MAZDA’S CORPORATE PHILOSOPHY SHOWS IN EVEN THE MIDSIZE SEDAN SEGMENT
Fun to drive
A V6 mated to a manual
Not as fun as advertised
WHERE'S THAT MAZDASPEED VERSION?
WHILE IT DIDN’T SPANK the competition at the track or in the sales race the way our first impressions suggested it would, the new Mazda6 is still great fun to drive.
And to own, from what owners tell us.
When the 6 was introduced last fall, Mazda played it up as a BMW 3 Series competitor. That’s not so shocking, as every manufacturer that makes anything with four doors and a steering wheel hails its latest creation as a “3 Series competitor.” We never thought it would outperform the BMW icon, but our initial drives in the 6 suggested it would do better than the generic midsize sedans against which it did run, particularly in the slalom.
Mazda played up the 6’s new double-wishbone front suspension, more precise bushing control and stiff rear subframe, all bolted to a stiffer body, as big handling advances. The cars we drove at the intro and the car we tested here also came with the sport package’s 215/50 V-rated all-season radials mounted on 17-inch rims. So we expected great things.
We got good things instead. The 6 negotiated our slalom at 43.3 mph, which is good, especially against midsize sedans of the recent past. But sedans get better every generation. So while the 6 felt precise and nicely controllable, and while it was better than the Nissan Maxima’s 42.6 and the Toyota Camry’s 42.5, it trailed the Honda Accord’s 43.7 and new Nissan Altima’s 44.8 in the slalom.
That was with the V6. The four-cylinder 6s we’ve driven feel lighter through the steering wheel and generally more tossable; making do with four cylinders knocks a little over 200 pounds off the curb weight, too. So from a handling perspective, you might have more fun driving the four. You’d save about 5 mpg, too.
But most buyers look at acceleration as pivotal to judging a car’s performance. In acceleration our V6-powered car fell just a little short of the competition. Its 0-to-60 time of 7.25 seconds lagged behind all but the Camry in the above group of cars we tested recently for AutoFile, by a full second in most cases. We expected more out of the 3.0-liter, dohc 24-valve V6, especially attached as it was to a five-speed manual. A V6/manual combination is increasingly rare, so we applaud Mazda for offering it. But with a curb weight of 3243 pounds for the V6/manual, its 220 hp gives it a power- to-weight ratio of 1:14.7, meaning each horse has 14.7 pounds to pull around. The V6/manual Accord rates a 1:13.79, Altima 1:13.05 and Maxima 1:13.10.
With ABS giving a firm feel and very little noticeable dive even with a fully squashed pedal, the 6 covers the field in braking, stopping from 60 mph in 129 feet. That’s within a foot of all the competition except the Camry at a surprisingly short 118 feet.
But the important point is that the feel of the 6 is fun. It’s an enjoyable car to drive, just as its builders said it would be, and most of us even felt comfortable calling it sporty.
“The 6 is an entertaining driver in a fleet of capable cars, and that is the X-factor,” wrote one staffer. “Have your ginger-spiced carrot cake and eat it, too.”
As a daily driver the 6 has plenty going for it. It has many of the comfort qualities you’d expect to find in something more like a Camry. The engine is quiet, so much so that owners and testers alike spoke of checking the tach to make sure the engine was on. At idle the 6 produces just 40 dBA measured inside the cabin. That’s probably quieter than wherever you are now.
The rear seats fold flat for cargo versatility and there are plenty of storage pockets throughout. If the sedan doesn’t have enough utility, a hatchback and wagon version will be along a year from now.
The 6 is priced about mid-pack, starting at around $19,000 for the four-cylinder model. A fully loaded version hits about $27,000, depending on your definition of “fully loaded.” That’s a little higher starting point than the cheapest Accord and Altima, but tops out well below a gold-kit Camry.
So the 6 offers all the practicality of the cars it competes against, all the comfort, too, and still manages to feel like a sporty little sports sedan at the same time. Now, when’s that MazdaSpeed version coming?
VEHICLE SPECS AND ROAD-TEST DATA
Mazda North American Operations
7755 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine CA 92618-2922
Customer assistance: (800) 222-5500
Internet address: www.mazdausa.com
Country of origin: United States
Number of dealers: 700 (est.)
(includes $520 delivery): $25,445
Owners paid; average: $18,700 to
OPTIONS AS TESTED
Sport package, with 17-inch wheels and tires,
electroluminescent gauges, titanium-colored
switch panels, fog lights, rear spoiler, side sill
extensions, sport bumpers and dual exhaust out-
lets ($860); leather ($860); moonroof ($700);
Bose audio package, with six-disc CD changer,
six speakers, amplifier and subwoofer ($635);
side-impact and head curtain airbags ($450);
comfort package, with heated front seats and
mirrors ($220); ULEV equipment ($100)
OTHER MAJOR OPTIONS
Appearance package, with front air dam, rear
bumper skirt, side sill extensions and exhaust
tips ($900); five-speed automatic transmission
($900); chrome appearance package, with
chrome trim and protective side moldings ($325)
Unibody four-door sedan
Wheelbase (in): 105.3
Track (in): 60.2 front,
Length/width/height (in): 186.8/70.1/56.7
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 3243/4317
Fuel (gal): 18.0
Cargo (cu ft): 15.2
Front-transverse 3.0-liter/181.1-cid dohc V6
Horsepower: 220 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 192 @ 5000 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Fuel requirement: 87 octane
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 4.13:1
Front: Double wishbone with MacPherson
struts, coil springs, antiroll bar
Rear: Multilink double wishbone with coil
springs, gas-charged shock absorbers,
Discs front and rear, ABS
Michelin Pilot HX MXM4
0-60 mph: 7.25 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 7.89 sec
0-quarter-mile (90.4 mph): 15.66 sec
20-40 mph (second gear): 3.6 sec
40-60 mph (second gear): 3.5 sec
60-80 mph (third gear): 5.3 sec
60 mph-0: 129 ft
490-foot slalom: 43.3 mph
(200-foot skidpad): 0.80 g
INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Full throttle: 79
Steady 60 mph: 64
EPA combined: 23.33 mpg
AW overall: 21.70 mpg
$10,474 after 48-month lease,
41.16 percent of new vehicle price