Mazda gained fame and its dealers made a fortune with the introduction of the MPV mini-van and the two-seat Miata sport coupe.

The Navajo sport utility vehicle, Mazda`s first of that ilk, was added to the lineup this year and is another in the growing list of success stories forthe Japanese automaker-even if Navajo is supplied by Ford.

So impressive are the new vehicles we sometimes tend to forget the oldstandbys, namely the compact 626 sedan that was around long before the MPV,Miata or Navajo were a glimmer in the designer`s eye.

The 626 isn`t a showpiece like the Miata. It isn`t a mini-bus that haulsthe Little League ball team like the MPV. It`s not an all-weather machine likethe Navajo that will pull you through the deepest snowdrift.

The 626 is a pleasantly styled compact (101.4-inch wheelbase/179.3-inchlength) sedan that will hold four adults with room to stretch legs, arms andhead without bumping into doors, seat backs or roof. The trunk rivals thecargo carrying capacity of many full-size cars.

The front-wheel-drive 626 LX four-door sedan we drove has good command of the road, but it`s not the type of vehicle you take to the hinterlands toenjoy the nimble ride and handling over hills, around curves and throughhairpin turns as you would a sporty Miata.

The 626 is a roomy, high-mileage (22 miles per gallon city/28 m.p.g.highway with optional automatic) sedan with ample power from its 2.2-liter,12-valve, 110-horsepower engine. You`ll keep up with traffic if not ahead ofit.

A rival to the Honda Accord? Yes, before Accord swelled in dimensions tocompete with the midsize offerings from General Motors and Ford rather thanthe compacts.

The wide, thickly padded seats with well positioned side bolsters keepoccupants in position in corners and turns. The Mazda seat is comfortablewithout several pounds of air squeezed into an inflatable bladder to stiffenlower back or sides like a corset.

Another appreciated 626 feature is the oscillating air vents in thecenter dash. Just press a button and rather than have the hot/cold air pourout in just one direction, the vents move side to side to heat/cool alloccupants. With such attention to detail, we have to wonder why Mazdacontinues to favor the prop-held hood rather than spending a few pennies more on springs.

A new 626 is coming for 1992. It promises to keep the room and comfortand high mileage while adding fresh sheet metal and a tad more powerfulengine.

Hopefully a few of the problems in the `91 version will be eliminatedwith the new model, such as the driver`s sun visor being an inch too narrowand thus unable to block out the sun peeping in next to the roof pillar. Andwith the current concern for safety, the steering column should house an airbag, not just a horn.

Antilock brakes that prevent wheel lockup and skids are an option andpart of a $1,360 package in the test car, which also inc luded air conditioningand anti-theft alarm.

Standard equipment also includes power brakes and steering; 14-inch,steel-belted radial tires; dual body-color power mirrors; intermittent wipers;tinted glass; split/folding rear seat backs for more cargo room; power windowsand door locks; remote hood, trunk lid and fuel filler door releases; tiltsteering; cruise control; rear-window defroster; and AM/FM stereo withcassette and automatic power antenna.

Base price of the LX is $14,099. The test car added a power moonroof for$700, automatic transmission for $720, alloy wheels for $425, floor mats for$59 and the $1,360 option package. The sticker totaled $17,363, plus a $299freight charge.