If you're thinking of buying a medium range, used, family car, then you're not short of choices. Ford, Vauxhall and Renault all have special highly specified versions of their fleet favourites on offer at knockdown prices.
The thing is, you want something a little different. A car that looks neat without add-on stripes and plastic spoilers. Something that's going to hold its value. A car developed to be something more than a biscuit rep's motorway mile-cruncher.
A trip out in a Mazda 626 ought to allow you to put a firm tick alongside all these criteria. Available mainly in 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol forms with five-doors (although you can find saloons and estates), it certainly offers something different. There are the traditional Japanese strengths (high equipment, great reliability and excellent build quality). In five-door hatchback configuration, it even looks unique.
The 1992 model range was the car that brought the 626 into the modern era. It wasn't really intended to be classy or prestigious (the mechanically similar Xedos 6 fulfilled that role). Instead, there was a range of traditional Mazda virtues and some derivatives that offered a break from conformity.
The five-door was the body style to have with flowing futuristic lines at the rear that made it stand out. Sadly, the same could not be said of the saloon and estate derivatives. Early 1992 customers had the choice of 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol power (in LX or GLX trim levels), plus the excellent 2.5-litre V6 from the MX-6 sports coupe. An estate was quickly added, in 2.0-litre GLX form only.
In March 1994, an entry-level LX trim level was added for 1.8-litre buyers, while in September of that year, a novel supercharged diesel version - the D-CX - was announced but discontinued four months later. In January 1995, a chrome grille signalled the arrival of a driver's airbag. By now, both the estate and V6 variants had been discontinued, the V6 making way for a top-spec 2.0-litre Executive variant.
By 1996, the range was beginning to show its age and Mazda introduced new better-specified GXi models and a couple of LX-based special editions, the Mystique and the Atlantis (worth no more than standard cars).
An all-new 626 was launched in June 1997 - though it didn't look much different to its predecessor. The engines, though apparently re-worked, seemed to be straight carry-overs, though by now, you could only have a saloon in two-litre form. There were LXi, GXi, GSi and SEi trim levels, all with standard air conditioning. Four and five-door variants were initially offered, with an estate joining the range in Spring 1998 just before a turbo diesel version arrived to join the line-up.
A major facelift was announced at the London Motor Show in October 1999. The main change was a completely restyled nose with new five-point grille, bonnet and front wings, giving the 626 a closer resemblance to other new Mazdas such as the Premacy and MPV. The two-litre engine was carried over with minor changes and the 1.8 received a power boost, there were detail cabin revisions and a new two-litre Sport derivative arrived. The range was replaced by the Mazda6 line-up in Summer 2002.