This 1986 Mazda 626 GT review is surprisingly similar to that of modern Mazdas

It’s almost eerie, but Motorweek‘s review of the 1986 626 GT could be describing a modern Mazda. Take out the prices and horsepower figures and you can basically copy/paste the parts about how it handles and feels into any Mazda test drive circa 2024. Who knew a nearly 40-year-old public broadcasting auto show could be so prescient?

The turbocharged Mazda 626 GT was top of the non-rotary Mazda line in 1986. Its forced induction 2.0-liter generated 120 horsepower 150 lb-ft of torque in US spec,  which was quite impressive for 1986. A Toyota Camry of the same year made 95 naturally aspirated horsepower 118 lb-ft of torque. The 626 GT had it handily beat, but a Japanese-market version offered a more powerful 143 hp.

Despite the US model’s 23 fewer horses, the 626 performed admirably. It could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 9.1 seconds and complete the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 84 mph.  Motorweek described the acceleration as more commensurate with a 3.0-liter V6 with, impressively, no evidence of turbo lag or torque steer.

The 626 GT had disc brakes at all four corners and an electronic auto-adjust suspension that could alter damping based on suspension load. Or, the driver could manually select sport or normal mode with a switch on the dash. Motorweek praised the 626 GT’s handling, saying that “it was better than other Japanese cars with similar systems” and “when you really push the car hard there are no surprises so cornering power is high.” Here’s another quote that could describe a new Mazda: “Overall there is plenty of control and always with enough warning to recover.”

Even the description of how it drives fits Mazda of today. “The ride is a little on the firm side, but then this car isn’t meant for pure luxury car buyers. The interior sound level could be, though.” Basically, it punches above its weight in terms of luxury features but makes sacrifices with its sports tuning. I once daily drove a non-turbo GC 626 Coupe for several months. It had a bunch of  old car problems and an 80s automatic that prevented me from fully feeling the zoom-zoom, but I remember being surprised by the high quality of the interior.

The 626 GT was sized like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, but had features that were typically found on cars one step up, like the Toyota Cressida or Nissan Maxima. It had a sporty 9-way adjustable driver’s seat with plenty of bolstering, headlight washers, 50/50 split folding seats, a 100-watt stereo with equalizer, and awesome oscillating vents. A digital gauge cluster was available as well.

It wasn’t perfect, though. At $13,195 it cost more than a top-spec Camry. Motorweek also noted that they were able to out-steer the power steering pump, the gearbox felt notchy, and that the analog dash lacked a voltage and oil pressure gauge. On the other hand, it managed to get 31 mpg on the Owings Mill, Maryland test loop, much better than its 22 city/28 highway mpg rating.

There’s one more way the 626 GT is like 2024 Mazda. It had terrible sales compared to the Accords and Camrys of the era, and no one is buying wonderful modern Mazdas like the 3 Turbo, either. Hopefully those won’t be as rare in 38 years as 626 GTs are today.

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2 Responses to This 1986 Mazda 626 GT review is surprisingly similar to that of modern Mazdas

  1. nlpnt says:

    I wonder how much it cost compared to a Camry when comparably equipped – of course the turbo cost more, there was no turbo Camry at least for America.

    Another point with that is that Mazda didn’t offer the 626 hatchback as a base-spec DX, only as a high-spec LX or this GT Turbo.

  2. Taylor C. says:

    That was a great video clip.

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