25 December 1998

PRACTICAL, BUT

DISTINCTIVENESS

NOT A BIG FORTE

SHEEP arent the only thing these days which have fallen prey to the scientists cloning equipment – its happening to cars, too.

And the latest car maker offering a "new" estate car is Mazda with its 626. OK, new it might be, but it has an appearance which youll swear youve seen before. The 626 is not a car which stands out from the crowd – rather the opposite. Safely styled along the lines of Toyotas Avensis and Nissans Primera, the 626 is one of those cars which is becoming increasingly difficult to tell from the pack.

But, like a canine companion, the Mazda 626 estate gives the impression it will always be there – in fact dependable would appear to be its middle name.

Driving the Mazda 626 estate is an undemanding experience. The controls are light and easy to use, the 2-litre petrol version always performs and the dashboard is clear and logical to read – even if it does lack a little warmth and imagination.

The 626 has good standard equipment levels – climate controlled air con, ABS brakes and the customary collection of air bags. Theres plenty of rear seat space which all fold to assist load room – and a low loading sill helps when wrestling with those larger than average loads. And a particularly neat touch is the ability to fold the front passenger seat flat, giving additional length for long, indivisible loads.

Above all, the 626 is a car bought with the head and not with the heart. And only Mr Sensible need apply.

Verdict: A solid, if faintly

uninspiring car to drive, the Mazda 626 represents another load-lugging estate to agonise over. A more

practical estate than many of its competitors, though.

MAZDA DATA

&#8226 Model: 626 Estate, GSi.

&#8226 List price: £18,195.

&#8226 Engine: 136hp, 2-litre petrol.

&#8226 Top speed: 125mph.

&#8226 0-62mph: 10.5secs.

&#8226 Test fuel consumption: 31.5mpg.

&#8226 Insurance group: 13.