First Drive: 2005 MazdaSpeed6
By Ron Sessions
Photography by the author
Mazda's tunerized its mainstream midsize sedan for the performance enthusiast. A 274-horsepower turbocharged engine with direct fuel injection for enhanced low- and midrange torque, a wide-ratio six-speed manual transmission (the only gearbox offered), and an Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system are the key elements. The MazdaSpeed6 is the most powerful sedan the company's ever built, good for a claimed 149 mph.
Though the horsepower rating and AWD capability may suggest otherwise, don't let the big power rating fool you. The new Speed6 isn't positioned to compete with the rally-based sedans from Mitsubishi and Subaru. It's more of an all-weather high-performance touring sedan in the tradition of the BMW 330xi, Audi A4 quattro, and Subaru Legacy GT.
New leather front sport seats with slightly better bolstering complement the 6's driver-centric cabin.
Based on the MPS concept shown at the Paris auto show, the Speed6's design is more Eurotuner than sport compact. A modest power dome on the hood adds clearance for the air-to-air intercooler. The Speed6 also gets an edgier lower front fascia that mimics the RX-8's, side skirts, a small rear spoiler, and dual exhaust flanking a rear diffuser. The upper grille opening ducts air directly to the intercooler. Stuffing the wheelwells are 18-inch alloys wrapped with 215/45R18 rubber. Stiffer springs and shocks, bigger anti-roll bars, and meatier four-wheel anti-lock discs round out the enhanced underpinnings.
Giving the suspension bits a solid base from which to work, engineers stiffened the body's torsional rigidity by 50 percent. Among the changes is an X-brace for the rear bulkhead, which unfortunately eliminates trunk pass-through. The added body stiffness does, however, aid on-center response.
The AWD system has three algorithm maps: normal, sports, and snow. Based on inputs such as yaw rate, lateral g, wheel slippage, steering, and throttle angle rate of change, the computer picks what mode is appropriate. Drive torque is apportioned from a default setting of 100-percent front/zero rear in normal driving to a maximum 50/50 front/rear split on demand. A mechanical torque-sensing limited-slip rear differential divvies out torque between the rear wheels. The car's standard stability and traction control system help the front wheels behave. The added body reinforcements and AWD system add about 200 pounds over a front-drive, four-cylinder Mazda6.
Enough pieces and parts; let's drive. The single Borg Warner/Hitachi turbo spools up quickly, its 15.6 psi of max boost bringing the MZR23L DISI 2.3-liter four-banger to a fat 280 pound-feet of torque just past 2000 rpm. The torque peak stays as flat as Kansas all the way to about 5000 rpm, and output climbs to a (base) EVO-topping 274 SAE net horses at 5500 rpm. Beyond that, the engine's just making noise, even though there's another 1000 revs left on the tach before redline. Speaking of noise, the exhaust's low-speed rumble is superceded by a steam-powered pile-driver's hiss out the big dual pipes as the car accelerates under full throttle.
A new wide-ratio Aisin six-speed manual gearbox with a light-effort, short-throw shifter replaces the stock five-speed gearbox and notchy shifter in the standard Mazda6. Entertaining velocities are achieved easily--just punch it and make use of the stick of the AWD system. Torque steer isn't an issue. Though neutral to understeering in most driving situations, the MazdaSpeed6 can be provoked to simulate a tail-out, four-wheel-drift rear-drive behavior if you tap the brakes or lift in a tight corner with stability control switched off. Just for fun.
What about stuffing this powertrain into the smaller, lighter Mazda3, thus creating the brand's own Evo chaser? Not yet, pal; one MazdaSpeed variant at a time. But that's one we'd really like to drive, too.
Base price $28,000 (MT est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 4-door sedan, 5-pass
Engine 2.3L/274-hp I-4, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl, turbocharged
0-60 mph, sec 6.2 (mfr est)
On sale in U.S. February 2005