My contact phones me the day of, and says he can come by with the car, and then we'll head off to some sort of special spot for dynamics testing and technical conversation. Nice deal, say I.
My guy Ernesto pulls up outside of the house and – lo and behold – it's a dang Mazda6 station wagon with the very most recent 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D motor good for 148 horsepower and healthy 280 pound-feet of torque. The wee four-banger with 14.0:1 compression ratio hauls this 3,260-pound wagon around with the best of them. A decent 0-to-60-mph time of 8.7 seconds, too.
Best touch? This one had the standard six-speed manual gearbox. We at Autoblog know how we bend a few noses the wrong way with our open cravings for exactly this sort of un-American car setup. But, oh my, did we have a good day together.
- First off, the Mazda6 sedan we just tested is a fine-looking conveyance. But if you like wagons like I do, this 2013 Mazda6 wagon is even finer. To my eyes, it doesn't overdo it like some Infiniti models or the Nissan Juke, and any references to the swoopy Fisker Karma soon fade away. Mazda's "Kodo" ("Soul of Motion") design approach just works.
- I was so geeked that this was a wagon. And the six-speed manual mated with the SkyActiv-D engine just took it over the top. Before hopping in, I noticed the optional set of really nice 19-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Turanza T001 treads, the latest vintage of this fine rubber.
- Ernesto tells me that I am the very first in all of Italy to drive this engine trim outside of the company testers. "What about the Italian journos?," I ask. He smiles and shrugs, meaning, "Too bad for them, I guess."
- This revvy and strong 2.2-liter turbodiesel is not the 173-hp tune that arrives in the U.S. later this year in the sedan, but it would do just fine on American roads. If the hp bump seems modest on the trim we'll get, well, the torque bump is also a mild 30 lb-ft. Acceleration to 60 mph will be only a half-second quicker and fuel use will increase, though it will still be good at about 30 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway.
- We pulled up outside of a go-kart track I know out in the middle of the northern Italian flatlands. Ernesto tells me this is the place. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Ever whipped a front-wheel-drive family wagon with manual shifter and small diesel engine around a karting circuit? Me either.
- The terrific Turanza tires were smoking freely under the cranking enthusiasm of the 2.2-liter four. All of the torque was there at 1,800 revs and the action of the manual shifter proved smooth and precise. It was easy to heel-and-toe at all times – this, on an extremely tight kart track, not an open road with time to think built in.
- The wagon handled my induced-oversteer moves well, with superb steering and exceptional weight transfers. (It's like this on almost any hopped-up wagon I've driven even a little like this. For instance, I prefer the Mini Cooper S JCW Clubman on a hot circuit versus the hatchback for this very reason).
- All traction nannies were off and Ernesto and I were having a little more fun than I think his bosses had in mind. I started in with the Scandinavian handbraking, a technique that invariably enters the equation on such tracks, and we were giggling like school girls in short order.
- The Mazda6's rear suspension setup's lateral arms do not, as many do, err forward and higher than the wheel hub. Instead they attach low, below the wheel center. This results in an extremely sporting attitude over twisty roads as the arms push at the rear wheel down lower and closer to the center line. This was most noticeable on track.