2008 Mazda Mazda6 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Zoom-zoom in the family sedan.
The Mazda 6 (or Mazda6, as the manufacturer prefers) is the mid-size sedan for the driving enthusiast. The Mazda6 looks leaner than its competitors, and the driving experience confirms the impression, with agile handling and responsive engines. The Mazda6 feels tighter in corners and holds the road better than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Nissan Altima. It's lighter on its feet and stops quicker. In short, it's more of a driver's car. Four-cylinder and V6 engines are available, and each is offered with a five-speed manual or automatic gearbox.
The Mazda6 comes in a sporty 5-Door hatchback style, in addition to the more traditional four-door 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 Mazda6 was introduced for the 2003 model year, and Mazda says it has won more than 70 awards for automotive excellence since then.
The 2006 model year brought mild styling revisions and significant product improvements, inside and out. For 2007, Mazda made anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), traction control, and side-impact and side-curtain air bags standard across the Mazda6 lineup. Now 2008 brings a new standard tire pressure monitor, a Bose stereo on Touring models, 17-inch alloy wheels on even base models, and a security alarm system for the Sport VE.
An all-new Mazda6 will be launched for the 2009 model year and will go on sale summer 2008, so look for deals on the 2008 models covered here.
All 2008 Mazdas come with a roadside assistance program, toll-free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year throughout the United States and Canada. A comprehensive three-year/36,000-mile warranty covers all but routine-wear items. Additionally, 2008 models receive a five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty.
The 2008 Mazda6 comes in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. (The wagon has been discontinued for 2008. So has the high-performance, all-wheel-drive Mazdaspeed6.)
Two engines are available: Mazda 6i models come with a 156-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine; 6s models are powered by a 212-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. With either engine buyers can choose Sport VE (for Value Edition), Touring, or Grand Touring trim. All are well equipped.
Additionally, there's the base-level 6i Sport, offered only as a sedan ($18,990), but still equipped with air conditioning; cruise control; six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio; tilt and telescope steering wheel; power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry; a 12-volt power outlet; automatic headlight shut off; variable intermittent windshield wipers; rear window defogger; and 215/50 all-season radials on 17-inch alloy wheels. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic ($900) is optional.
The 6i Sport VE sedan ($19,750) and hatchback ($20,750) add a body-color grille; side sill extensions; eight-way power driver's seat; in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer; and leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle. New for 2008 is a standard security system. Again, automatic is optional.
Touring and Grand Touring models are now offered only with automatic transmission. Additionally, 6i Touring sedan ($22,240) and hatchback ($23,240) upgrade to leather upholstery; heated front seats and outside mirrors; and a 200-watt, seven-speaker Bose audio.
The 6i Grand Touring sedan ($24,090) and hatchback ($24,840) add HID headlights, fog lights, electroluminescent gauges, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Homelink garage door opener, and a power glass sunroof with sunshade.
The V6-powered lineup begins with the 6s Sport VE sedan ($22,210) and hatchback ($23,210). Except for the engine, and two 12-volt power outlets instead of one, equipment is identical to the four-cylinder Sport VE's. Again, a five-speed manual is standard, but the optional automatic is a six-speed ($950). Touring and Grand Touring versions add the same equipment listed above for about the same differential in price, except that 6s Grand Touring models ride on 215/45 all-season radials on 18-inch alloy wheels. Prices top out with the 6s Grand Touring hatchback ($27,750).
A six-disc CD/MP3 changer is optional ($500) on the base 6i Sport sedan. Optional on VE and Touring is the sunroof ($700). Grand Touring buyers can add navigation ($2,000). Sirius Satellite Radio ($430) and a cassette player ($200) are optional on all models. A remote engine starter ($350) is available only with automatic transmission. About a dozen accessories are also available, including several cargo-organizing options ($40-50), wheel locks ($50), and an auto-dimming mirror/compass with ($275) or without ($200) Homelink.
Safety features that come standard on all models include ABS, EBD, traction control, and a full complement of air bags: advanced dual-stage front, side-impact, and side-curtain. New for 2008 is a tire-pressure monitor.
The Mazda6 is among the sportiest of the midsize sedans. Visually, it has more personality than the Accord and other family 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 Mazda6 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 Mazda6 look smaller than it is.
Mazda last freshened its look for 2006, with new headlamps, revised tail lamps, new front and rear bumper fascia, and new side sills that added more edge to the styling. Headlight housings are clear or smoked-black, depending on model and body style.
The shape of the Mazda6 is truly fetching when painted a hot color. The basic Sport sedan is handsome, and its dual oval exhaust outlets are a nice, sporty touch. The outside door handles are well designed and easy to grab. Sport VE and higher models are accented by a body-color front grille, front and rear air dams, side sill extensions and, on Grand Touring models, clear-lens fog lamps.
The hatchback features an extended rear roof pillar that slopes back into a raised deck lid. As Mazda says, it looks fast even when standing still; and yet casual observers may not notice the difference between the 5-Door and the sedan. Overall length and height dimensions are identical for the two bodies, although the hatchback weighs about 100 pounds more.
Of the two body styles, the sedan offers the stiffer structure. A stiff chassis is a key element to achieving sharp handling and a smooth ride.
The front seats of the Mazda6 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. Touring and Grand Touring models add cowhide to all the right places, with thankful perforations on the seating surfaces.
The interior is designed to be comfortable for front and rear passengers in the 95th percentile of all body shapes. The rear seats are quite accommodating, whether in the sedan or hatchback. There's more than 96 cubic feet of passenger space inside the Mazda6 sedan, according to the EPA measuring system, and only a fraction less in the hatchback; 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. Grand Touring models feature electroluminescent gauges that 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. 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 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 5-Door hatchback's rear liftgate opens to reveal a covered cargo compartment with 22.1 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, which is a hair more (yes, more) than in Mazda's CX-7 SUV/crossover. 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.
When it comes to sporty handling, the 2008 Mazda6 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 Mazda6 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 Mazda6i 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 with the manual gearbox, but we have not tried it with the 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-cylinders with the manual transmission are the most economical Mazda6 models, being EPA-rated at 21/29 mpg city/highway. Automatics surrender just one highway mpg and are classified as Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles, or PZEVs, in the eight states that require California emissions standards; in other states they are merely Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (SULEV).
The 3.0-liter V6 in the Mazda6s 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.
Both engines are made of aluminum to keep the Mazda6 from getting too heavy, which it isn't, at 3378 pounds for the V6 automatic sedan.
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 Mazda6 doesn't lean much in corners, body roll being nicely controlled by the front and rear anti-roll bars. The Mazda6 comes standard with a sports suspension with double wishbones up front, a lateral-link layout in the rear, and coil springs all around. Tires on even the base models are now generously sized at 215/50VR17, with lower-profile 215/45WR18s on V6 Grand Touring models.
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 Mazda6. 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.
The Mazda6 doesn't feel as refined as the Honda Accord does. 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 all but the base model and suspect the aerodynamic enhancements that come with the Sport VE and above may be the cause. But none of this is as uncomfortable as it sounds when described in print, and the upside is that the driver is closely attuned to the driving conditions.
The brakes are.
The Mazda6 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; but the 5-Door hatchback gives up very little relative to its increased versatility.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Laguna Beach, California.
Mazda6i Sport sedan ($18,990); 6i Sport VE sedan ($19,750); 6i Touring sedan ($22,240); 6i Grand Touring sedan ($24,090); 6s Sport VE sedan ($22,210); 6s Touring sedan ($24,850); 6s Grand Touring sedan ($27,000); 6i Sport VE hatchback ($20,750); 6i Touring hatchback ($23,240); 6i Grand Touring hatchback ($24,840); 6s Sport VE hatchback ($23,210), 6s Touring hatchback ($25,850); 6s Grand Touring hatchback ($27,750).
Flat Rock, Michigan.
Options As Tested
auto-dimming mirror with compass and HomeLink ($275); rear wing spoiler ($325).
Mazda 6s Sport VE sedan automatic ($23,160).
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