In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japanese automakers broadened their lineups with luxury divisions, to supplement their entry- and middle-class focused fare. Acura in 1986; Lexus in 1989; and Infiniti in 1990. Mazda also had a plan for a new luxury marque to be called Amati. What debuted as the 1995 Mazda Millenia was originally intended to be the first of several Amati models exported to North America by Mazda. For better or worse, it didn’t happen, and Mazda’s answer to Lexus never happened.
Mazda was on a roll in the ’90s. The 1989 Miata had returned the small, sporty roadster to relevance–so successfully, in fact, that within a few years Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche all had two-seaters on their drawing boards. The 323/Protégé was a competent little compact (My friend Tony LaHood had a Protégé 5 he still misses), and the mid-size 626, while perhaps not as popular as the Accord or Camry, still held its own. My boss circa 2002 got a brand new 626 in a metallic bronze with tan leather. It was a nice looking, comfortable midsizer; I drove it several times. With production (at least for North America) of the Japan-built 929 luxury sedan set to end in 1996, Mazda began preparing to launch its own luxury brand: Amati.