Of all the Japanese automakers, none has shown a willingness to push the boundaries of accepted internal combustion engine technology more than Mazda. The seventies and eighties saw the rise and fall of their attempts to make us love the rotary Wankel engine. And in 1994 they began producing the super-efficient, supercharged Miller cycle engine and the car it powers, the Millenia S. But after nearly eight years, is the Miller-powered Millenia still relevant?
Well, we’ve said it before: in the fast paced world of automobile design and manufacturing, anything much older than four or five years can quickly find itself outdated, or worse, completely obsolete. Fortunately, the 2002 Mazda Millenia S hasn’t reached that point yet, thanks to some major revisions last model year. All of which have carried over to this 2002 example.
That includes revamped styling to the Millenia’s front fenders and hood, grille, front bumper, and headlights, as well as taillights and rear fascia. The results are a sleeker and more aggressive look, and an overall length that at 191.6 inches, is 1.8 inches longer than the first generation Millenia.
Improvements under the Millenia’s new skin included added reinforcements to the Millenia’s body structure that increase torsional rigidity by 35 percent. This elevates the Millenia’s supple-but-not-soft ride quality, an attribute we were quite taken with when we tested the first generation Millenia back in 1994, even more. And it’s quieter too, thanks to added sound insulation in key areas throughout the interior.
The additional stiffness hasn’t hurt the Millenia’s refined handling characteristics either. As a trip through our low speed slalom exercise revealed that the Millenia’s independent multi- link suspension, with struts up front and 3 lateral and 2 longitudinal links plus toe control at the rear, still delivers a well balanced run through the twisties. Side to side transitions feel natural and under control, with the expected amount of front drive understeer evident on turn in and, should you choose to test the limits, a little step out at the rear when pushed.
The new, larger brake rotors in the front, up from 10.8 inches to 11.7, coupled with ABS braking and Electronic Brake force Distribution, do a reasonable job of keeping you well within the limits when it comes to stopping. We managed stops from 60 in a fine average of 120 feet, but our drivers noted there was some minor wheel lockup before the ABS kicked in, and excessive noise and vibration once it did.
Inside the Millenia, changes made in 2001 also all carry over to our 2002 model. These include a two-tone interior treatment with improved switch placement and interior lighting. Leather upholstery remains standard. A power lumbar support has been added to the power adjustable driver’s seat and audio controls added to the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Optitron gauges are easy on the eyes and feature some of the best back lighting in the business. Our Millenia S tester featured a Bose 9-speaker audio system with available in-dash CD changer and also came with the 4-seasons package which includes traction control and heated seats. And between the front seats you’ll find a more user-friendly console.
What hasn’t changed in this second generation Millenia is the choice of powertrains. The Millenia Premium model comes with a 2.5 liter, DOHC, 24-valve V6 that delivers 170 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque. The Millenia S model, our preference, is powered by the still rather trick 2.3 liter, DOHC, 24-valve supercharged Miller-cycle V6 which puts out 210 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque.
This smooth and economical powerplant took us to 60 in 7.7 seconds, and on through the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds at 90 MPH. The only downside we discovered to the Miller-cycle engine is it’s rather soft launch, as our driver’s noted that it doesn’t seem to ‘‘wake up’’ until the tach hits 3500 rpm. And there’s no manual transmission. Both models run a 4-speed automatic. Nevertheless, the S is no slouch.
And, for better or worse, it’s no slouch when it comes to pricing either. Base price on the 2002 Millenia Premium is $28,505. Base price on the Millenia S is $31,505. With options, our tester rang up to $32,305. This puts the Millenia S squarely up against the likes of the Acura 3.2 TL, Nissan Maxima, and Infiniti I35. While that’s pretty stiff competition, we bet your local Mazda dealer will be willing to cut you a great Millenia deal.
The Millenia was originally intended as the flagship of a second Mazda franchise to go up against Lexus and alike. While that never happened, the Millenia has served Mazda well in keeping its forward-thinking powertrain reputation alive long enough for the return of rotary power in the forthcoming RX8.
Still this car deserves better than being a place holder. The 2002 Mazda Millenia is an able choice among entry level luxury sedans, especially if your dealer is willing to deal. That, plus its still impressive Miller Cycle engine, tells us the Millenia is still very much relevant.
Engine: 2.3 Liter, Dohc, 24-valve Supercharged Miller-cycle V6
Torque: 210 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.7 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.9 Seconds @ 90 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 28 MPG Highway