By Jim Bray
In a market segment that features such venerable Japanese entries as the Honda
Accord and Toyota Camry, carving out a market share is going to require more
than just a great car.
It has to be a great car that's different from its direct competition.
And thats what Mazda has done with its terrific 6 four door sedan. It
goes head to head with Accord and Camry
(and others, of course), but whereas those other two models are refined and
fully featured and all-round excellent, the 6 also adds its own substantial
measure of fun to drive to the mix. And that makes
a big difference.
This makes the Mazda 6 a more worthy competitor to such great cars as Acuras
TSX, and I wish my review Mazda 6 had been fitted with the manual transmission
to give a true apples to apples comparison. Still, my week with
the Mazda 6 was highly enjoyable and I came away from my review wishing only
for that elusive manual and a little more oomph from the V6 engine.
And don't take my minor angst about the oomph wrong: this is no gutless piece
of machinery. Heavens no! It scampers along with happy abandon. The 3.0L
DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, with variable valve timing, is rated at 220 horses
@ 6300 rpm and 192 lb. ft of torque @ 5000 rpm. This is about twenty horses
less than a comparable Accord, twenty more than a comparable TSX (which is
only available with a screamingly fun four cylinder engine), and the torque
is also about in the middle between the Accords 211 and the TSXs
166 lb. ft.
Needless to say, the 6 doesnt have quite the get up and go of the Accord
but its a lot more fun to drive. Interestingly, the 6 also doesnt
quite have the zippiness of the TSX but its almost as much fun
- and probably would be with the stick shift. I took the 6 on my favorite jaunt
through the foothills and into the Rocky Mountains along a secondary highway
youd think had been planned for just such fun and the 6 gave the most
driving pleasure Id had on that road since I took the TSX there.
And thats high praise indeed. The 6 also has a distinct advantage over
the four door Accord in that you can get a manual transmission; the Accord
only makes a manual (a 6 speed) available on the Accord Coupe.
By the way, you can also get a 2.3L DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder engine
in the Mazda 6, but the V6 is undoubtedly a lot more "zoom zoomy."
The Mazda 6 isnt perfect, of course, but for the most part any hangups
I had about the 6 were confined to relatively minor things. The only major
complaint was that in the "pretend manual" mode of the sport shift
five speed automatic transmission it would shift out of first at its own pace
regardless of when I nudged the shifter. The rest of the gears were fine, and
as far as an automatic transmission is concerned this one does a good job,
though its a lot more rewarding if you leave it in manual mode
I imagine the 5 speed manual would up the fun to drive quotient substantially,
and that would be saying quite a bit, since the 6 is a delightful romp even
when saddled with the slushbox.
My tester was finished in a handsome silver/gray color that shouldnt
attract excess police attention. But bland it aint; this is definitely
a handsome car. From its aero headlights to the little spoiler on the trunk
lid, the zoom zoomy exterior of the Mazda 6 reminds me of cars
such as the BMW 3 not in that it resembles the Bimmer, but in that it
bears a sporting manner that almost appears to be daring you to take it out
on some twisty bits.
If you do take it out on some twisty bits youll have a ball. That highway
drive to which I referred earlier is full of twists and hills, and the 6 lapped
them up and asked for more - so we turned around and headed back again on the
same road, a change from our usual policy of returning via multi-lane freeway
to get a feel for a cars performance under those conditions. Basically
we said "to hell with the freeway" and opted for the "Wheee!" quotient
instead. We weren't disappointed.
Helping to impart that confident, sporty feeling is an independent, double
wishbone front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar and an independent,
E-Type multi-link rear suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bars. This
athletic package not only makes the 6 love to corner, it also imparts terrific
road feel without harshness.
Steering is engine rpm sensitive, variable power assisted rack and pinion,
and this also contributes to the driving pleasure. The car goes where you point
it; understeer and torque steer are there, but hardly worth mentioning.
The brakes are power assisted discs all around, with ventilated 11.1 x 1 inch
rotors up front and solid 11.0 x 0.4 inch ones on the rear wheels. Theyre
enhanced by 4 wheel, 4 sensor, 3 channel ABS with electronic brake-force distribution.
The brakes feel solid and confidence-inspiring. You also get traction control.
As usual its the interior that you live with more than the exterior,
and the 6's really makes you feel a part of the car; its cockpit is a comfortable
and well appointed place to do the work of driving. My tester came with a leather
interior that included power front seats with bun warmers. I had to search
a bit to find the seat heater controls, which are mounted vertically on the
center console, but that also keeps them out of the way when you arent
The drivers seat features 8 way power adjustment and is well bolstered
on the sides in keeping with its sporty demeanor. The three spoke steering
wheel tilts and telescopes manually and includes audio and cruise controls.
The instrument panel is handsome and well-lit, with easy to read gauges. The
dead pedal is just where it should be and its easy to find
the perfect driving position. The leather seat surfaces also manage not to
make your bum slide around when the going gets spirited.
All in all, its a very nice office.
The Bose audio system is pretty good. My tester came with a 6 disc in dash
AM/FM CD changer and its easy to use, though I thought the controls could
have been a tad more intuitive and the displays a tad busy and removed
far away from the unit itself. The audio qualitys good, though.
The HVAC controls take a bit of getting used to, but once you figure them
out theyre great. Part of the problem is that they blend into the background
a little too much.
You also get a power tilt and slide moonroof. Its well located, but
smaller than I like. Road noise when its open is quite acceptable, though
since it was chilly when I drove the 6 I never really had a chance for much
open-top motoring. There are separate controls for tilt and slide and, unfortunately,
theres no auto-open feature.
The front passenger seat is also very comfortable and roomy. In the rear,
the split/fold seat is comfortable and features a fold down center console
with cup holders. Thanks to the 6s swoopy design, I bashed my head getting
into the back seat once (once was all it took to make me more careful!), and
since I stand only about 5 feet 7 inches (on a good day!) you may want to warn
passengers about this before letting them get in. Or just befriend a good lawyer
The heated, side-mounted rear view mirrors are very good, big and useful and
dont block the view ahead.
Convenience features include automatic headlight shut off, and keyless entry
and I was really impressed with the windshield washer system; each side of
the windshield is positively hosed down thanks to four jets on each washer
unit. I wish this were standard equipment on all cars!
You also get the usual complement of safety features, including an abundance
of air bags.
As you can tell, I really liked the Mazda 6; the company has done a heck of
a job here in crafting a four door sedan that feels like a sports car. It reminds
me of the great job they did of making the old Protege a
lot more fun to drive than a mere entry level family hauler deserves to be.
And if you want even more practical fun, Mazda also offers five door hatchback
and five door wagon versions of the 6. Both are extremely handsome vehicles.
My tester tipped the cash register at about $26,980 US (about $34,000 Canadian),
which puts it right in the hunt.