2003 Mazda 6 S, Mazda6 creeps up on rivals
Review Date: June 4, 2003
2003 Mazda 6 S
The Mazda6 is entertaining and fun to drive and better in nearly every respect than its predecessor, the 626.
He Drove, She Drove
By Paul & Anita Lienert / Special to The Detroit News
Mazda likes to refer to its all-new Mazda6 family sedan as the "anti-Camry."
The reference is a gentle gibe at the heart of the huge mid-size sedan market, where most products tend to be anonymous and bland. Not so the 6. It's entertaining and fun to drive and better in nearly every respect than its predecessor, the 626.
The Mazda6 is being built at Ford's Auto Alliance International Plant in Flat Rock. We tested a hot-looking $25,345 S model that came decked out in "Speed Yellow," with such performance options as a rear spoiler and side sill extensions.
One of us, however, is not convinced that the new Mazda beats the Camry or Honda Accord.
She: Too many manufacturers -- Pontiac comes to mind -- try to be all things to all people. They want to please both families and speed freaks, and often fall short in both categories. That's not true with the Mazda6, which is nearly perfect in every respect and ought to satisfy both moms and dads. That automatically qualifies the Mazda for our highest rating, don't you think?
He: I'm going to be a little stingy and give the Mazda6 four stars, despite the fact that I'm convinced it's a good alternative for families that love to drive. It's got great driving dynamics and our uplevel model came equipped with a lively twin-cam 3.0-liter V-6, rated at 220 horsepower and 192 pounds-feet of torque. But there's just not enough rear-seat room to make this the perfect family vehicle. The climate controls are a bit confusing. And our S model came equipped with an optional rear spoiler that is not only tacky, but cuts visibility. So it gets a high rating from me, but not the ultimate. It's good, but it's no Honda Accord or Toyota Camry beater for those who prefer roominess and comfort to pure performance. On the other hand, if I were offered a choice of these three mid-size sedans, my preference -- as an empty-nester -- would be the Mazda.
She: The Mazda6 is just as terrific as such performance-oriented models as the Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat. Here's what I really like about it. I spent five years as a dental assistant, from which I am still recovering, and I find myself cringing when I see center cabin consoles that look like an exact ripoff of a dental chair, with lots of shiny metal. All they lack is a suction hose and a drill. That's why I really like the Mazda6 cabin. It adopts that heavy-metal look without seeming too "dentist office." That's accomplished by using a very subtle satin- or matte-finish instrument panel, accented by small amounts of high-tech patterned trim. Pair that up with the optional $860 black perforated-leather seats and you've got a very contemporary look. It works. It's one of the few interiors I've seen that pulls off the look.
He: There's no compromise, either, on ride comfort. We had three test cars in our driveway as we were testing the Mazda6 -- including the red-hot Subaru WRX STi -- and I found myself constantly bypassing them in favor of the yellow Mazda sedan. The rack-and-pinion steering is quick, crisp and responsive, and the all-independent suspension is well-tuned and nicely damped. We both liked the roomy trunk with the low liftover height that makes stowing groceries a snap. And to lower the split-folding rear seat, you pop the trunk and pull two levers. No more crawling around the back seat and groping for parcel-shelf-mounted controls.
She: I have a few gripes with the Mazda6, despite my five-star rating. I think somebody ought to ban those center storage bins that pop up out of the top of the instrument panel. I find them distracting. The storage-bin lid also didn't work on our test car. And there is no good reason for Mazda to have skipped rear-seat air vents on the 6. On a family sedan, they should be mandatory. Consumers should be warned that they'll have to pay an extra $450 for side air bags and air curtain protection that extends to the rear passengers. Anti-lock brakes and traction control come standard on the V-6 sedan, but they cost extra on the base four-cylinder model.
He: How good is the Mazda6? So good that Mazda's parent, Ford Motor Co., is planning to develop a whole new range of mid-size models, including crossovers and minivans, on the Mazda6 base -- including a new entry-luxury sedan for Lincoln. That should give you a pretty good idea of how solid this mid-size sedan really is. I wouldn't mind having one in my garage.
2003 Mazda6 S
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan
Price¹: Base, $21,100; as tested, $25,345
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6; 220-hp; 192 lb-ft torque
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Where built: Flat Rock
Key competitors: Audi A4, Buick Century, Buick Regal, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler Concorde, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Intrepid, Dodge Stratus, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mercury Sable, Mitsubishi Diamante, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac Grand Am, Pontiac Grand Prix, Saab 9-3, Saturn L-series, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S60
12-month insurance cost²: $1,368
1 Includes $520 destination charge. 2 Estimated by AAA Michigan. Rates may vary depending on coverage and driving record.
Rating system 1-5, with 5 being the best
Paul's rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Likes: Great driving dynamics. No compromise on ride comfort. Peppy V-6 engine. Good alternative for families that love to drive. Crisp 5-speed. Responsive steering. Roomy trunk. Red backlit gauges.
Dislikes: Few standard safety features on base four-cylinder model. Not enough rear-seat room. Climate controls are confusing. Optional spoiler is tacky, cuts visibility. No pull strap on rear armrest.
Anita's rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Likes: Much more personality than Accord or Camry. Comfortable seats, including standard 8-way power driver's seat. ABS and traction control standard on V-6 model. Tasteful use of metallic interior trim. Individual reading lights in rear. Easy-to-use flip-down levers in trunk for split folding rear seats. 24-hour roadside assistance and 4-year warranty. Handsome perforated-leather upholstery ($860 option).
Dislikes: Lid didn't work on pop-up center storage bin. No rear-seat vents. Side air bags and curtains are $450 option.
Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....