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Old 01-28-2003, 06:19   #1 (permalink)
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Test Drive: Mazda 6

BY STEVEN COLE SMITH
ORLANDO SENTINEL (KRT)
January 28, 2003

As one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2003 model year, the new Mazda6 has been winning near-unanimous praise from the automotive press, and deservedly so: This car is one of the best combinations of practicality and driving pleasure on the market.

Perhaps it shouldn't have been such a surprise. Mazda's protege 5 sport wagon is every bit as much fun, just on a slightly smaller scale. But the Protege 5 made it clear that Mazda was serious about competing with the other Japanese car companies on their own turf, after years of building also-ran cars that were always acceptable but seldom anyone's first choice.

Except for the Miata, of course. Perhaps somebody at the company finally made that connection: Can't we at least try to make our other cars as much fun as the Miata? They tried, and for the most part, succeeded.

The Mazda6 replaces the 626, a model that has been off the radar for so long some people likely forgot the company was still building it. Like the Mazda6, the 626 was built in the plant in Flat Rock, Mich., that is shared with Ford -- at one time, the plant cranked out Mazda 626s, Mazda MX-6s and Ford Probes. For the past couple of years, Mazda had to substantially discount the 626 to compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Mazda6 should need no such discounting.

The car comes in two models: The Mazda6 I comes with a 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The Mazda6 S has Ford's corporate 3.0-liter V6 with 220 horsepower, and either the five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. The base car starts at $19,050, including transportation, while the V6 model starts at $21,620.

The test car was the V6 model with the automatic, and options included leather upholstery, a power moonroof and a sport package, which added a rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels with 50-series radials and a half-dozen cosmetic enhancements. Total price: $25,160.

Inside, the front seats are excellent, and there is room in the rear seat for a couple of genuine adults. Instruments and controls look and feel right.

On the road, the Mazda6 S had plenty of power, and out-handles the Camry and Accord. The Mazda's ride is a bit rougher, but it's a small price for the added capability. The Mazda6 S is not quite on par with a BMW 3-Series, but it's surprisingly close.

With the Nissan Altima and Mazda6 challenging Toyota and Honda, there is genuine competition in the midsized Japanese sedan market (though all four are built in the United States). This is very good news for buyers. Welcome back to the battle, Mazda.

Base price: $21,100.

Price as tested: $25,160.

EPA rating: 19 m.p.g. city, 27 m.p.g. highway.

Details: Front engine, front-wheel-drive sedan with a 3.0-liter, 220-horsepower V6 and a 5-speed automatic transmission.
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File Type: jpeg mazda_6_23.jpeg (21.6 KB, 2 views)
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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.....
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