Home » The Battle Of Green Over Tan: 1998 Acura 3.0CL vs 1998 Mazda 626

The Battle Of Green Over Tan: 1998 Acura 3.0CL vs 1998 Mazda 626

Sbsd 3 15 2023

Welcome back to another Shitbox Showdown! It’s March 15th, the Ides of March, so I’ll be your friendly stranger in the black sedan, showing you a couple of green cars in Kansas City. But first, let’s see which vehicle you chose to cruise around New Orleans yesterday:

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As I suspected: The Rambler takes an easy win. And I love the idea of using it as an Uber. (There should be such a thing as classic car Uber. Somebody get on that.) I still like the LeBaron, but you all are right – seven grand is too much for it. And no more K-cars for a while now, I promise.

Back in the 1990s, before dealerships got too chicken to stock actual colors on cars in the lot, there was one bold yet classy color combination that nearly every automaker offered: dark green, with a tan interior. Sometimes it was a little cooler or closer to teal, sometimes it was a bold emerald, sometimes a warmer forest green, but it nearly always worked. By sheer coincidence, I’ve found two cars for sale from the same year, within a few miles of each other, for nearly the same price, both rocking the green and tan. Let’s see who wears it better.

1998 Acura 3.0CL – $2,999

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Kansas City, KS

Odometer reading: 216,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

What we have here is Acura’s second attempt at a grand tourer, after the Legend coupe. Unlike the Legend, the CL was available with either a four or a V6; also unlike the Legend, the V6 was not available with a manual. I regret to inform you, therefore, that this car doesn’t have enough pedals on the floor for a lot of you.

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What it does have is that wonderful no-nonesense Honda ergonomic design of the 1980s and 90s: Everything you need, nothing you don’t, and all right at your fingertips. But unlike your average everyday Civic, the CL has leather seats and wood on the dash. Or something that looks like it; I honestly don’t know if these use real wood or not. The seats are ripped in a couple of places, but for 25 years and more than 200,000 miles, it doesn’t look awful.

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Outside, it’s that nice cool bluish-green that Acura was so fond of for a few years. It’s shiny, and it looks like it still has most of its clearcoat, but I do see a spot of rust in front of the rear wheel, and where there’s one spot, there are more. It is still a Honda, after all.

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I’ve never been sold on the styling of these. The proportions seem off. But now that there are virtually no luxury coupes left on the market, even the oddly-shaped ones seem more appealing. And look at those lovely slim roof pillars! Who needs rollover protection, with outward visibility like that?

1998 Mazda 626 LX – $2,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter dual overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Overland Park, KS

Odometer reading: 82,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

And in this corner, we have Mazda’s entry into the midsized market, the 626 sedan. This is the last generation before it lost two digits and became the 6. This is the LX model, equipped with a V6 engine which, unlike the Acura’s, was available with a manual. I remember driving the V6 manual 626 when a friend of mine had one back in the ’90s; it was a hoot. This one, unfortunately, is an automatic, which presumably makes it less of a hoot.

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It’s a nice car, though, also sporting tan leather seats. The 626 doesn’t have any wood on the dash, but it does have a pretty cool party trick – oscillating AC vents in the dashboard. This one is in good condition inside and out, but it ought to be, with only 82,000 miles.

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This generation of 626 was panned when it was new for being less fun than its predecessor. Apparently Mazda, in their efforts to refine the 626, refined all the Mazda-ness out of it. Our 626 was different from the rest of the world’s: bigger, heavier, softer, and built in Michigan.

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The seller says this 626 runs and drives well, as you’d expect with such low miles, but these cars have a well-known Achilles heel: the automatic transmission. They’re prone to failure, especially with the V6 engine. But this one is past the typical failure point, so it could be one of the good ones, or it could have already been replaced. In any event, as always, you pays your money, you takes your chances.

There they are, a pair of Japanese-nameplate cars, both built in America and primarily for America, both V6s, and both nice shiny green. So what’ll it be: the worn-out coupe, or the strangely low-mileage sedan?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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55 Responses

  1. I remember lusting after used Acuras/Hondas of this vintage in high school. Flipping through used car classifieds during my endless starter job shifts (as in, an actual physical magazine with actual physical pages you could flip) was the only tiny joy during those shifts.
    Never could manage to put together enough cash for a used CL or Prelude with my measly hourly rate.
    The CL was more of a royalty, a GT cruiser, 2 door, leather…. In retrospect, they were solid enough to survive the abuse as dailies up until now. I still see them in the wild, although rarely.
    This high school used Acuras/Hondas lust is why I still have an ’06 TSX as a daily even though I could afford a lease/finance on almost anything these days.
    Man, how I long for those young and dumb days…

  2. Of the two I’d take my chances on the Mazda. Miles and maintenance. But I want to comment on color.

    During my long, dull, commute this morning, which pacing a white GX 450, I was thinking about the color of the cars I’ve owned. White looks great when it’s clean. So does black, though especially with a black interior or dash it gets very hot. Best I could remember, without taking notes, 4 black, all tan interiors, and two white,. I’ve had two each white, silver and blue exteriors. A brown, that dates me, and a pewter that was more gray than silver. And now a red Volvo, a color for me which can look great or not. But I owned 4 green cars and I miss the color option.

    British racing green with a tan (leather) interior was once defining. With good reason. Ferraris are red with tan interiors. Anything from the UK was green with a tan interior. They may have been typically UK in reliability, but they sure looked good.

    I wish green were in the current color palette. It pairs well with tan, it’s handsome, classic and vaguely sporting , all at the same time. It doesn’t scream, while acknowledging a lineage.

    I guess it doesn’t apply here with two old Japanese imports. Still, in this St Patrick’s day week I wish more cars wore green.

  3. I used to have a 1986 626 2 door (all available options) and a 1989 MX-6. Both were very reliable to quite high mileage, so I’ll go with the Mazda. I also had an ’83 GLC 5 spd and a 1987 323, also quite reliable. I guess I was an 80’s Mazda fanboi.

  4. For a sub $3K car, that CL is downright stylish. I would roll the dice and prey that the slush box has either been rebuilt or at least had its fluid flushed a few times in its life.

    On the other hand, you could buy the 626 and find a donor MX3 manual for a motor swap. Although there are probably cheaper and easier ways to acquire a KL-G4, this one is probably fresher than most with 82K miles and being bolted up to an automatic.

  5. Slightly OT – I have to say this series is really reinforcing my hatred of leather surfaces in cars. I have been in plenty of 25 year old high mileage cars with decent cloth seats. Maybe a little stained, but not cracked and ripped to shit. Manufacturers must be using the cheap ass book leather that falls apart on contact.

    1. Or there is the leather in my 2013 Malibu, which feels more like plastic than good vinyl, and smells like burnt crayons when warm. The top surface is durable, but my family and I are not fans at all. Looking into cloth (neoprene) seat covers, even though the seats LOOK great!

    2. I am going to go out on a limb and declare: Leather, wood, and chrome, are all anachronisms and do not belong in cars from the 21st century.

  6. 626 all the way, my family had a 98 in the purple/burgundy/brown color over tan ES V6 4at that I learned to drive on. I thought it was a rocket ship, it would chirp 2nd with full throttle from a stop. We later had a 2001 LX V6 5spd and honestly the shifter and gearing were so bad I preferred the automatic ’98. The ’98 was bomb proof save for the cooling system plastics, the ’01 nickel and dimed us to death and was eventually replaced by an ’05 Accord 6-6 coupe.

  7. Brought our first baby home in a tan 98 626 4 banger. Nothing to write home about but it was a fine car until we transitioned to the minivan.

    1. Similar story here, except we brought the baby home in my wife’s 240SX. There was not a lot of room for a baby seat and people in a 240SX. We promptly got a 626 ES on lease. Same color scheme as this car. It was very reliable for the three years or so that we had it. That said it was supposed to be kind of a sports sedan, I don’t remember much sport in it, I don’t really remember it much at all, but it was a decent car that got the job done and a nice size for a small family, three years and no trouble (though it was a new car). I will take the Mazda and the low miles.

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