By Alex Kramer
- Effortless V6 power
- Zoom-zoom handling
- Sleek, athletic look
- Huge trunk
- Almost too much power for front wheel drive
- So-so interior quality
- Slightly cramped rear seats
- Dashboard lighting a bit too spicy
Mid-size sedans have long been a bread and butter segment of the automobile market. With around 3 million vehicles sold annually, car manufacturers can count on middle class Americans buying these practical, reliable family cars, making the segment both very lucrative and competitive. Unfortunately for the rest, Honda and Toyota have been gobbling up the lion’s share of this market, with the Accord and Camry accounting for close to a million units sold last year. While some manufacturers have gone after these two sales leaders by offering better value, Mazda is sticking to it’s zoom-zoom mantra and hoping that a little extra driving excitement will be enough to convince buyers into driving off in a new MAZDA6 .
The new MAZDA6 has been completely redesigned for 2009 and like many other mid-size sedans it has grown substantially in size. The new car is 6.1 inches longer, 2.3 inches wider, and has a 4.5 inch longer wheelbase than the previous version. Despite growing in both size and weight, the MAZDA6 maintains the sporty character that has come to define Mazda. Although most mid-size sedans are bought primarily for the mundane task of commuting, this is the one sedan in which we could see ourselves taking the long, winding way home.
Pop the hood of a MAZDA6 and you’ll find either a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder or 3.7-liter V6, both of which are new for 2009. Our test car came equipped with the V6, which is the same engine that powers the CX-9 crossover. Producing 271 hp and 269 lb ft torque, this potent engine finally makes the MAZDA6 competitive with other mid-size sedans featuring high-output V6 engines. Floor the gas and the available thrust almost overwhelms the front tires, especially when cornering, which serves as a firm reminder of the limitations of front wheel drive. Still, there is little torque-steer and the traction control system does a nice job of limiting wheelspin while keeping the engine pegged. Once at speed the engine’s fat torque curve allows for easy passing and effortless hill climbing, even in top gear.
A 6 speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode comes standard when you order the V6, with no manual transmission available. Shifting is smooth and relatively quick, and the closely spaced gear ratios help wring out every drop of power from the engine. Although the transmission does a decent job of anticipating up and down shifts, a sport mode setting that features a more aggressive shifting algorhythm would help when tackling hilly backroads.
Like almost every other Mazda we’ve driven, the Mazda6 shines in the handling department. The suspension is perfectly balanced, the chassis nice and stiff, and steering response is exceptional for a car this large. Throw the Mazda6 through some tight turns and the Michelin all-season tires will protest and induce understeer, but there is more than enough grip available to hit all but the nastiest switchbacks with confidence. Out on the open road the car drives like a much more expensive luxury sedan, remaining smooth and steady even over rough, uneven pavement. Buyers who value the driving experience above all else needn’t look much farther.
Many cars now have a level of build quality that could only be found on the finest luxury cars a few years ago. Unfortunately, it seems like the engineers at Mazda spent all their time tuning the suspension and forgot about making the MAZDA6 a truly well built car. Although nothing is glaringly bad, the MAZDA6 features some mediocre interior surfaces, including a shiny, hard plastic glovebox and lower door panels made from the same cheap looking material. The various buttons and other electronic controls also feel a bit chintzy, and interior noise levels could be quieter. Having said that, the exterior body panels look well put together and overall fit-and-finish is perfectly acceptable, just not great.
Our test car featured the Grand Touring package, which comes standard with firm but comfortable black leather seats and several other luxury options, including power heated front seats and dual-zone climate controls. Additional optional equipment included a Bose audio system with 6 disc CD changer and satellite radio, and a power moonroof, but unfortunately no Navigation system, which is a shame given that the Mazda6 would be perfect for lengthy road trips. Another curious choice is the use of red backlighting for the instrument panel. The color is rich and sultry, and combined with the black leather upholstery, you couldn’t fault any parents for not letting their teenage kid take this car out on the weekend.
With most mid-sized cars approaching full size dimensions, both inside and out, Mazda wisely made sure to increase the interior room of the Mazda6. Front seat room is excellent and rear seat passengers are definitely not cramped, although a bit more legroom in back wouldn’t hurt. In fact, there is so much room in the almost cavernous trunk that we’re curious why the designers didn’t just slide the rear seat back an inch or two to give rear seat passengers a little more space.
The exterior of the MAZDA6 has been thoroughly redesigned, to the point that there is only a minor resemblance to the previous edition. The new look is an amalgam of other Mazda designs, with RX8 inspired front quarter panels and a CX9 derived roofline and rear taillights, but unlike some other automotive mash-ups, this one works. The overall look is sleek and sporty, but also distinctive and mature. The side windows feature tasteful chrome trim, which helps accentuate the fluid teardrop shape of the cabin, and the dual exhausts have molded exhaust surrounds that add sophistication to the back of the car.
With the new MAZDA6 , Mazda has taken an already decent car and made it much more compelling. But is it enough to compete in this class of overachievers? Several excellent cars can be had for less, including the Chevy Malibu and Hyundai Sonata, and the Accord and Camry have almost unbeatable reputations and sales records. Any manufacturer trying to make a dent in the mid-size market will either have to make an all-around stellar car, or target and dominate a smaller niche.
The MAZDA6 is a handsomely designed car that does many things well, but an as-tested price of $30,790 isn’t exactly cheap, especially without key options like a navigation system. Fuel efficiency is decent for such a powerful car (21 mpg average), but the interior, with its black leather and red lighting, will be too spicy for some. Rather than try to sell the MAZDA6 to everyone, Mazda is probably better off sticking to its formula and marketing the MAZDA6 for what it does best, provide the driver with an exceptional driving experience. Zoom-zoom indeed!
|Official website for Mazda cars, trucks, and SUVs – www.mazdausa.com|