Mazda's Millenia S often gets lost in the crush of imported luxury sedans, but with a unique engine and pleasant styling it is worth noticing. Originally designed for Mazda's stillborn American luxury division, the Millenia exudes quality, from the
tight fit of its panels to leather upholstery and a long list of standard equipment. It stacks up against competitors such as the Lexus ES 300, Infiniti I30 and Acura TL sedans. Even though there are two other Millenia models, the top-of-the-line
Millenia S, with its unique Miller-cycle V6 engine, is the most interesting, and the one I drove. What is a Miller-cycle engine? It is a basic V6 that uses delayed intake-valve timing and a Lysholm compressor to extract more power than would otherwise be
available from an engine this size. The belt-driven, forced-induction Lysholm compressor is similar to a supercharger, but it is more efficient. It crams more air and fuel into the engine than it could take naturally, and that results in greater
efficiency and power. The V6 in this case is a relatively small 2.3-liters, but it delivers 210 horsepower, as much as an engine one-third larger. And its maximum torque, or pulling power, comes at only 3,500 rpm. That means when you pounce on the
gas it moves out with authority, no waiting. Yet it is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. What does all this high-tech gadgetry mean? Unless you like to bore your friends by going into the technical intricacies, it means that
the Millenia S gets away from stoplights briskly, and pulls up hills easily. About the only drawback I noticed with the Miller-cycle engine was a slight flat spot when I needed a surge of power at about 40 mph. Fortunately, the transmission shift
lever has a button that enables instant downshifts without having to kick the throttle to the floor, and I used it often when I wanted to speed up in traffic. The vibration and harshness that often accompany a supercharger are missing from this engine.
In addition to the Miller-cycle engine, electronic traction control, anti-lock brakes and variable-assist power steering are all standard on the S. Both the base Millenia and Millenia L (which has leather trim) utilize the 2.5-liter V6 with
170 horsepower. All Millenias have a multi-link, four-wheel independent suspension that provides a European-style ride and agile cornering, which comes in handy with the extra power. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard and they, too, contribute
to its responsiveness. The ride is pleasant without being overly firm or harsh. Inside, Mazda has replaced its original audio system, which was dominated by a large, multi-function knob, with one that has a more conventional layout. While it
doesn't look as clever, it is easier to use. Sound quality remains good. The automatic climate control system is a bit cryptic, in spite of the fact that it looks simple. Various modes are operated by f
lat push buttons while a large round knob selects the temperature. Switches for the heated seats are on the console. A new center console has an improved cupholder plus a small tray for sunglasses. In order to reduce glare, the instrument
panel is a darker color than the rest of the interior. Of course, convenience items such as power driver's seat, power mirrors, AM/FM/CD player and power mirrors are all standard equipment on all Millenias. Price The base price of the
Millenia S is $36,595. The only options on our test car were white pearl paint the 4-Seasons Package of heated seats, heavy duty wiper motor, heavy-duty battery and large-capacity windshield washer tank. The sticker price was $37,695.
Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 50,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: The Miller-cycle engine feels bigger, and stronger, than it
ctually is. Fuel mileage is good, and the styling is simple and uncluttered. Counterpoint: Interior styling is handsome but the climate control system can be hard to decipher. Also, the price is rather steep. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE:
2.3-liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 108.3 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,391 lbs. BASE PRICE: $36,595 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $37,695 MPG RATING: 20 city, 28 hwy.