2006 Mazda Mazda6 Expert Review:Autoblog
The Mazda6 Sport Wagon that showed up was a little bit of a surprise. First, when the call came that the 6 was coming down, it sparked mixed emotions. After all, Dave Thomas had already spent time with a Mazda6 five door. Furthermore, a wagon would almost certainly be equipped with an automatic. Wagons, while a personal favorite, are not typically the most exciting vehicles around.
Wagons have a special place in the heart of this enthusiast. The first wagon that sparked this appeal was a 1986 Ford Taurus Wagon. The space-aged styling, at the time of course, had this strange attraction. Later, wagons gained even more appeal when a Chevrolet Caprice Wagon reared its head with its road trip worthy rear-facing third row seat. Not only did a chance encounter in the formative years of development influence the love of wagons, but later at work a Caprice Classic wagon busted onto the scene as a company-owned treasure. No other vehicle in the fleet would swallow more gear, while making the driver feel like some sort of geek super pimp. Notice none of these memories really have anything to do with performance. Sure, Volvo has done some spicy vehicles based on their wagons. Even Paul Newman had his own ass-chewing V8 monster Volvo wagon built. The Mazda6 Sport Wagon is a different breed of performance wagon.
The critically acclaimed Mazda6 has some appeal, but the inevitable slush-boxization carried it own fears. What a relief when the 6 wagon showed up with a five-speed! This was going to be interesting. A family wagon, with sporty intentions, a five-speed, and a peppy 220-hp V6, is a rare thing on American shores. When an automaker offers a wagon, a manual is hardly ever offered in the U.S. market.
Behind the wheel, it’s hard to believe you’re not driving a Japanese sports coupe. You have to keep reminding yourself, “it’s a wagon, it’s a wagon.” The flexible V6 is certainly more than adequate to power this vehicle. You almost couldn’t imagine what the 274-hp turbo four would be like in the MAZDASPEED6. The V6 provides such smooth, user friendly thrust, anything more seems unnecessary for a daily driver.
A solid V6, slick shifting five-speed is a great combination in any vehicle, but how does it handle? The weight of the Mazda6 doesn't make it as fun as a Mazda3, but this is clearly the mid-size wagon for the enthusiast-driver. Even if there was a wagon offered by other makes of popular midsize sedans, the Mazda6 is clearly the winner in chassis dynamics. It's hard to shake the sensation of driving a performance car. The tossable chassis tracks well, and the only limitation seems to be where the rubber meets the road, in the OEM tires that is. They are more than adequate for most situations, but it's obvious the platform has more to offer. The Mazda6 handles predictable and safely at the limit. The balance is exemplary. How exciting it is to coerce this family wagon into a graceful four-wheel drift. Definitely do not try this at home, or more appropriately, with your average midsize wagon.
There are almost no compromises in utility or comfort, even with the sporty dynamics of the Mazda6 wagon. The interior is hushed at highway speed. It’s remarkably quiet. Not that the quietness really matters, as our test was equipped with the optional Bose seven speaker stereo. Under the rear hatch, which we’ll get to later, is a subwoofer placed inside the rim of the spare tire. Oh, this system made all the more tempting to thump along in traffic to Geto Boys, Danger Doom, or maybe a nice bluegrass Metallica cover. The Bose system is the best option for the audiophile without the patience for a do-it-yourself upgrade. We’re certainly not qualified to review every detail of the audio system, but at all volume levels the sound is clear with smooth response. Plus, the extra oomph from the subwoofer is satisfying. The true test of a good system is how it doesn’t hurt your ears at high volumes. After cruising around at criminal volume levels, our hearing seems intact. Huh, what’s that? Seriously, we give two big thumbs up to the Mazda’s Bose system.
Besides a kicking subwoofer, the rear of the Mazda is equipped with spacious accommodations for all your goodies. Groceries, for amateurs! A trip to Home Depot, no problem! It’s nice to have the ability to carry the goods and rock the back roads with abandon. The interior accommodations are also very appropriate for the Mazda. Mazda’s designers tried to carry the zoom-zoom into the interior. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of how superior the Mazda3’s interior is. The fact that the Mazda6 could be referred to as the first wave in Mazda’s revitalization makes it a little easier to justify the design and finish differences between the two. It’s certainly more appealing than some of its other midsize competition.
What’s the verdict? We love the car, its handling, engine, and brakes. The Mazda is loaded with mechanical goodness. It’s like oatmeal for the driver’s heart. Also, the long lines of the Sport Wagon really mesh well with the long sweeping hood. Stylistically, it’s a great wagon. Their really isn’t much competition for it, and if you want a midsize wagon with a V6 and a manual transmission this is the only game in town. The interior has a high utility value, but it doesn’t compare well to Mazda’s latest attempt with the 3. Sorry Mazda. The door panel panels feel a touch on the cheap side, and some of the controls and buttons have a toy-like feel. There is some good news; we didn’t get the same impression with the MAZDASPEED6 that was at Frankfurt, and the Mazda6 is set for a design refresh soon. So, our solution is to just crank up the volume and enjoy the drive. That is what the Mazda6 Sport Wagon is all about.
New Car Test Drive
Sporty and fun.
Improved for 2006, the Mazda 6 is the sports sedan of front-drive midsize cars. While the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are designed for mass appeal or, stated more cynically, for people who don't like cars, the Mazda 6 is designed for the driving enthusiast. Mazda6, as the company calls it, is not for everyone, and that's just fine with Mazda.
The Mazda 6 looks leaner than its competitors and the driving experience backs that up with agile handling and responsive engines. The Mazda 6 feels tighter in corners and holds the road better than Camry, Accord or Nissan Altima. It's lighter on its feet and stops quicker. In short, it's a better driver's car. Four-cylinder and V6 engines are available, each available with five-speed manual gearboxes or five- or six-speed automatics.
The Mazda 6 comes in sporty 5-Door hatchback and Sport Wagon styles in addition to the four-door Sports Sedan. The 5-Door excels at carrying cargo, yet it doesn't look like a hatchback; in fact, it takes a sharp eye to distinguish it from the sedan. The wagon is truly a sport wagon, better than the hatchback in terms of driving enjoyment, and it offers excellent cargo-hauling versatility with a flat cargo area when the seats are folded and practical features such as a dog fence and a cargo net integrated into the cargo cover.
The 2006 model year brings revisions to the entire Mazda 6 line. Mild styling revisions give it a cleaner look. New front seats are designed for greater comfort and support, new cloth fabrics, a new center console, new door panels, and other features make the cabin more comfortable and more convenient. The 3.0-liter V6 offers slightly more torque for 2006, improving performance off the line and improving drivability by making the engine more tractable. Fuel economy has been improved for both engines, and the four-cylinder engine used on 2006 Mazda 6i models is available with a new five-speed automatic, replacing the old four-speed. The brakes have been upgraded for 2006 with bigger ventilated front disc brakes designed to reduce stopping distances, resist brake fade and improve pedal feel. Also, 18-inch wheels and tires are available.
The new 2006 Mazdaspeed6 is a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive sedan carefully tuned by Mazda's performance division. The Mazdaspeed6 offers impressive levels of performance and handling yet we found it sufficiently comfortable for the daily commute. All-wheel drive helps tame its 274-horsepower turbocharged engine, its close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox is remarkable for its easy, smooth-shifting action, and its suspension is firm but not unbearably so. It comes with sporty fabric or leather upholstery and other luxury features. Think of it as an alternative to the Audi A4 quattro or BMW 330xi.
The Mazda 6 earned product awards and accolades from the motoring press for its handling, performance and sports appeal, yet its relative obscurity means you won't likely see it in your neighbor's driveway. Driving one of these means you're something of a non-conformist, and the variety of body styles adds to this distinction. For those of us who like cars, that's a good thing.
The 2006 Mazda 6 comes in four-door sedan, five-door hatchback, and five-door wagon body styles. Several levels of trim are available. Mazda 6i models come with a 160-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine; 6s models are powered by a 215-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. All Mazda 6 models are well equipped.
The 6i sedan ($19,110) comes standard with air conditioning; cruise control; six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio; tilt and telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel; leather wrapped shift knob; power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry; and 16-inch steel wheels. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic ($900) is optional. A convenience package ($1,000) adds an eight-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar, 17-inch alloy wheels with P215/50R17 all-season tires, and an anti-theft alarm.
Safety features that come standard on all models include ABS, traction control, and advanced dual-stage front airbags. Side-impact and side-curtain airbags ($500) are optional.
Moving up to the 6i Sport sedan ($21,810) and 6i Sport hatchback ($22,210) adds the front side-impact and side-curtain airbags, the eight-way power driver's seat, fog lights, bright-tip exhaust outlets, side-sill extensions and a wing-type rear spoiler. Wheels and tires upgrade to P215/50VR17 on 17-inch aluminum rims. The hatchback comes with a rear wiper and washer.
The 6i Grand Touring sedan ($24,710) comes with leather upholstery, heated power driver's seat, the Bose stereo, heated mirrors, power glass sunroof, and red-illuminated electroluminescent gauges. Grand Touring comes standard with the five-speed automatic transmission (a manual transmission is not available). The Sport bits are dropped, but are available as options.
The Mazda 6s models are identically equipped to their 6i counterparts, except they come with the V6 engine. This goes for the 6s sedan ($23,010) and 6s wagon ($23,610); 6s Sport sedan ($23,910), 6s Sport hatchback ($24,510), and 6s Sport wagon ($24,610). The standard transmission is a five-speed manual; a six-speed automatic is optional ($950). The 6s Grand Touring sedan ($27,260) and 6s Grand Touring wagon ($27,160) come standard with the six-speed automatic.
For 2006, a new Grand Sport package combines features of Grand Touring and Sport models and comes with high-intensity discharge headlamps for superior illumination and lower maintenance.
The new 2006 MazdaSpeed6 ($27,995), a high-performance version of the Mazda 6 sedan, powered by a direct-injection 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine turbocharged to 274 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission, electronically controlled all-wheel drive, electronic stability control, and enhanced brakes and suspension complete the package. The MazdaSpeed6 is available in Sport or Grand Touring trim. Both come with the Bose audio.
Options for all Mazda 6 models include a navigation system ($2,000), an in-dash 6CD player ($500), a cassette player ($200), and a long list of accessories.
The Mazda 6 is the sportiest of the midsize sedans. Visually, it has more personality than the Accord and other midsize cars. It has a strong front-end treatment that's consistent with other Mazdas. Cat's-eye headlamps and big, multi-element tail lamps 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 profile makes the Mazda 6 look smaller than it is.
2006 brings some styling revisions to the Mazda 6 line. New headlamps, revised tail lamps, new front and rear bumper fascia, and new side sills add more edge to the styling. Fog lamps are incorporated into the front spoiler. A new sport grille, dark gray headlamp bezels, and a rear spoiler add distinction for top-line models. Also, 18-inch wheels have been added to the options list. Bright Island Blue and Tungsten Gray have been added to the color palette for 2006, and we really liked the new Dark Cherry, which will be mistaken for black in some lighting conditions.
The shape of the Mazda 6 is truly fetching when painted a hot color and accented by Sport-level trim, which includes a body-color front grille, gray headlight bezels, clear-lens halogen fog lamps, dual oval exhaust outlets, front and rear air dams, and side sill extensions. These bits are also available on base and Grand Touring models. The outside door handles are well designed and easy to grab.
The 5-Door hatchback features an extended rear roof pillar sloping rearward into a raised deck lid. As Mazda says, it looks fast even when standing still. Casual observers may not notice the difference between the 5-Door and the sedan.
The Sport Wagon looks sleek, clean and aggressive, if not as overtly sporty as the hatchback.
The new MazdaSpeed6 is distinguished by its slightly lowered stance and by its exclusive front fenders, hood, and grille, among other body panels. An aerodynamic front bumper and lower grille section hint at high performance, while flared side skirts draw attention to 18-inch aluminum wheels. A rear bumper with built-in diffuser for the integrated exhaust pipe combines with a compact, functional rear lip spoiler to finish off the exterior package.
Of the three body styles, the sedan offers the stiffest structure. The wagon has a stiffer chassis than the 5-Door due to the large rear opening of the hatchback. The Mazdaspeed6 offers the stiffest body structure, 50 percent stiffer than the standard sedan due to extensive reinforcements. A stiff chassis is a key element to achieving sharp handling and a smooth ride.
The front seats of the Mazda 6 are comfortable through a wide range of adjustments and have been improved for 2006. 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 leather Package adds cowhide to all the right places, with thankful perforations on the seating surfaces.
The Mazda 6 interior is designed to be comfortable for front and rear passengers in the 95th percentile of all body shapes. The rear seats are quite comfortable, whether in the sedan, hatchback or wagon. 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. You can squeeze in five in a pinch.
The interior design is complemented by carbon fiber, titanium and body-color finishes. The optional electroluminescent gauges are illuminated in red light, but are conventional white-on-black during the day, with nice, large and pleasing graphics. Switchgear is labeled well, legible during the day and illuminated in red at night. The heating/air conditioning system is easily controlled by three big knobs. The Bose radio does not look upscale, however, with shiny black buttons that are flush-mounted and similar in appearance. The seat heater switches are tucked away on the center console, however. Lots of open and covered storage is available, and the seat pockets and door pockets are huge. Cup holders are provided in the front and rear center consoles as well as in the door pockets.
The MazdaSpeed6 features exclusive bucket seats up front, scuff plates with stainless-steel inserts, and aluminum pedals. We found them comfortable and supportive both in leather and cloth. The cloth interior is a nice mix of fabrics, with durable looking seat bolsters and attractive door fabrics. A limited-edition model we drove had striking black and white leather with beautiful black cherry exterior paint. The available Advanced Keyless Entry and Start System allows owners to open locked doors and activate the ignition just by having the electronic key with them.
The trunk of the sedan measures 15.2 cubic feet, and the compact, lateral-link rear suspension allows for a perfectly flat trunk floor. The trunk lid is designed with hinges that do not impinge on the storage space. The standard 60/40 split rear seat folds to expand luggage space. The release levers are in the trunk for security and the seat backs are spring-loaded so they fold instantly with just one pull of the release. The Mazdaspeed6 sacrifices fold-down rear seats for increased body rigidity.
The 5-Door hatchback has a rear liftgate that opens to reveal a covered cargo compartment with 22.0 cubic feet of space, nearly 50 percent more than that of the sedan. Cargo space more than doubles to 58.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded, nearly as much as the wagon. The 60/40 split seats fold with the touch of a button and no need to remove the head rests revealing a nearly flat cargo floor. Cargo tie-downs and two hidden compartments in the side panels add versatility.
The Sport Wagon offers 33.7 cubic feet of luggage space with the rear seats up and a generous 60.4 cubic feet with them folded. Open the liftgate and you can stand fully upright, a really nice feature and a pleasant surprise the first time you discover it. Adding greatly to the wagon's utility are a retractable cargo cover shade and a barrier-type net, or dog fence, that emerges from the floor and attaches to the interior roof. Tie-down hooks are provided to secure your cargo.
When it comes to sporty handling, the 2006 Mazda 6 is among the best in the class. It offers better road holding than the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima, as well as better transient response in quick lane-change maneuvers. The Mazda 6 just feels sharper and more agile than those other cars.
Zoom-zoom is in plentiful 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 and acceleration is on par with that of other four-cylinder mid-size sedans. The Honda Accord may be a little quicker, but the Mazda feels younger and sportier. Below 3000 rpm, however, the four-cylinder lacks strong throttle response. We like it best with the manual gearbox, but we have not tried it with the new five-speed automatic. The manual shifter felt mushy to us at first, but that initial impression quickly faded and we found it fun to shift. Four-cylinder models with automatic transmission are classified as Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles, or PZEVs.
The 3.0-liter V6 in the Mazda 6s greatly increases the fun. It benefits from continuously variable valve timing (VVT) for its intake camshaft, providing strong torque at low rpm, a willingness to rev, good gas mileage, and nice sounds from the air intake and dual exhausts. The Mazda V6 doesn't feel like it has as much low-rpm torque as the Toyota and Honda V6s, but it loves to rev and it's a lot of fun to drive. Mazda retuned the V6 slightly for lower emissions for 2006 and says tractability has been improved. Torque has been increased to 199 pound-feet at 5000 rpm (from 192). Rated horsepower has dropped by five to 215 horsepower. Mazda 6i models with manual transmissions are certified as Low Emissions Vehicles, or LEVs.
The six-speed automatic is really smooth, yet shifting is crisp. All those gears provide improved gear spacing for the V6, keeping it in its power band under all circumstances. Having six forward gears allowed Mazda engineers to select low ratios for first and second to maximize off-the-line acceleration, tall top gears for effortless cruising, and mid-range gears optimized for snappy acceleration from highway speeds. The Sport Shift mode allows the driver to shift manually by pulling back to upshift, pushing forward to downshift.
Handling is excellent. The Mazda 6 doesn't lean much in corners, body roll being nicely controlled by the front and rear anti-roll bars. The Mazda 6 comes standard with a sports suspension with double wishbones up front and a lateral-link layout in the rear and coil springs all around. Tires on the base sedans are generously sized at 205/60VR16, with beefier 215/50VR17s on V6, Sport and Grand Touring models, including all hatchbacks and wagons. And 18-inch wheels and tires are available. Both engines are made of aluminum to keep the Mazda 6 from getting too heavy, which it isn't, at 3347 pounds for the V6 automatic sedan.
Grip is tenacious, right up to the point where the front end pushes, telling you to lighten up, and this understeer doesn't occur until you've reached competition-level speeds. 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, although it's still on the light side at high speeds.
Though it's more fun to drive, the Mazda 6 doesn't feel quite as refined as the Accord. Ride quality is generally good, bit it can get a little jouncy on certain types of pavement and some road vibration comes through. Road noise is relatively pronounced on broken pavement, especially with the Sport trim. Wind noise comes through as well; we noticed this was particularly true with Sport trim and suspect the aerodynamic enhancements may be the cause. None of this is as uncomfortable as it sounds when.
The Mazda 6 is the sports sedan of the mainstream midsize cars. It boasts style, agility and performance. In short, it's more fun to drive than other cars in this class. It's a great choice for someone who wants a more exciting car. The sedan offers the best handling. The hatchback and wagon offer the same driving excitement with increased versatility. The Mazdaspeed6 a special factory performance car with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive that's fun for charging down back roads yet comfortable for everyday driving.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Laguna Beach, California.
Mazda 6i sedan ($19,110); 6i Sport sedan ($21,810); 6i Grand Touring sedan ($24,710); 6i Grand Sport sedan ($25,210); 6s sedan ($23,010); 6s Sport sedan ($23,910); 6s Grand Touring sedan ($27,260); 6s Grand Sport sedan ($27,110); 6i Sport hatchback ($22,210); 6s Sport hatchback ($24,510); 6s Grand Sport hatchback ($27,710); 6s wagon ($23,610), 6s Sport wagon ($24,610); 6s Grand Touring wagon ($27,160); 6s Grand Sport wagon ($27,910); MazdaSpeed6 sedan ($27,995).
Flat Rock, Michigan; Hofu, Japan (Mazdaspeed6).
Options As Tested
auto-dimming mirror with compass and HomeLink ($250).
Mazda 6s Sport Sedan ($23,910).
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