2006 Mazda MAZDA6 review
Tired of the dull, sensible, vanilla-flavored family car? If you're willing to give up some passenger room, the Mazda 6 promises to add a dash of zing to your daily commute whether you're looking for a sedan, hatchback or wagon.
More fun to drive than most family cars, slick-shifting manual transmission, smooth power delivery, nicely appointed interior, multiple body styles.
Tight rear-seat accommodations, engines lack the vigor of the competition's, interior materials aren't always top quality.
What's New for 2006
For 2006, all vehicles in the Mazda 6 lineup have revised front and rear fascias, while sport package-equipped models get a new grille and side sill design. The optional automatic transmission on four-cylinder models is upgraded from a four-speed unit to a five-speed. Additionally, the V6 has been modified to improve exhaust emissions, resulting in 5 less horsepower (now 215). ABS and traction control are now standard on all i models, while all s models now come with an eight-way power driver seat, an alarm system and a standard side and side curtain airbags.
Known primarily for the use of rotary power plants and the RX-7 sports car, Mazda was put on the map by the 626 at a time when consumers wanted crisp European styling combined with performance and Japanese reliability but didn't want to pay much for it. Introduced in the United States in 1979, Mazda's midsize sedan, the 626, was first redesigned for 1983 when a five-door hatchback joined the existing sedan and coupe in the lineup. This theme continued in the 1988 626, which again came as a sedan, coupe or five-door hatch with available turbo power plants. For the next redesign in 1993, the coupe split from the line to become the MX-6, and the hatch was dropped. "Staid" best describes the redesign from 1998, which saw the coupe disappear and the sedan's sales plummet.
For 2003, Mazda started all over again with a new name, new engines and a sleek design that turns heads. Yet despite all it had going for it, the 6 suffered from sluggish sales in the U.S. while it flew off the lots overseas. Since then, positive word of mouth has given Mazda's latest midsize effort the push it needs to convince midsize car buyers to give it a try. In designing the 6, Mazda says it sought to make driver pleasure and occupant comfort and safety priorities, along with solid craftsmanship and packaging flexibility. With its sharp road manners, stylish design and well-appointed cabin, the 6 makes good on Mazda's promise. It's smaller than some of its competitors, but unless you're sitting in the backseat you won't notice the difference. Its drivetrains aren't as powerful as the competition's, either, but their smooth and quiet operation makes up for the lack of overall power. Another plus is the varied selection of body styles -- you can choose a sedan, a wagon or a five-door hatchback.
No matter how you cut it, the Mazda 6 is a unique vehicle that offers more than just the status quo. If the idea of buying a Camry or an Accord doesn't do much for you, this midsize Mazda could be the perfect alternative.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 6 is available as a sedan, wagon or five-door hatchback. Sedans and hatchbacks come in either base i or high-line s trim; the wagon comes in s trim only. Standard equipment on the i includes a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, a CD stereo, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control and power windows, mirrors and locks. The s model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat and automatic climate control. Both trims are eligible for the Sport Package, which provides foglights, an underbody kit, faux titanium interior trim and a rear spoiler. The Grand Touring Package bundles all the Sport Package equipment with an automatic transmission, leather upholstery, red electroluminescent gauges, a moonroof, a Bose stereo with an in-dash CD changer, and heated seats and mirrors. Many of these features are available as stand-alone options.
Powertrains and Performance:
Standard on the base model is a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is also standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. The Mazda 6 s model upgrades to a 215-hp, 3.0-liter V6. Unlike most V6-powered midsize sedans, this one can be equipped with a five-speed manual, or you can go for the optional six-speed automatic.
All models come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and traction control, and whiplash-reducing front seats. Optional on i models and standard on s models are front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In government crash tests, the 6 received a perfect five stars for frontal-impact protection. In side-impact tests, the 6 earned just three stars for front-occupant protection and four stars for rear passengers, but the vehicle tested did not have side airbags. In IIHS frontal-offset crash testing, the Mazda earned the top rating of "Good." In IIHS side-impact testing, it rated "Poor," but again the vehicle tested did not have side airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the 6 has a clean and contemporary design with solid build quality and easy-to-operate controls. Most materials are attractive, but they're a step or two below the premium-quality stuff in cars like the Honda Accord and VW Passat. The front seats are supportive, but rear shoulder room is a bit tight. The sedan has 15.2-cubic-foot trunk capacity, while the hatchback boasts a 22-cubic-foot cargo hold that expands to 59 cubes. Roomiest of all is the wagon, which offers 33.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 61 with the seat folded.
Like most other Mazdas, the 6 is a thrill behind the wheel. Though neither engine is exceptionally powerful for this class of car, their smooth, quiet power delivery help to offset this aspect, particularly in regards to the V6. A communicative steering rack goes a long way toward making the 6 fun to drive on the highway or from corner to corner on back roads. The suspension achieves a superb balance between ride quality and handling.
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