Mazda6 – plenty of Zoom and room

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

A mid-sized family sedan needs comfortable passenger space to make it a first-class player in an extremely competitive segment.

One of the main objectives in purchasing an Accord, Camry, Malibu, Altima, Sonata or Fusion is hauling people. Accommodations for shoulders, legs and feet need to be more than adequate.

One of the segment’s most desirable players has for several years come up a bit short in those areas. The first-generation Mazda6 — sold from 2003 through 2008 — has cramped living quarters when compared to the leaders from Honda and Toyota.

The 6 has earned solid reviews for appealing styling, an attractive and user-friendly cockpit, solid build quality and excellent fit and finish. And for the past six years it has been one of the most fun-to-drive cars with four doors for under 30 grand.

Sounds down right appealing; and appealing it has been.

But it fell short in interior measurements where an inch can mean a mile. In 2008 the Mazda6 had nearly two inches less rear leg room than the Toyota Camry and nearly an inch less than the Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu. Its smaller size was pointed out in length and wheelbase where it fell from three to eight inches short of the aforementioned competitors.

The second-generation 2009 Mazda6 has added additional inches in nearly every area inside and out. The 6 now makes a compelling competitive argument in both performance and size.

Growth also becomes the mid-sized sedan — length has been stretched 7 inches to 193.7, wheelbase has grown by 4.5 inches to 109.8 and width has increased by 2.3 inches to 72.4. Rear legroom and hip room have grown an inch-and-a-half each.

We stuck two adults in back and predictably, based on the aforementioned statistics, they had ample leg room. No complaints. Three astride would have been tight, but three astride is tight in virtually all sedans even those in the full-sized class.

It’s impressive how customer concerns were addressed so dramatically.

So the big question looms — has the enlarged 6 lost any of its zoom- zoom nature? We say no after a week-long stint in a top-of-the-line 4- cylinder Grand Touring edition with leather seating and navigation.

The Mazda6 has never been boring, and the 2009 edition lives up to its fun-to-drive persona with solid performance and segment-leading handling.

While we wouldn’t put the 6 in the same category as a BMW 3-Series or and Infiniti G37, the Mazda’s road-holding ability is a smile inducing family sedan with a large amount of bite going into and out of the corners. Spirited driving attributes are part of the package and this four-door was a hoot to drive fast and hard on the twisties.

We were testing a rare breed of 6, equipped with a sprightly 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission. Short, precise throws made it a pleasure to drive close to redline through the gears.

Quick acceleration which is traditionally found in Mazda is a heartbeat slower in the 6 in both the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder version. One problem is the new electronic accelerator that has just a moment’s hesitation. Mazda’s Sr. Vice President of product development Robert Davis tells us that they have been working on it and he believes it has improved since we originally drove the vehicle. We’ll see. Mazda doesn’t publish 0-to-60 times however; independent testing has the 4-banger in the upper ranges of seven seconds to 8.1 seconds

Putting our definition of quickness aside, the total package definitely fits in with Mazda’s zoom- zoom heritage.

Note that our top-of-the-line Grand Touring model came with a sportier ride than other trim levels. Sporty usually translates to stiffer. But the responsive suspension setup, while perhaps a bit firmer than your standard garden variety mid-sized car, was far from offensive.

The Mazda6 can also be purchased with a muscular 3.7-liter V-6 generating 272 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque mated to a six- speed automatic. The V-6-equipped Mazda6 is as healthy as any mid- sized family sedan sold in America with a magazine-measured 0-to-60 time of 6.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.7 seconds at 98 miles per hour.

The headline here is that horsepower has been upped 60 over the previous-generation V-6 and performance has been improved nearly two seconds from 0-to-60. And all this was accomplished with no fall-off in gas mileage.

The 4-cylinder, which can be equipped in Grand Touring trim with all the bells and whistles that come on the V-6, has two main advantages over the V-6. Purchase price is less and gas mileage is more. The V-6 is rated at 17 mpg city and 25 highway. The 4-cylinder with the manual transmission is 20/29, and 21/30 with the standard five-speed automatic.

The interior is for the most part well done. We like the gauge packages — very sporty and we were intrigued, perhaps even a bit overwhelmed, at night by the bright red/orange numbers and readouts on the gauges combined with blue halo lighting. We prefer a more toned- down look (the grand kids loved it).

We liked the steering wheel controls — handy radio switches — and the navigation system, which was easy to reach. Climate controls independent of the navigation screen were a welcome feature. But radio controls have to be accessed through the screen.

A small information screen between the two large gauge clusters features the odometer reading and outside temperature.

Our test car featured a black enamel look on the dashboard and center console instead of the more popular brushed metal or wood trim. It works well in the Mazda.

The black leather power-adjustable driver’s seat was comfortable.

The overall exterior design retains the aggressive look of the pervious Mazda6 with a prominent shoulder line and striking front fenders that remind us of the RX-8 sports car. Very neat!

The Mazda6 comes in seven trim levels beginning with the base i SV starting at $19,220 including destination charge. Upper trim levels are Sport, Touring and Grand Touring in either “i” or “s” designations. The “i” stands for the four-cylinder and the “s” for V-6. The top- of-the-line s Grand Touring carries a base-price of $28,930.

All models come with such standard safety features as antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side- curtain airbags.

Our “i” Grand Touring test car, loaded with a full range of power equipment, carried a base price of $25,580. Navigation and a sun roof plus a Bose audio package brought the bottom line to $28,340.

We applaud Mazda for creating a bigger more passenger-friendly car without sacrificing its fun-to-drive character. It’s a job well done.


Base price: $19,220; as tested, $28,340
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 167 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length: 193.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,258 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 20 city (30/21 with 5-speed Automatic)
0-60: 8.1 seconds (MotorWeek)
Also consider: Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion

The Good
• Sporty handling, fun to drive
• Roomy cabin
• Strong performance from V-6 (272 HP/269 ft.-lbs Torque – 6-speed Automatic)

The Bad
• Mediocre fuel economy with V-6 (25 Hwy/17 City)

The Ugly
• Very pricey in top trim with options