The pre-1990s models of the Mazda 929 were very angular affairs, with flat panelling, large oblong front grilles, and chunky, block headlight rigs. There were some like the 1985 Coupe that attempted to break the mould, but they still had that block look to them. The Luce was a popular design that stayed in fashion for six years before it was felt that the time was right for a facelift.
By the last big style change in 1990, fuel efficiency and economical, drag-resistant design were beginning to take hold. Cars were needed to incorporate more safety features, and Mazda decided this was the time to totally revamp the 929.
By the time of its sixth remodel in 1990, the Mazda 929 was now over 18 years old and had gone through a series of changes and rebranding during its life. Originally it was marketed as a midsize car, but by 1987 it had been reclassified as a full-size car. The 1990 launch gave the Mazda 929 a more contemporary look – rounded and softer. It has the sleek elegance that the big luxury car market demands, and it is fitted out accordingly to a high standard. The designers had done away with the hard lines and inlaid panelling of previous models, and this newer style has a more evolved, organic look. Built on the Mazda HD platform, it was available in two shapes, a four-door pillar version and a slightly larger hardtop 929.
The sixth and last of the 929s to be released hit the roads in 1996 and was to see the end of the range by the following year. Again, there was a change in the vehicle's platform with the use of the HE style being used on the 929 Sentia. The new style drop boot lid also made for easier access, and the inclusion of a space saver spare tyre gave added room.
Mazda fitted all the later model 929s with V6 engines ranging in capacity from a 2.5L, to the choice between single and double overhead cam 3.0L models. The selection of engines on the earlier cars was overwhelming, with the models produced between 1986 and 1990 coming in at least nine different capacities. Ranging from the 2.0L FE I4 to the 3.0L JE V6, the 2.0L engines were all dropped from production in the 1990s and only the three engines were made available.
The multi-link suspension design enhanced the vehicle’s handling, steering, and passenger comfort. The areas where the previous models had excelled were also retained with the car still possessing a quality four-wheel steering system and safe, ridged bodywork. The 4WS system makes the 929 great in corners, and it can turn on an incredibly tight 10.3 metres, smaller than many similar cars of its size.
The engine's response time from 0 to 100 km/hr is a respectable 9.9 seconds and a top end of 212 km/hr. Although it’s not a speedster coming out of the blocks, these times are good for a large, luxurious car.
The standard packages for the 929 saw all models come with ABS, full electronic control over windows and mirrors, cruise control, 4WS, and 4WD, as well as the novel solar vents that helped keep the interiors cool. The first models in the 1990s saw the top spec released with leather interior and upholstery, power-operated front seats, remote central locking, and an improved 12-speaker sound system.
The curvaceous, wrap-around dashboard was well designed, with integrated controls that are within easy reach. By 1994, safety issues had been addressed with the inclusion of a driver’s airbag and ABS, and steering wheel mounted controls were an option. The last restyling increased the boot space and provided a more comfortable interior for all concerned. Additional safety refinements made it a safe and pleasant car in which to drive.
The Mazda 929 sees itself in competition with the likes of the Lexus ES 300, Nissan Maxima, and Audi 80. It does, however, struggle to match them for pace and power. The 929 rolls a little more than the competition on corners, although it more than matches the others on braking ability. It’s not so much about what Mazda got wrong, but how well the others got their models right.
The good points about the 929 are that it represents real value for money, owners are guaranteed a comfortable, supple ride, and it handles safe and securely. The 929’s looks are striking and its interior is well-appointed, but it lacks some of the power of other rides.