2009 Mazda Mazda6 Expert Review:Autoblog
With a tagline like "Zoom Zoom", Mazda has given itself the mandate that every one of its vehicles must be fun to drive. While that standard is more easily met with dedicated sports cars like the RX-8 and MX-5, infusing the essence of Mazda's marketing pitch into CUVs, economy cars and family sedans is easier advertised than done. Mazda runs the risk of damaging its message if each iteration of the CX-7, CX-9, Mazda3, Mazda5 and Mazda6 doesn't measure up.
And so the 2009 Mazda6 arrives with a new design, more room and more power as the brand's all-new offering in the hotly contested mid-size sedan segment. Being a Mazda, the new 6 will be compared just as much to the sedan it replaces as to competitors from Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Ford and Chevrolet. The prior version was the driver's choice among this field of vanilla four-doors, and the 2009 model must scream Mazda's mantra just as loudly while appealing to more customers. Does it accomplish this without diluting the company's "Zoom Zoom" message? Follow the jump to find out.
All photos Copyright ©2009 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
For 2009, the Mazda6 comes in SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels with two available engines. The base mill available in all trims is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 170 hp at 6,000 rpm and 167 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, while a big 3.7-liter V6 making 272 hp at 6,250 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm is available in every trim except the base SV. The starting price for a 2009 Mazda6 i SV is just $19,220 including destination charges, while our range-topping s Grand Touring V6 starts at $28,260 and finishes at $32,790 with the optional nav system ($2,000) and Moonroof & Bose Package ($1,760). Surprisingly, the base MSRP of a 2009 Mazda6 i SV is $590 less than the least expensive 2008 model, though our top-shelf tester starts $1,315 higher than last year's.
Just as its price has expanded in both directions, the Mazda6 has grown in every measurable exterior and interior dimension except for rear headroom, which remains the same at 37 inches. The Mazda6 is now one of the largest mid-size sedans on the market, slotting just below the Honda Accord in size, which itself is now classified as a Large Car by the EPA. Those larger dimensions are wrapped in new curves that do things we haven't seen before in this segment.
|Dimensions: 2009 Mazda6 vs. 2008 Mazda6
|2009 Model ||2008 Model ||Difference|
||186.8 inches||+6.9 inches
||70.1 inches||+2.3 inches
|Curb Weight||3,547 lbs.
||42.3 inches||+0.2 inches|
||16.6 cubic feet
||15.2 cubic feet
||+1.4 cubic feet
Take the front fenders, which jut far out from the hood that angles in as they travel down to the leading point of a shield-shaped grille. Those fenders should look familiar – the RX-8 has been wearing them for years. They've been grafted onto other Mazdas like the CX-7, CX-9 and Mazda5 to create an expressive brand identity across the lineup. It's a look that is most at home on the 6 sedan, with its low and wide front clip suspended between 18-inch alloy wheels like an F1 car for the family.
Cat-like headlights with Xenon projector lamps are placed on the forward facing side of the front fenders while a long, thin intake connects a pair of fog lamps at the outer edges of the front end. With a big Mazda badge front and center, the face of the new 6 looks both familiar and more beautiful than before. We suspect it will win Best Dressed compliments from most buyers, especially in the Onyx Black color of our tester which looked like an Armani tux rendered in sheetmetal.
Around back, the Mazda6 is more conventionally shaped, but the designers' avoidance of straight lines continues with a rounded rear trunk lid and tail-lamps shaped to echo the front headlights. The dual exhausts at the bottom of the rear apron spew hydrocarbons through a pair of faux tips embedded in the bumper, a somewhat disturbing trend we've noticed on many new cars that make their dirtier bits appear prettier than they actually are.
While the Mazda6 looks better from any angle than most mid-size sedans, its profile reveals a few wrinkles. Seen from the side, the sedan's larger size cannot be hidden behind sinewy curves and organic shapes. Though its wheelbase has grown by 4.5 inches, the overall length of the Mazda6 now stretches 193.7 inches – a full 6.9 inches longer than before – which means its front and rear overhangs are that much more noticeable. The benefit is a larger trunk that can swallow an extra 1.4 cubic feet of stuff and an engine bay large enough for Ford's 3.7-liter V6. The downside is that while the car's substantially larger dimensions are subdued by its exterior design, the added size and heft can be felt from behind the wheel.
Whereas the exterior is the very definition of designing outside the lines, the interior of the 6 holds no surprises. Though the dash design is all-new, it's similar in most respects to the prior model and again divided in half by a line that sits at the top of your knees. You won't find wood trim here, but the 6 does sport a high-end accent material that looks like smooth piano black lacquer at first, only to reveal a wavy bluish-silver thread element upon closer inspection. It's a good compromise between the organic feel of wood and industrial presentation of aluminum or carbon fiber, and since it's unique, no one can say it looks like faux-anything.
All the controls fall readily to hand and are easy to use, including the three HVAC knobs that sit below the navigation screen, offering a well-oiled, expensive feel when manipulated. Below those, you'll find a chintzier pair of heated seat switches and the car's optional push-button start, though there still remains an ungainly plastic panel covering the hole where the standard ignition would have been on the steering column.
The DVD-based navigation system was unremarkable, which is to say it gets you to Point B no better or worse than the competition. The seven-inch touchscreen also interfaces with the Bose ten-speaker, 333-watt surround sound system. Six CDs can be inserted behind the screen, and it also tilts up a few degrees to reduce glare on sunny days. The large tach and speedo are also easy-to-read and jump out with orange-on-blue backlighting.
There is a small LCD screen that sits atop the center console, but it attempts to convey more information than its real estate can comfortably handle. About the size of a ruler, this display can show the time, inside temperature setting for both zones, fan setting, air flow and audio source information. It also acts as trip computer and show miles per gallon, average mpg, range and average speed. Some of this info can also be displayed on the nav screen, which makes the smaller display seem unnecessarily cluttered and somewhat redundant on higher-spec models.
We do give the new 6 high marks for comfortable seats befitting such a big car, with plenty of thigh support from the long lower cushions up front and loads of legroom in back. The front seats, however, did feature less side bolstering than we expected from a Mazda – they seemed better suited for long haul comfort than holding you steady during a decreasing-radius bend.
So far, we've chronicled everything new about the Mazda6 that doesn't have to do with "Zoom Zoom", so the question remains whether those changes have interfered with what made the last model special. There is one obvious casualty. Mazda canceled the high-performance Mazdaspeed6 model for the last generation's final 2008 model year, and it has not returned. With its lightweight yet extremely potent 2.3-liter, turbocharged, direct-inject four-cylinder producing 270 hp and 280 lb-ft coupled to a torque-splitting all-wheel-drive system, the Mazdaspeed6 had no true peers in the family friendly sports sedan segment.
The new 6 offers a larger V6 producing slightly more horsepower (272) and marginally less torque (269) in a vehicle that weighs about 169 pounds more. All-wheel drive is also off the menu for 2009, which means there's no new 6 that comes close to what the Mazdaspeed6 offered in terms of performance and handling. All is not lost, however, as Mazda engineers have ensured that what remains is still among the sportiest four-door family sedans on the market.
In lieu of all-wheel drive, Mazda asks that you place your faith in its Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control System. These two electronic nannies should help keep the 6 pointed in your intended direction and aid forward movement on slippery surfaces. While there is no replacement for the grip of all-wheel drive when carving corners, DSC and TCS provide similar levels of sure-footedness during normal driving. However, the DSC is defeatable for those who wish to experience the full force of this front-wheel drive sedan's understeering potential.
That big V6 does provide enough grunt to move the 6 without fuss. S models mate it to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual controls on the shifter – no paddles. Lesser i models get a five-speed auto. Unfortunately, there is no Sport mode for the transmission, which means shifting to manual control gets you gear changes that take just as long as when the computer is in control. The engine already has the extra weight of a larger car working against it, so it's a shame that the transmission doesn't help out by offering a mode with a more aggressive shift pattern. Instead, it generally tries to parse out the engine's power as efficiently as possible, which results in EPA estimated mileage numbers of 17 city and 25 highway. Those aren't bad figures for such a big engine in a large car, but without the payoff of more engaging performance, buyers may gravitate more towards the 2.5-liter four-cylinder that, paired to the five-speed auto, returns 21 city and 30 highway miles per gallon.
What does save the 6's sporting credentials is its suspension. Independent at all four corners with high-mount double wishbones and stabilizer bars front and back, the coil springs and dampers are tuned for a firm ride that returns flat, stable handling when attacking twisties. Grip is prodigious with big 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels wearing P235/45 all-season tires that are intimidated by neither crumbling streets or curvy roads. The speed-sensing power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, for its part, is excellent, offering just enough resistance at speed to feel the fight between the road and those big radials, only to faithfully dial back up the assistance when you're inching along looking for a parking spot.
For a family sedan, the 6 is remarkably taut and even nimble, certainly more so than most of its competition that compromise in this respect. The tradeoff is a degree of stiffness to which some spouses might protest, but others may not notice this in the face of the car's other attributes. And there's the rub. The 2009 Mazda6 offers more of what most people want in a four-door family sedan, namely interior space. It can haul four people more comfortably than before and accommodate more of their stuff. As such, it should be more appealing to the mainstream that passed on the previous version.
Has Mazda signed a deal with the Devil to sell more units, though? Has sacrificing some of this car's sporty character doomed it to be just one more Toyota Camry competitor? Not quite. Mazda's exterior designers have guaranteed that will never happen. Still, much of the Mazda6 that we loved from before has been gobbled up by a bigger body, and the powerful V6 makes acceleration effortless rather than exhilarating. For the moment, it's enough that we have to amend Mazda's tagline where it applies to the new 6. We're lopping off a "Zoom" from "Zoom Zoom". That still leaves one, which is still more "Zoom" than the other cars in this class.
All photos Copyright ©2009 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
The 2009 Mazda6 is an all-new midsize sedan from Mazda that was designed, engineered, developed, and will be manufactured completely on U.S. soil. While the Japanese and European markets have been enjoying the new 6 (Atenza) since late last year, the North American market finally gets to bask in the sleek new bodywork, along with a bigger engine under the hood. Follow the jump to see if the latest product from team "Zoom-Zoom" can compete head-to-head with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.
All photos copyright Michael Harley / Weblogs Inc.
Mazda explains "Zoom-Zoom" as "...the exhilaration and liberation from experiencing the emotion of motion." We're in Southern California, and Mazda is telling us the all-new second-generation Mazda6, like the first one introduced in 2003, evokes Zoom-Zoom. We didn't exactly feel tingly with the last model (the MazdaSpeed6 would be the exception), so we walked out to the new car with key in hand to see if we are going to be feeling "it" with the new car.
We've seen plenty of the Mazda6 over the past year. Off the show stage and on the road, our original thoughts are confirmed. First, it's unmistakably Mazda. Second, the 6 doesn't look nearly as painfully boring as its predecessor. Third, it's an attractive package from just about any angle. It's apparent that Mazda designers gave the new model a serious injection of excitement. The sedan now sports a stylish front end with upswept headlights and muscular front quarter panels (think RX-8). The ho-hum door guard strip is gone, and a sleek chrome accent now surrounds the windows and continues to the middle of the C-pillar beyond the end of the door. The LED tail lamps feature elegant accents that tie into the chrome brightwork on the trunk. The six-cylinder model features metallic faux exhaust surrounds to complete the styling look, while the four-cylinder has to make-do with traditional dual pipes on the right side. Compared to the outgoing model, the new Madza6 is 6.1 inches longer, 2.3 inches wider, and sits on a wheelbase that has stretched 4.5 inches. Even with the increased dimensions, the new car hides the size well.
The interior of the Mazda6 is tastefully appointed, and very welcoming, as well. Contrasting colors and textures nicely mix, and unique glossy "patterned" trim (it's not fake wood, nor is it fake carbon fiber) looks interesting and classy without appearing gaudy. Like the previous model, the primary gauges are backlit with an orange glow over black dials. Bright brushed metallic finishes accent the dials, steering wheel, and console. We did find ourselves having to reach forward to touch the controls on the sat-nav as the unit sits further from the driver than anything else. The screen is mounted at an angle, which could make viewing difficult in direct sunlight. Polarized sunglass owners will note that their lenses block out some of the gauges. As before, the HVAC dual-temp and primary radio controls are round dials and the overall cabin ergonomics are good, although you will still need to move your head around a bit to see a few of the switches hidden behind the left side of the steering wheel.
Our six-foot two-inch frame was comfortable in the multi-adjustable driver's seat (set all the way back). The front seats are firm, but spine-friendly even after an extended drive. The rear seats are surprisingly roomy -- a six-footer can sit back there without claustrophobia, and kids won't be cramped. Overall, the cabin is a very pleasant place to pass the time.
Under the hood of the six-cylinder model is the same 3.7-liter V6 that motivates the Mazda CX-9 CUV. Doing duty in the Mazda6, the MZI engine is rated at 272 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque and Mazda is quick to point out that those numbers push the 6 to the head of the class among its Japanese competition (Honda Accord - 268 hp, Nissan Altima - 270 hp, and Toyota Camry - 268 hp). The engine is mated to a smooth six-speed Sport Shift automatic transmission driving the front wheels. The four-cylinder model gets the familiar MZR inline-four, bored out to 2.5-liters. In this application, it's rated at 170 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque and mated to either a six-speed manual, or a five-speed Sport automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels as well. There is no all-wheel drive model, yet.
The engine is strong, but not as powerful as 272 horses on paper would lead you to believe (at 3,547 pounds, the weight of the Mazda6 is on par with its competitors), but the six-speed slushbox has a manual mode that responded well to our commands. Push forward to downshift and pull back to add a gear (just like BMW does it). Kudos the Mazda engineers who programmed the transmission software to hit a soft redline at the limit while holding the selected gear.
Unfortunately, while the 3.7-liter engine offers best-in-class power, it may also be the Mazda6's Achilles' heel. The EPA fuel economy ratings for the V6 powerplant come in at 17/25 (city/highway). That's about ten-percent lower that the competition (Honda Accord 19/29, Nissan Altima 19/26, and Toyota Camry 19/28). If you seek frugality, save some money and opt for the smaller four-banger (21/30 mated to the auto). The lesser engine pulls the Mazda6 around just fine, albeit at a much slower pace.
Mazda was brave enough to bring the competitive targets (Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry) to the launch so we could test drive them back-to-back against the all-new Mazda6. Our seat-of-the-pants impression was that the all-new Mazda6 was undeniably the most enjoyable of the bunch to drive -- as Mazda and their Zoom-Zoom infusion had boasted. While none would be considered a stoplight racer, the 3.7-liter under the Mazda's hood felt a bit out-gunned by Nissan's 3.5-liter VQ (itself rated at 270 hp), even though it wasn't as smooth. The Toyota and Honda felt about as quick as the rest of the pack. A penalty at the pump, not matched with any apparent acceleration advantage, doesn't keep consumers happy in this segment.
Mazda engineers spent a considerable amount of time refining the chassis of the new Mazda6 to make it a more rigid platform. It's all in the name of allowing the suspension to do its work, and improving occupant safety. Independently sprung on all four corners, the newest Mazda wears double-wishbones up front and an E-type multi-link in the rear. Stabilizer bars on both ends keep everything on an even keel. Driving the Mazda6 on some of Southern California's most challenging roads (Mulholland Drive, Stunt Road, and Decker Canyon), the sedan wasn't traumatized like the Camry (think marshmallow soft), or the Accord (what happened to the fun-to-drive Accord?). Diving into corners resulted in expected understeer, but without the feeling that the front tires were peeling off the rims (did we mention how soft the Camry was?). The Mazda6 was entertaining to toss around, and we never found ourselves worried the car wasn't responding to our inputs. But it's not ready for track duty. It's a sporty sedan, not a sport sedan.
Back on commuter-oriented roads, the Mazda6 was exceedingly competent -- a pleasure to drive. It never exhibited the disconnected (or isolated) driving feel that is so common in the segment. While we did observe some tire roar, and more than a bit of wind noise around the pillars, neither was distracting, nor discomforting.
The base price on a Mazda6 2.5-liter is just $18,550 (plus destination). The six-cylinder model starts at $24,130 (plus destination). A loaded Grand Touring V6 model, with NAV, moonroof, and BOSE audio, will set you back about $32,990.
When compared to the Altima, Camry, and Accord, our impression is that the all-new 2009 Mazda6 offers consumers exterior and interior styling that is fresh and stylish. We'll say it's easily the best looking of the bunch. While it's not cavernous, the new sedan is roomy, comfortable, and accommodating. The chassis, and driving dynamics, are undeniably the sportiest. It is obvious to us that the new Mazda6 received a much larger wallop of Zoom-Zoom than the last model -- and the car has finally broken free of the segment's boring mold. The question now is whether or not the buying public are looking for boring, bland, and economical... or do they want driving excitement? According to Mazda, nearly three million buyers in the United States purchase a new mid-sized automobile each year. Mazda just has to convince a small portion of them that its often overlooked contender is offering something exemplary this time.
New Car Test Drive
All-new, more spacious, more refined, more powerful.
The 2009 Mazda 6 has moved up. All-new, redesigned and re-engineered for 2009, the Mazda6 has moved up in size, in features, and in power. All this without serious damage to price, fuel economy, or driving dynamics.
Virtually every dimension inside and out has increased with the introduction of these all-new 2009 models. The 2009 Mazda 6, or Mazda6 as Mazda calls it, now delivers plenty of room for four or five adults along with a big trunk that holds as much as some SUVs can fit under their luggage covers. For the first time in Mazda6 history, this one has been designed expressly for the North American market and is considerably bigger than the overseas version.
The 2009 Mazda 6 is offered with a choice of four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, each larger and more powerful than before. Its new V6 is now among the most powerful in the class, producing 272 horsepower, and it comes standard with an automatic. Meanwhile, drivers seeking fuel efficiency will not be disappointed with the four-cylinder's 170 horsepower.
Four trim levels are offered on the Mazda 6 sedan, with prices ranging from less than $20,000 to around $33,000 for a fully loaded V6 model. All are four-door sedans. There is no wagon, hatchback, or MazdaSpeed version available for 2009.
Navigation is available on the 2009 Mazda 6 with voice activation. Bluetooth and blind spot monitoring systems are offered, as are audio inputs and noise-compensation sound systems. These gadgets are convenient, but what we like most about the Mazda 6 is its driving dynamics.
The Mazda 6 competes against an impressive group of midsize sedans, but we think anyone shopping Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, or Hyundai Sonata should have the Mazda6 on their comparison test-drive list. And its sportiness makes the Mazda6 an alternative to the Acura TL, Nissan Maxima, and Volkswagen Passat. The styling isn't conservative and the manners aren't boring.
The 2009 Mazda 6 comes with a choice of engines and trim levels. The Mazda6 i is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-estimated 21/30 miles per gallon City/Highway with the five-speed automatic transmission. It's also available with a five-speed automatic. The Mazda6 s is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 with an EPA-rated 17/25 mpg and comes exclusively with a six-speed automatic.
The Mazda 6i SV ($20,250) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls, 60/40 folding rear seat, floor and cargo mats, map lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, outside temperature display and Sirius radio-ready. Accessories include auto-dimming mirrors, fog lights, rear spoiler and 6CD in-dash changer. The SV trim level comes only with the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
All Mazda 6i manual transmission models come with black cloth upholstery, and are limited to four exterior colors; a five-speed automatic transmission ($900) is optional. All Mazda 6s models also get V6 badging, aluminum wheels, and a chrome exhaust outlet on either side.
Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim packages are available for each model. The Mazda 6i Sport ($20,250) and Mazda 6s Sport ($24,130) get an auxiliary audio input jack, cruise control, remote keyless entry and auto-down front windows. The Mazda 6s upgrades to larger, 215/55VR17 tires.
Mazda 6i Touring ($21,705) models should prove popular, boasting a 17-inch tire/wheel combination and fog lights, power driver seat, leather wheel/shifter, center console sliding armrest, electroluminescent gauges with trip computer, antitheft system, and advanced key with pushbutton start. Packages include moonroof and Bose package ($1760) with Bose Centerpoint sound system, 6CD in-dash, MP3, Sirius; and a Convenience package ($1610) of dual-zone climate control, Xenon headlamps, leather/cloth seats, Bluetooth phone/audio, blind spot monitors, rain-sensing wipers, and welcome mode lighting. Mazda 6s Touring ($25,075) models get all these upgrades plus 235/45WR18 tires on alloy wheels.
Grand Touring ($24,910) trim includes everything on Touring plus leather seats (heated in front) with three-position memory, auto-dimming (heated outside) mirrors, blind spot monitor system, auto headlamps, LED tail-lamps, rain-sensing wipers, Xenon headlamps, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, HomeLink, welcome lighting, and a power passenger seat. Mazda 6s Grand Touring ($28,260) adds 18-inch tires. Grand Touring may be ordered with the moonroof/Bose package and DVD-based voice-activated navigation system ($2000).
Safety features include front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control and ABS. The Blind Spot Monitor is standard Grand Touring and available on Touring.
The 2009 Mazda6 is half a foot longer than the 2008 version, with 4.5 inches added to wheelbase and 2.3 inches to width. Despite these substantial increases it doesn't look like a big car, especially with nothing adjacent for scale.
Of the Accord/Altima/Camry/Malibu competition only the Malibu has a longer wheelbase, which doesn't translate to superior cabin or trunk dimensions, and only the Accord is longer and wider by fractions of an inch.
But with its flowing roofline similar to oxymoronic four-door coupes and real coupes like the Audi TT, wraparound overhangs that appear shorter than they are, and sleeker lines overall, the Mazda6 comes across as a smaller, trimmer car than the relatively box-like Accord.
From dead ahead or in your mirror the diamond teardrop headlamps laid over the front corners add a hint of French to a Mazda RX-8 face, and from any other angle the floating front fenders are signature Mazda: the edgiest front-end in the mid-size market. An upper body crease that would normally go to the front wheel stops just shy of that floating fender, and the rear wheel arches have double creases to mirror the front.
Although both Mazda and Acura use a five-sided grille, Mazda's has a deeper V-shape to it and it's all body-colored. There is no chrome beyond the logo wings, and darker colors show even fewer character lines for the most fluid appearance. Fog lights are set in horizontal openings but the lights themselves are vertically-oriented.
At the rear, taillamps wrap well around the sides, and V6-model exhausts are distinctively shaped stand-offs not actually connected to the pipes themselves. You could stretch the shape and find the RX-8's influence in numerous places on the Mazda6.
The Mazda 6 cabin uses contemporary materials, with metallic-finish surfaces rather than phony wood trim. The exception is the console trim that slashes across the passenger's dash which, on some models, appears a cross between silver-veined black granite and ash-black burnt wood with wide rings in it. It's a look we've not run across recently. Most finishes are appropriate although you will find hard plastic on the doors below the armrest and some console dash pieces; this parallels some cars in the class, while others like the Accord are better.
The seats are cloth on the SV and Sport, and have the same support and comfort as the upper trim lines, lacking only the extra degrees of power adjustment.
Touring uses cloth cushion and backrest centers with leather outboard; the black-and-white striped center seat sections suggest a snow leopard in motion and along with the surrounding leather this combination in the Touring nicely complements the rest of the Mazda6 interior trim.
We found the most striking interior on a Grand Touring, with very light gray leather upholstery and door panel inserts contrasted against black carpeting, lower seat trim, console, dash, and door tops and bottoms. It's a stylish way to get the sun-belt comfort of light colored upholstery without making a mess of a white carpet every time you get in. The Grand Touring is full leather with perforated center sections.
We found the Mazda6 seats comfortable front and rear, regardless of upholstery or power assist. The up-sizing of the Mazda6 has resulted in cabin dimensions similar to and occasionally better than the big Accord, so even 6-foot-plus bodies could sit in front and then jump in back without moving the front seat, even on cars with the moonroof. Frequently the case with rooflines like this one, heads of rear riders will be where roof meets rear window so make sure the belts are snug if you see a big bump coming.
The rear seat does offer spacious accommodation, a center armrest (no pass-through), and a 60/40 split seatback that's easy to fold, but we did not find any AC vents, reading lights, or center passenger headrest and the coat hooks will not hold a plastic hangar.
Outward visibility was good in all directions. The hood slopes out of sight, common in this aero era. The roof pillars are not so wide that they obstruct vision; the outside mirrors are fairly low and so is the dashboard, all adding up to a good view out. Projector headlights come with Xenon on some models, and dash and cabin lighting is more than adequate with either set of gauges.
Instruments are laid out with fuel and tachometer to the left, speed and coolant temperature to the right, with gear range (on automatics), odometers, and outside temperature indication between the two. When shifting an automatic manually the gear selected is shown in large font above the odometers.
At top center of the dash is a deep red digital display for climate, radio and clock information, easily read by anyone in the car. Below it are center vents, the audio system or navigation if so equipped, and basic three-ring climate controls. On the sides of the dash next to the big greenhouse windows are sizable, omni-directional round vents.
All the systems are simple to use, our biggest complaint being the beep that accompanied every volume adjustment made by the steering wheel toggle but this is probably one of the 24 adjustments (along with door lock programming, turn signal click volume, and blind spot monitor on cars with it) the dealer can alter for you.
The navigation system found itself, tracked, and rerouted quickly, and it responded to the first word we tried. However, the 333-watt Bose Centerpoint sound system with 10 speakers including a 9-inch subwoofer was infinitely more fun to listen to.
Most controls are on typical stalk layouts, while blind spot off, trunk release, stability control defeat and the like are to the left of the steering wheel next to a small storage tray. More storage can be found in the center console, doors, and glovebox.
Grand Touring models come with a blind spot monitor system (optional on Touring), though the Mazda6 has no significant blind spots. At speeds greater than 20 mph the system senses vehicles adjacent; it casts an orange image onto the exterior mirror if it senses your car going where another car is, and makes a noise if you signal while it senses a vehicle in the way. It worked better and caused fewer false alarms than similar systems we've tried on other brands.
Cargo space is one the strong suits of the Mazda6, as the 16.6 cubic feet of volume covers the class and is about double what some hybrids have. One needs to lift cargo only to the top of the bumper and slide it in, the car's sweeping roofline making the vertical opening much larger than the depth aspect. There are no hinges or trunk arms within the opening nor cargo shelf impediments, and the rear seatbacks can be released from the trunk.
We noted no fit and finish issues inside or out, and found the basic structure very stiff, with no creaks or squeaks entering steep driveways or angled traverses of sharp bumps.
Driving enjoyment is nothing new to Mazda and they successfully maintained that in the transition to a larger, more refined Mazda6. And while the car has gained weight with the added dimensions and features, it's also gained power, especially on the V6 models.
A small cadre of purists will bemoan the loss of a manual transmission choice with the big engine, or only black interiors on manual cars, but the four-cylinder manual is still quite entertaining and it is available on top-line Grand Touring models so you can have your nav, heated leather, and a stick together.
For 2009, the four-cylinder's been bumped from 2.3 to 2.5 liters, now at 170 hp, right in line with the base engine from Accord, Altima, Camry and Malibu. It gets the job done just fine, with the best coming on as the rev counter swings through the 4500-4800 rpm range and keeps pulling to near redline. It's plenty to get the Mazda6 around town or up a hill and cruises on the highway effortlessly at less than 3000 rpm, regardless of transmission.
Both automatic and manual have well-spaced gears to make the best of the four, and the shift and clutch action on the six-speed showcase Mazda's sports car abilities without any sports car compromises. Back to back drives showed only the Accord LX's (higher-rated) 190-hp four cylinder matched the Mazda's 170-hp engine overall, but the Honda needs higher revs yet for its best work.
Mazda's V6 has made the biggest strides for 2009, jumping from 3 liters to 3.7 liters and from 220 to 272 horsepower, with plenty of mid-range torque to go with it. This bigger engine, similar to that in the Mazda CX-9, is both larger and more powerful than that of any of the competitors and, absent timing equipment, we suspect it might outrun the others in class. The Mazda hasn't the best-in-class fuel economy but the differences are marginal, much smaller than the effect driving style will have.
Each Mazda6 model has its own calibrations for the same suspension system, and they tend to feel more buttoned down as price and engine size increase. But a lot of this can be traced to tires, and a four-cylinder car with the 17-inch wheels is arguably the most fun on a winding road because it's easily a couple of hundred pounds lighter than the V6s. Upgrading tires later would add to both fun and grip.
At the top extreme, a V6 on 18-inch wheels has plenty of grip and surprisingly good sharp-impact rejection (think lane-divider dots) but it is on the firm side, not recommended for lousy infrastructure and some road noise seeps in to the cabin. At the other end of the spectrum, a manual sport on steel wheels doesn't offer quite the same grip, but it does give the same good steering feel and response, directional stability, and solid braking. They all have stability control but even some ham-fisted co-drivers never invoked it, suggesting there's a lot of stability inherent in the design.
The closest competitors in the grip and ride components would be the Malibu V6 for ride, Altima V6 for fun, four-cylinder Accord for fun, and Camry for commuting comfort. The Mazda6 leans toward the fun end of the spectrum yet does so without the busy-ness or bounciness the Accord sometimes brings.
The 2009 Mazda 6 is all-new, bigger, roomier, more refined. It has moved from the fringes of the market closer to the mainstream mid-size sedans, yet Mazda has kept the soul of the niche that enjoys driving and doesn't consider a car mere transportation.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale test drove the Mazda6i and Mazda6s models in Los Angeles.
Mazda 6i SV ($18,550); 6i Sport ($20,250); 6i Touring ($21,705); 6i Grand Touring ($24,910); 6s Sport ($24,130); 6s Touring ($25,075); 6s Grand Touring ($28,260).
Flat Rock, Michigan.
Options As Tested
Moonroof & Bose package ($1760) includes Bose Centerpoint, 6CD, MP3, Sirius satellite radio, moonroof.
Mazda 6i Grand Touring ($24,910).
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