– Japanese reliability
– Striking looks
– Excellent handling
– Not the most quiet of interiors
– Back seat tight for tall people
– V6 not offered here
The Mazda 6 is probably the sportiest mid-size sedan in its class in terms of appearance and handling characteristics. It corners better than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, or Nissan Altima. The Mazda 6 also has good brakes and decent ride quality. In short, it is a good driver’s car. It’s also the best sedan for the money that Mazda has ever built, and is available with 2 four-cylinder engines. Sadly, the fast V6 or the turbo-4 versions of the Mazda 6 are not offered here.
The Mazda 6, known also as the Mazda6, debuted in 2003 to widespread acclaim and multiple awards. Available in 4-door sedan or 5-door liftback models, buyers are also offered a choice of 2.0L and 2.3L engines. The base model is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated 139 horsepower. Standard features include power windows, 16-inch steel road wheels, front airbags, a power trunk release, dual 12-volt power outlets and dual map lights front and rear. A five-speed manual transmission is standard while a four-speed automatic is optional. ABS and traction control are available as options. The higher model is powered by a 164-horsepower 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, and comes with all of the above plus automatic climate control, cruise control and aluminium wheels. A five-speed manual is standard, while a four-speed automatic with manual shift capability is optional.
Options include power-adjustable driver’s seat, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, leather seats, a power glass sunroof and appearance-oriented accessories, such as fog lights, spoilers, side-sill extensions, and mud guards.
The Mazda 6 represents one of the sportiest exterior designs in the mid-size sedan class. Visually, it has more personality than the Accord and more spunk than the Camry. It has with a strong front-end treatment that’s consistent with other Mazdas. Cat’s-eye headlamps and big tail lamps that feature multi-element designs that enhance the style at each corner of the car. 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 styling makes the Mazda 6 look smaller than it is. The 5-door liftback features an extended rear roof pillar sloping rearward into a raised deck lid. The body kit makes it look even better.
The Mazda 6 interior has comfortable front seats with a wide range of adjustments. They are suitable for hard driving, with good upper body support and enough lower back support. The rear seats are also quite comfortable, but people taller than six feet are probably going to complain about knee room. There are half-liter cupholders in the doors and in both front and rear center consoles, and lots of other open and covered storage.
The interior design is complemented by body-color finishes. The sharp-looking gauges are illuminated in red light, but are conventional white-on-black during the day, with nice, large and pleasing graphics. Controls are equally well-labeled, legible during the day and illuminated in red at night.
The trunk is a good size, and the trunk lid is designed with hinges that do not impinge in any way on the storage space. The compact, lateral-link rear suspension system allows for a perfectly flat trunk floor. The 60/40 split rear seat folds to expand luggage space.
A handling comparison to other cars in its class puts the Mazda 6 at the top of the heap. The Mazda 6 holds the road better when cornering than the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima, and it offers better transient response than other mid-size sedans in quick lane-change maneuvers. The larger Camry feels truly lethargic in comparison, and the Altima handles more like a bigger car. Plus the Mazda’s handling is sharper than the Honda’s.
Mazda tells us that no sport-tuned suspension or handling package is offered on the Mazda 6 because the standard suspension is already tuned for sporty handling. In other words, it comes standard with a sports suspension. And we buy that, as indicated by our assessment above. The Mazda 6 rides on double wishbones up front, with a lateral-link layout in the rear and coil springs all around. Grip is very, very good with the larger tire options, right upto the point where the front end pushes outward in a turn, telling you to lighten up. This doesn’t occur until you’ve reached competition-level speeds, however. 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, though still on the light side, at high speeds.
Ride quality is plusher than we were expecting, but body roll is nicely controlled by the lateral-link rear suspension and the standard front and rear stabilizer bars. In other words, the car doesn’t lean much in corners.
Road and wind noise does come through, however. This Mazda is not as quiet as the latest Honda Accord, and road noise is relatively pronounced on broken pavement. We noticed more road and wind noise in cars with the Sport Package, so we suspect that the package’s aerodynamic enhancements may be the cause. Engine noise at moderate revs is also a concern.
Braking is better than in other cars in this class; the Mazda 6 stops in shorter distances. The optional anti-lock brakes demonstrated a marked propensity to arrest forward motion, with solid, progressive pedal feel, and good resistance to fade from prolonged heat buildup when driving hard for extended periods of time.
The 2.3L four-cylinder Mazda 6 is fun to drive. With the five-speed manual, the fun starts at about 4000 rpm, where the engine is very responsive. The 2.3-liter, double-overhead-cam engine loves to rev. Below 3000 rpm, however, the four-cylinder lacks strong throttle response. Measured by the numbers, acceleration is on par with other four-cylinder mid-size sedans. The Honda may be slightly quicker, but the Mazda feels younger and sportier. The four-cylinder works best with the manual gearbox, which is fun to row. In comparison, the 2.0L feels terribly slow.
The four-speed ActiveMatic automatic transmission is a very good companion for the 2.3L engine. Electronic controls automatically interrupt torque delivery on both upshifts and downshifts for smooth, positive gear changes without that secondary, rubbery bump that some front-drive transaxles generate. Only the 2.3L automatic transmission offers a manual mode.
The Mazda 6 is a fairly affordable sports sedan. It boasts more exterior and interior style than other mid-size sedans. It’s more fun to drive than other cars in this class, including ones from Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The Mazda offers quicker cornering and stopping performance and a sportier ambiance. It’s a great choice for someone who wants a more exciting car, although a V6 option would have made it a true BMW competitor.