Car that's fit for a president
WHEN Mazda unveiled the new-look 929 several years ago, the impressive styling attracted much praise. However, two areas received significant criticism: the rear passenger space and the boot capacity.
Head and leg room in the back were restricted for this class of luxury car while the shallow boot did not allow for many suitcases.
It was not what major corporations wanted for their executives and more than one large multinational in Hong Kong looked elsewhere as a result. To its credit, Mazda listened to the critics and has now responded with a luxury car that is hard to fault.
The rear seating arrangements have been substantially improved, while the boot has been enlarged by at least 20 per cent. The roof line has also been made higher and longer giving improved head room.
The luxury, leather rear seats have been designed according to the Sya-Cho philosophy , that is, as 'president' seats. This simply means they are vast, comfortable and fully adjustable.
A separate control panel in the central arm rest changes the air-con settings or the audio system; handy if your mobile phone rings and you're in the middle of a Beethoven symphony. There are also controls for the front passenger seat on the side of the back rest to allow 'the boss' to increase his already ample leg room by moving the seat forward.
The new 929 Royal Classic is still powered by Mazda's well-proven and powerful three-litre V6 engine. It is driven through a sophisticated, electronic automatic transmission, one of the best available, and with the added benefit of gradient control, a first for any luxury car in this class.
On downhill gradients of four degrees or more, the transmission drops to third gear to give engine braking, while uphill it stays in gear rather than hopping, infuriatingly, between third and fourth and back again.
The 929 is still the only rear-wheel drive car with four-wheel steering. At low speeds, below 35 km/h, the wheels turn in the opposite direction to each other, giving a tight turning circle and easy parking, while at higher speeds they turn in the same direction to facilitate rapid lane changes.
It sounds complicated but it works. It also has a built-in fail-safe operation. In the event of an equipment failure, the rear wheels adopt the straight ahead position.
Safety features include ABS, twin air bags, seat-belt pre-tensioners, side impact bars, and computer-designed front and rear crumple zones. Traction control is also a standard feature.
The car is incredibly quiet and, at standstill, it is impossible to hear its big V6. Only on hard acceleration will the 929 emit a not unpleasant exhaust roar. The engine benefits from Mazda's variable inertia charge system, which alters the length of the inlet tracts to offer better mid-range torque and improved top-end power.
Maximum power of 205PS comes at 6,000rpm, while maximum torque, a healthy 27.7kg-m, is realised at an excellent 3,500rpm. Coupled with the sophisticated electronic transmission, this makes the Royal Classic good to drive, particularly in traffic.
Subtle changes to the front, with a different grille and blended lamps, make the latest 929 a much more attractive car than its predecessor and the extended roof line gives it a larger and more luxurious profile.
All this comfort and attention to detail comes at a surprisingly low cost. The introductory price is $478,000 and, for the first 20 customers, Mazda offers a free Motorola Max Wireless modem and hook-up to the maxmessenger system, which offers Airinfo (world news) and Airquote (financial news and Forex update). Transmission of e-mail is also possible through the modem.
Some boffin at Motorola has calculated busy executives can lose up to 30 days a year sitting in traffic. Which city he used as a base for his studies is not revealed, but all you need is a notebook computer to hook up with the modem and you can work from the comfort of your own 'president's' seat. The cost of the free mobile office package is $48,000.
Overall, the new Mazda 929 is a major step forward for the Japanese auto-maker. It is expected to help put Mazda back on track after a difficult year in 1995.