By Jim Bray
Can a station wagon be cool? Can it be sporty?
You bet! The days of a station wagon being a stodgy family hauler are long
gone and some of todays wagons are wonderful blends of function with
form. Take the Mazda 6 Sport Wagon, for example.
The Mazda 6 has been winning awards ever since it was introduced for the 2004
model year, and the new wagon version copped the 2005 AJAC (Automobile Journalists
Association of Canada) Car of the Year Award for
Best New Station Wagon. I can see why. The 6 Sport Wagon is a blast
to drive and you can haul stuff with it, too!
For what more could anyone ask? Well, possibly a manual transmission for those
who dont want to be accused of being shiftless
but even there Mazda has thrown purists a very nice bone
in the form of a terrific 6 speed automatic with a pretend manual mode thats
almost as good as an honest to goodness manual tranny with a clutch. Almost.
When I first reviewed the Mazda 6, I said that in
order for it to compete with such revered cars as the Honda
Accord and Toyota Camry the 6 would have to be not only a great car, but
a great that's different from its competition. Mazda does that with the garden
variety 6, adding a really nice sportiness quotient to the
four door sedan concept, and it does it even more with the 6 Sport Wagon (and
its other stable mate the handsome 5 door hatchback Mazda 6 Sport) by adding
utility to the mix. The wagon includes everything I liked about the sedan,
as well as everything I didnt like, alas, though my dislikes were fairly
The sportiness, which more than justifies their zoom zoom slogan,
actually makes the 6 more of a competitor to cars such as the Acura
TSX, which is high praise indeed. The TSX has no five door or sport wagon
options, though, and only offers a four cylinder engine (though its a
My test 6 Sport Wagon was very happy to go for a run. Its 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 a little less oomph than a V6 Accord
and a little more than the four banger TSX, and the torque is about midway
between them. The engine pulls smoothly and revs with abandon and the match
with the 6 speed auto/manual feels like it was made in automotive heaven. And
the manual mode actually shifts in the direction that feels, at least to me,
the most natural: pull back to upshift and press forward to downshift.
This is a very fun car to drive and I ended up wishing I had longer to play
with it than the few short days I could squeeze in. I didnt have a chance
to take the Sport Wagon out onto my favourite twisty bits, but it should handle
comparably to the sedan (which I did take on those bits) and that means it
should be a ball.
Helping to impart the confident, sporty feeling the Mazda 6 simply oozes 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 gives great road feel without crossing over to harshness in the ride.
But whats with the turning circle? I found that even turning 90 degrees
into a parking stall I could reach the limit of the 6s steering travel.
It turned out (no pun intended) to always be enough to accomplish the turns,
but with no room to spare.
I guess thats why front wheel drivers such as this come with hand brakes
Anyway, the steering is engine rpm sensitive power assisted rack and pinion,
and under real driving (not parking) conditions this contributes to the driving
pleasure. The car goes where you point it; understeer and torque steer are
apparent, but not very.
The brakes are power assisted discs all around, with ventilated rotors up
front and solid ones in back. Theyre enhanced by 4 wheel, 4 sensor, 3
channel ABS with electronic brake-force distribution. The brakes feel solid
The 6 also has traction control.
Most of my minor angst about the Mazda 6 came from the interior design, specifically
the controls and displays, and since its the interior that you live with
more than the exterior, this bothered me a bit. Overall, however, the cockpit
is a comfortable and well appointed place to do the work of driving. My testers
leather trim included power front seats with bun warmers, though I had to search
a bit to find the seat heater controls, which are mounted vertically, facing
forward, on the center console. That seemed strangely hard to reach, but on
the other hand it also keeps them out of the way when you arent using
them and itll be harder to turn them on by mistake.
The drivers seat features 8 way power adjustment and is well bolstered
on the sides, in keeping with its sporty demeanor. Its a great place
from which to drive. The three spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes manually
and includes audio and cruise controls. The dead pedal
drivers foot rest is just where it should be and between all of the adjustments
of the seat and steering wheel its easy to find the perfect driving position.
The instrument panel is handsome and well-lit, with easy to read gauges, though
I dont really care for red illumination but thats a personal
thing. The Bose audio system is okay. My tester came with a 6 disc in dash
AM/FM CD changer and its easy to use, though the controls should be a
tad more intuitive and the overall sound was a tad anemic if you like it loud.
And the display is mounted far away from the unit itself and shares duties
with HVAC and clock - and that makes it a tad busy.
The HVAC controls themselves, which are mounted even lower (but just where
they should be, the distance from the display notwithstanding), take a bit
of getting used to, but they work well.
You also get a power tilt and slide moonroof. Its located well, but
small, and features separate controls for tilt and slide. This means you need
to get used to which control does which action and, unfortunately, theres
no auto-open or auto-close feature.
The heated, side-mounted rear view mirrors are very good, big and useful and
they dont block the view ahead.
The front passenger seat is comfortable and roomy and the split/fold rear
seat is also comfortable for two and okay for three.
Convenience features include automatic headlight shut off, and keyless entry
and I really liked the windshield washers: each side of the windshield is positively
hosed down by four jets. I wish this were standard equipment on all cars!
You also get the usual complement of safety features, including a cornucopia
of air bags.
Mazda has taken the sport rationale right into the luggage compartment, which
comes with eight integrated hooks for keeping cargo from sliding around when
the going gets spirited. Luggage capacity with the rear seats up is 953 litres
and when you fold the rear seats down (they fold flat) you can haul 1712 litres
worth of stuff. You could almost camp in it!
I really like driving Mazdas because - as the "zoom zoom"
commercials say - the company puts a lot of fun in their cars. With the 6 Sport
Wagon, you have a station wagons practicality with a sports sedans
All in a very nice automobile!
My tester tipped the cash register at about $28,000 US (about $35,000 Canadian).