G says:

    I remember one of my coworkers buying a brand new 929 back in the late 80’s (he opted for the automatic). Even at that time the 929 wasn’t a car seen all that often. I’m guessing that it is fairly challenging to find one of these cars car today.

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