2009 Mazda6 s Grand Touring – Click above for high-res image gallery

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
Length 193.7 inches
186.8 inches +6.9 inches
Width 72.4 inches
70.1 inches +2.3 inches
Height 57.9 inches
56.7 inches
+1.2 inches
Wheelbase 109.8 inches
105.3 inches
+4.5 inches
Curb Weight 3,547 lbs.
3,378 lbs.
+169 lbs.
Headroom F
39 inches
38 inches
+1 inch
Headroom R
37 inches
37 inches Same
Legroom F
42.5 inches
42.3 inches +0.2 inches
Legroom R
38 inches
36.5 inches
+1.5 inches
Trunk Volume
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.

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