Today I was reintroduced to the Mazda 6. Since I had already reviewed the sedan last year there wasn't much shock when the Glacier Silver Metallic hatch pulled up. I was kind of hoping for the Blazing Copper color they have in all the advertising but the silver is very classy and different than the standard color found on most makes. The biggest physical difference between the sedan and the hatch is a snubbed effect on the back end of the car. It's a bit more European looking but doesn't differ drastically from the sedan.
Otherwise the 6 hatch has all the Mazda traits we love like crisp handling, decent power and a very upscale feel to the interior. My only negatives include the center stack made of that silver colored plastic that never looks good and is easily scratched, as evidenced in our test vehicle (with just over 5400 miles on it). The plastic on the door panels also doesn't meet up flush with the leather. But as far as sedans go it still outdoes most of the competition in the looks department.
Since the big feature on this model is the hatch I can't really report on its ease of use after only one day. We'll see how much junk…I mean cargo, can fit back there. Otherwise I'll just run down the sticker price and what we're actually driving.
Mazda6 s, 5-Door w/5-speed automatic w/sport shift
Glacier Silver Metallic paint and black leather interior
Standard features include: A/C w/pollen filter, automatic climate control, 60/40 split fold-down
rear seats, tilt & telescopic steering wheel w/audio and cruise controls, power windows & locks, 17" alloy
wheels, dual sport type exhaust outlets, rear spoiler, remote entry, alarm, AM/FM stereo w/6 speakers, fog lights, side
sill extensions, ABS & Traction Control System, 4-wheel disc brakes.
Engine: 3.0 liter DOHC 24-Valve VVT V6, 220-horsepower/192 lb-ft torque
All this is $22,895
The options on our test vehicle include:
Side Air Bags & Curtains: $450
5-speed Sport AT: $900
LEV Emissions Equipment: $100
Power Moonroof: $700
Luxury Package (Leather interior, heated front seats, 8-way power driver's seat, electroluminescent gauges): $1,540
Bose Audio Package (6-disc CD Changer, amp & subwoofer, 4 door speakers, 2 tweeters): $635
Total w/$520 destination charge: $27,740
I would forego the automatic transmission and save the $900 but the stereo and moonroof are great comfort features.
A few days of errands really bring out the utility of the Mazda6 5-door's expansive hatch. As you can see from this photo I have a box going to Good Will and a few items from Costco and the space, with seats folded flat, is still not even close to full.
So as a utilitarian vehicle the hatch is definitely impressive. The rear seats fold completely flat with the touch of a button from either the top of the doors or from inside the hatch itself. That way, if you're loading items into the back and need the extra space you don't have to go around to the rear doors and vice versa.
And all this nice utility is terrific. I was more surprised that the car itself doesn't seem any louder on the road than the sedan, a common complaint of open back vehicles. The hatch still has attractive lines and has 59 cubic feet of cargo room compared to 15 in the sedan. Heck even the Mazda6 wagon only has 61 cubic feet of cargo room.
The only things I'm not liking about the car are the automatic transmission and the brakes. My previous experience in the sedan was with a manual transmission, which brought out a lot more sport in the car. Even with an auto-stick feature, the automatic Mazda6 doesn't offer the same thrills. The brakes, I believe, must be shuddering a bit from past journalists behind the wheel. I've driven cars with less miles than this one (under 6,000) with all kinds of similar problems. Sure some of the publications are doing track tests etc., but I can't believe this car went through the rigors of dyno testing. I did not experience any of the inconsistent brake feel on the previous 6. I'll give the benefit of the doubt to the folks at Mazda, this time.
As I prepare to say goodbye to the Mazda6 5-door there's a lot of good feelings towards the car. I can't see why anyone wouldn't find the vehicle a fun commuter that can handle a lot of cargo while still looking cool. That's a great combination.
I did have some nitpicks. The center stack controls are really not the most user friendly and I prefer those in the Mazda3. Basically both the knobs to turn up the volume and the A/C fans are hard to grasp. They don't stick-out far enough and their slick plastic coating doesn't help matters. Luckily there are audio controls on the steering wheel I used most of the time. But there was no easy remedy for the A/C. Since it's all electronic they should just make one half of the knob a minus sign and the other a plus sign and if you tap the right side the fans go up or down accordingly. The A/C mode button works in that way.
Besides the plastic's overall appearance, control troubles and the door molding not being perfectly flush there was little to complain about. The Bose stereo sounded great at high levels and the overall cabin noise was minimal, even for a hatchback. Hopefully next year the 6 will incorporate some of the styling cues from the 3 and that will solve most of the problems.
New Car Test Drive
Sporty sedan now in hatch and wagon versions.
The Mazda 6 is sportier than the other cars in the mid-size class, both in its appearance and in its handling and driving dynamics. It's more agile and holds the road better than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, or Nissan Altima. The Mazda 6 is lighter on its feet and stops quicker. In short, it's a better driver's car. It's also the best sedan for the money that Mazda has ever built, and is available with four-cylinder and V6 engines. The zoom-zoom folks have really put a fine point on it this time.
The Mazda 6, or MAZDA6, as the company calls it, debuted last year to widespread acclaim and multiple awards. Money Magazine named it 'Best Mid-Sized Sedan,' and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety called it a 'Best Pick.' The Mazda 6 also ranked among Car and Driver's '10 Best' cars and Automobile Magazine's 'All-Stars.' And it was the highest-rated new vehicle nameplate in the J.D. Power and Associates APEAL study.
Mazda hasn't been content to rest on its laurels. For 2004, Mazda is introducing 5-Door and Sport Wagon versions of the Mazda 6. The 5-Door model is the only mid-size hatchback sold in America, says Mazda, and is just the thing for active singles and couples.
The 2004 Mazda 6 sedan is available in two trim levels. The Mazda 6i ($18,750) is powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine rated 160 horsepower and 155 pounds-feet of torque. Standard equipment includes air conditioning; cruise control; six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo; power windows, mirrors and door locks with keyless entry; leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt and telescope adjustments; 16-inch steel road wheels; dual-stage front airbags; a power trunk release; dual 12-volt power outlets and dual map lights front and rear. A five-speed manual transmission is also standard; a four-speed automatic is optional ($850). ABS and traction control ($400) are available as options for the Mazda 6i.
The Mazda 6s ($21,345) is powered by a 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V6, and comes with all of the above plus ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), traction control, automatic climate control, new 17-inch aluminum wheels, and a perimeter alarm system. A five-speed manual is standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional ($900).
The 5-Door is available with either the four-cylinder or V6. The wagon comes standard with the V6. Both are available with either manual or automatic transmissions.
Options include side-impact and side-curtain airbags ($450), a power-adjustable driver's seat ($300), a six-disc in-dash CD changer ($500), and a Bose sound system with CD changer ($635). Also available is a power glass sunroof ($700) and wind deflector ($40). Other options are appearance-oriented accessories, such as fog lights, spoilers, side-sill extensions, and mud guards.
Two option packages have been added for 2004: The Luxury Package ($1,540), available on either the 6i or 6s, adds an eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar support, leather-trimmed upholstery, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, and electroluminescent gauges with red nighttime illumination.
The Security Package ($950) for the 6i adds ABS with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), traction control, side-impact airbags and side-curtain airbags, and a perimeter anti-theft alarm.
The Mazda 6 represents one of the sportiest exterior designs in the mid-size sedan class. Visually, it has more personality than the Accord and more spunk than the Camry. It has with a strong front-end treatment that's consistent with other Mazdas. Cat's-eye headlamps and big tail lamps that feature multi-element designs that enhance the action at each corner of the car.
The Mazda 6 benefits from a kind of muscular conservatism inside and out. Everything in, on and under this car makes sense, and it all looks good doing it. The relationship of the lower body to the upper body looks perfect, yet the roof shape is designed for people, not for style. Its sporty styling makes the Mazda 6 look smaller than it is. But because the Mazda 6 replaces both the mid-size 626 and the more expensive and luxurious Millenia, it's bigger in all directions than the old 626.
The shape of the Mazda 6 is truly fetching when painted a hot color and accented by the Sport Package ($710), which includes clear-lens halogen fog lamps, dual oval exhaust outlets, front and rear air dams, and side sill extensions. A rear wing is optional ($60).
The 5-Door features an extended rear roof pillar sloping rearward into a raised deck lid. As Mazda says, it looks fast even when sitting still.
The Sport Wagon features aggressive styling, though it doesn't look as sporty as the new Mazda 3 wagon.
The Mazda 6 interior is designed to be comfortable for front and rear passengers in the 95th percentile of all body shapes. The front seats are comfortable through a wide range of adjustments. We found them suitable for hard driving, with good upper body support and enough lower back support with the optional lumbar adjuster for all-day comfort. The Luxury Package ($1540) adds leather to all the right places, including perforated hides for the seating surfaces.
The rear seats are also quite comfortable. There's more than 96 cubic feet of useable space inside the Mazda 6 sedan, according to the EPA measuring system, and that translates to plenty of room for four, or five in a pinch.
There are half-liter cupholders in the doors and in both front and rear center consoles, and lots of other open and covered storage. The seat pockets and door pockets are huge. Our only complaint is that the interior door handles lacked heft.
The interior design is complemented by carbon fiber, titanium and body-color finishes. The sharp-looking gauges are illuminated in red light, but are conventional white-on-black during the day, with nice, large and pleasing graphics. Controls are equally well-labeled, legible during the day and illuminated in red at night.
The trunk is a good size at more than 15.2 cubic feet, and the trunk lid is designed with hinges that do not impinge in any way on the storage space. The compact, lateral-link rear suspension system allows for a perfectly flat trunk floor. The 60/40 split rear seat folds to expand luggage space. The release levers are in the trunk, a plus for security and convenience, and the seats themselves are spring-loaded so they fold instantly with just one pull of the release.
Handling comparisons to other cars in its class put the Mazda 6 near the top of the heap. The Mazda 6 holds the road better when cornering than the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima, and it offers better transient response than other mid-size sedans in quick lane-change maneuvers. The Camry feels genuinely lethargic by comparison and the Altima feels like a bigger car. And the Mazda's handling is sharper than the Honda's.
Mazda tells us that no sport-tuned suspension or handling package is offered on the Mazda 6 because the standard suspension is already tuned for sporty handling. In other words, it comes standard with a sports suspension. And we buy that, as indicated by our assessment above. The Mazda 6 rides on double wishbones up front, with a lateral-link layout in the rear and coil springs all around. Tires on the 6i are generously sized at 205/60HR16, with beefier 215/50VR17s on the 6s. Grip is very, very good, tenacious you might say, right up to the point where the front end pushes, telling you to lighten up. This doesn't occur until you've reached competition-level speeds, however. Other mid-size sedans lose grip far sooner than the Mazda 6. The amount of power-steering assist backs off the faster you go, to give good road feel, though still on the light side, at high speeds.
Ride quality is plusher than we were expecting, but body roll is nicely controlled by the lateral-link rear suspension and the standard front and rear stabilizer bars. In other words, the car doesn't lean much in corners.
Road and wind noise does come through, however. This Mazda is not as quiet as the latest Honda Accord, and road noise is relatively pronounced on broken pavement. We noticed more road and wind noise in cars with the Sport Package, so we suspect that the package's aerodynamic enhancements may be the cause.
Braking is better than in other cars in this class; the Mazda 6 stops in shorter distances. The optional anti-lock brakes demonstrated a marked propensity to arrest forward motion, with solid, progressive pedal feel, and good resistance to fade from prolonged heat buildup when driving hard for extended periods of time.
Zoom-zoom is in plenty supply regardless of which model you choose. The four-cylinder Mazda 6i is a hoot to drive. Order it with the five-speed manual and the fun zone starts at about 4000 rpm, where the engine is very responsive. The 2.3-liter, double-overhead-cam engine loves to rev. Below 3000 rpm, however, the four-cylinder lacks strong throttle response. Measured by the numbers, acceleration is on par with other four-cylinder mid-size sedans. The Honda may be slightly quicker, but the Mazda feels younger and sportier. The four-cylinder works best with the manual gearbox, which is fun to row.
The 3.0-liter V6 in the Mazda 6s greatly increases the fun. Like the four-cylinder, it has continuously variable valve timing (VVT) for its intake camshaft; but on the V6, this feature seems to be used more effectively, providing better low-down torque along with a willingness to rev, good gas mileage, and a nice set of sounds from the air intake and the dual exhausts. The Mazda V6 doesn't feel like it has as much low-rpm torque as the Toyota and Honda V6 engines, but it loves to rev and it's a lot of fun to drive.
The five-speed automatic transmission is a very good companion for the flexible V6 engine. Electronic controls automatically interrupt torque delivery on both upshifts and downshifts for smooth, positive gear changes without that secondary, rubbery bump that some front-drive transaxles generate. Both automatic transmissions offer a manual mode called Sport Shift: Pull back on the stick to upshift, push forward to downshift.
Both engines are made of aluminum to keep the new Mazda 6 from getting too heavy, which it isn't, at 3309 pounds for the V6 automatic.
The Mazda 6 is an affordable sports sedan. It boasts more exterior and interior style than other mid-size sedans. It's more fun to drive than other cars in this class, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima. The Mazda offers quicker cornering and stopping performance and a sportier ambiance. It's a great choice for someone who wants a more exciting car.
Though we haven't driven them, we expect the Sport Wagon to offer the same driving excitement, plus increased versatility; it should be a terrific dog car. The same goes for the 5-Door, which will fall between the sedan and wagon in terms of cargo utility.
Mazda 6i sedan ($18,750); 6s sedan ($21,345); Mazda 6i 5-Door; Mazda 6s 5-Door; Mazda 6s sport wagon.
Flat Rock, Michigan.
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($900); side air bags and side-curtain air bags ($450); Sport Package ($770) includes halogen fog lamps, dual oval exhaust outlets, front and rear air dams, side sill extensions, wing-type deck lid spoiler; auto-dimming mirror with compass and HomeLink ($250).
Mazda 6s ($21,345).
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