Right royal luxury from left field

The Age, 15/04/99

The facelifted Eunos 800 from Mazda is quite competitive in its offerings, writes JONATHAN HAWLEY.

FOR: Stylish interior, strong performance and good build quality

AGAINST: Confusing pedigree

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Anyone looking for examples of Mazda's reputation for building the odd innovative, even quirky car would usually stop after thinking about the Japanese manufacturer's sports cars.

The RX-7's rotary engine made it unique while it was still being sold in Australia, and although the MX-5 now looks conventional with so many other roadsters on the market, when the original car was released, it was not only desirable, but showed fresh thinking as well.

Then there's the Eunos 800. This mid-to full-size sedan was the flagship of Mazda's push into the luxury sector during the early 1990s, but like many other of the company's products, it had aspects which came far from left field.

The 800 was developed at considerable expense by Mazda at a time when the might of the Japanese industry seemed unlimited and endless. It had a whole new platform, a complex four-wheel steering arrangement and the engine was a small 2.3-litre V6 which worked on the so-called Miller combustion cycle and needed a super charger to work efficiently.

Although Eunos is no longer a separate franchise, but has been absorbed into Mazda Australia's normal retailing network, the 800 is still with us. In fact, it has come in for its first revision since being launched in 1994 and while the changes aren't major, it's a car worth revisiting even if sales haven't been particularly strong, with only 117 finding homes last year.

Competition is strong in the lower end of the luxury market with the traditional European heavies such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi fielding an array of metal with strong credentials. Throw in Saab, Volvo, Honda with its Legend and the new Alfa 166 arriving later in the year, and it is obvious there's plenty of choice for a relatively low number of buyers.

Among all these, the Eunos 800 looks quite competitive. There once were two models, with a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre V6 complementing the supercharged version, which was simply called the 800M. That cheaper model has been quietly dropped, and so has the tMv designation of the remaining car.

Still, at $74,150 (which incidentally is a price rise of some $1,500 to go with the facelift) there's little lacking in the 800.

The interior is sumptuous leather, there's climate-control air-conditioning, sunroof, a power stereo with a six-stacker CD, power assistance for the seats, windows and aerial, anti-lock braking, traction control and twin airbags.

The subtle changes to the latest model include alloy wheels which are still 16 inches in diameter, but have a more open design to the five spokes. The grille now has vertical chrome spokes and a bigger Mazda emblem, there's a bit more chrome at the rear and the choice of two new two-tone paint jobs.

Inside there's more woodgrain trim than before, alloy scuff plates have been added to the sills and there's a ski port behind the armrest in the rear seat to give access to the boot. And that's about it.

The Miller cycle engine remains the same, meaning it has a good power output of 149kW at a low and easily accessible 5500rpm, and peak torque is also respect able at 282Nm.

Mazda's claim is that the revised compression and power stroke of the Miller cycle aids in lowering emissions, although such technology is likely to go over most driver's heads.

A four-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment, and on the road the Eunos 800 performs with admirable smoothness and ease, and not a little swiftness. Throttle response is strong, and standing-start acceleration is delivered with a rapidity which driver's accustomed to bigger-capacity sixes will love. Power does tail away towards the upper reaches of the rev scale, but mid-range urge is much stronger than that delivered by many other V6 engines of larger capacity.

The automatic transmission can be easily fooled into hunting for a gear, however, and on occasions there's a strange pause while it works out which ratio to select. Overall, however, the 800's drivetrain is competent, bug-free, but perhaps without the charisma of a bigger six from BMW or Alfa Romeo.

As a luxury sedan with sporting overtones, the 800 delivers quite well. The low-profile tyres give excellent grip, but the steering lacks communication even if the rear-steering facility does give an excellent turning circle.

Drive goes to the front wheels, but torque steer is kept well under control so the driver is barely aware that they are doing the work of power delivery as well as steering the car. The ride is compliant, never harsh, but perhaps firmer than could be expected.

As mentioned, the interior is plush and quite roomy as well. The driver sits low, but has plenty of width to plant both elbows on the available arm-rests, while in the rear there's room for two adults and just enough leg room for full comfort.

The boot is large, wide enough for a full-size set of golf clubs, and has a low loading lip.

One of the best things about the 800 is that despite being nearly a five-year-old design, the interior has stood the test of time very well. It has an open, airy feel about it which is helped by the light color scheme of tan and beige, and manages to be both pleasant and free of any gimmickry.

In other words, Mazda has resisted the urge to mistake chintzy addenda for real luxury.

Nevertheless, buyers in the 800's price range are spoiled for choice, with many very good cars such as the Alfa 156 and BMW 323i available for less money. This Eunos lacks the charisma of either of these two, even if it is probably a better choice than Japanese rivals such as the Lexus ES300 or Honda Legend.

Nuts 'n' Bolts

Price: $74,150 auto

Engine: 2.3-litre, DOHC, 24-valve supercharged V6. 149kW at 5500rpm and 282Nm at 4000rpm

Transmission: Four-speed manual

Steering: Rack and pinion, 3.1 turns lock-to-lock. Turning circle 10m

Brakes: Ventilated discs front, discs rear. ABS standard

Suspension: Front - independent by multi links with coil springs and anti-roll bar. Rear - independent by multi links with coil springs and anti-roll bar

Wheels/tyres: 6.5x16-inch alloy wheels, tyres 215/55R16

How big?

Length 4820mm, width 1770mm, height 1395mm, wheelbase 2750mm

How heavy?


How thirsty?

11.2 L/100km. Fuel tank 68 litres


Audi A4 2.8, $72,550

Honda Legend, $76,850

Lexus ES300 LXS, $70,600

Interior notes: Instrumentation is clean and gimmick-free. Bose stereo gives excel lent sound quality. Automatic transmission has Mazda's usual "hold" function. Twin airbags are standard equipment. Steering wheel is leather-bound, feels good.