2003 Mazda6 s Review


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SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    There have been more than a few changes at Mazda in recent 
years. After trying, and discarding, a conservative, middle-of-the 
road approach, the Japanese automaker is going back to its heritage 
and emphasizing sporty performance. The ads that imply that there is 
a little Miata in every Mazda are not just hot air. Witness the 
changes to the Mazda sedan lineup.

    Until this year, Mazda's sedan offerings were the compact 
Protege, the mid-sized 626, and the luxurious Millenia. The current 
Mazda sports revolution started with the latest Protege, specifically 
the Protege5 sport wagon and MP3 and later Mazdaspeed 
performance models. Revolutions have casualties, and at Mazda the 
casualties are the 626 and the Millenia. They have been replaced by 
the new Mazda6.

    The Mazda6 fits between the 626 and Millenia in size, and is 
sportier in style and intent than either. Like most of its competitors, 
it's a front-wheel drive sedan offered with a choice of four-cylinder 
or V6 engines. Unlike the common, middle-of-the-road midsized 
sedans, there is no plain, base-model version. The Mazda6 i is 
equipped with a 2.3-liter 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine, 
while the Mazda6s has a 3.0-liter, 220-hp V6. Both are dual 
overhead cam, four-valve-per-cylinder designs with variable valve 
timing for power and efficiency. Transmission choices are a five-
speed manual or four-speed (i) or five-speed (s) automatics with 
``Sport AT'' manual mode. Both models may be had with a sport 
package that combines interior and exterior cosmetics with 
suspension upgrades.

    I've been driving a Mazda6 s with the sport package for the past 
week. The performance promised by the cosmetics is delivered, and 
delivered well. It's a true front-wheel drive sports sedan, and is also 
fully functional as daily family transportation. In a class that has too 
many soulless transportation modules, the Mazda6 brings character 
as well as function.

APPEARANCE: Although it continues styling trends found in the 
Millenia and the last 626 for a Mazda family look, the Mazda6 is, 
appropriately, leaner and more elegant than the 626 and sportier 
than the Millenia. The front shows this well, with low, wide 
headlamp arrays behind aerodynamic fairings flanking the heavily 
chrome-trimmed Mazda five-point grille. Add the sport package 
lower bumper fascia, with three openings and a sculpted ``air dam'' 
look, and there is more than a passing resemblance to the upcoming 
RX8. The sport package side sill extensions fill the space between 
the flared wheel arches for a contemporary performance look, and 
the wheels and tires are in correct proportion to enhance that look. 
The Mazda6's tail has a more than passing resemblance to the 
Millenia's, with a compound-curved shape and wide, low taillights. 
The sport package adds a small spoiler wing.

COMFORT: Sport plays a large role in the new Mazda image and 
lineup, and the message is prominently displayed inside of the 
Mazda6. It's styled in the contemporary Japanese sport motif - a 
driver-oriented cockpit is formed by the instrument panel, center 
stack, and console. Chrome-bezeled instruments are shaded in a 
hooded pod in front of the driver, and the center stack and front part 
of the console are finished in ``titanium'' plastic, as are door accents. 
Note that more sport does not mean less comfort. The Mazda6 s's 
front sport buckets provide very good comfort and support, with 
good side bolstering. Available perforated leather seating surfaces 
add more comfort. A power-adjustable driver's seat and a steering 
wheel that manually adjusts for both tilt and reach allow the perfect 
driving position. Placement of the pedals and shift lever also 
enhances the driving experience. Rear seat passengers are treated to 
good head and leg room, and a low central tunnel helps the center 
passenger. There are useful storage spaces in the cabin, including a 
covered compartment in the dash, two-level console box with a 
power point, and locking glove box. Hydraulic trunk lid struts keep 
luggage intact, and plenty can fit in the large trunk. The rear seat 
folds 60/40 if more space is needed. In the Mazda6 sporty style, 
comfort, and convenience are not mutually exclusive.

SAFETY: The Mazda6 s is designed for passive safety with a strong 
structure around the passenger cabin and front and rear crumple 
zones, and standard antilock disc brakes and variable-inflation front 
air bags. Side and side curtain air bags are available. 

ROADABILITY: A rigid chassis and a supple suspension is the best 
way to combine comfort and handling, and the Mazda6 is a great 
example. Its fully-independent suspension, with double wishbones in 
front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, is supple enough for family 
comfort and everyday use, yet allows enthusiastic cornering 
behavior. Turn-in and feedback are good, and with the sport 
package's upgraded tires, grip is tenacious. The Mazda6 s is much 
more fun than the average family sedan.

PERFORMANCE: The Mazda 6 s's soul rests under its hood in the 
form of a twincam aluminum alloy V6. If its 3.0-liter displacement is 
standard for a midsized sedan, its 220 horsepower (at 6300 rpm) and 
192 lb-ft of torque are definitely above average, and are developed 
in a way that enhances the sport driving experience. Thanks to 
variable valve timing, there is useable power from 2500 rpm to the 
6500 rpm redline, with a turbo-like rush coming on strong about 
3500, accompanied by fine six-cylinder music. Gear ratios in the 
standard five-speed gearbox are well-suited to the engine's power 
output. A five-speed automatic with manual shift mode is available, 
and the engine's torque is such that it should not unduly decrease 
performance if the convenience of an automatic is desired. Fuel 
consumption is good, at around 23 mpg average despite enthusiastic 
driving, and, as an added benefit, both Mazda6 engines run on 87-
octane unleaded regular gasoline.

CONCLUSIONS: 

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Mazda6 s

Base Price			$ 21,100
Price As Tested		        $ 25,445
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum 
                                 alloy V6 with variable valve timing
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower			220 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			192 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		105.3 in. / 186.8 in.
Curb Weight			3243 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        14.7
Fuel Capacity			18 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P215/50 VR17 Michelin HX MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone with 
                                coil springs /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph				est.7  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Side air bags and air curtains		$ 450
ULEV emissions equipment		$ 100
Leather seat upholstery		        $ 860
Power moonroof			        $ 700
1CO comfort package - includes:
  heated front seats and door mirrors	$ 220
1SE sport package - includes:
  17" alloy wheels and 215/50 VR17 tires,
  electroluminescent gauges, titanium-
  colored switch panels, integrated foglamps,
  sport-type front and rear bumpers with
  rear spoiler and side sill extensions, 
  sport-type exhaust extensions	$ 860
3RA Bose audio package - includes:
  in-dash 6CD changer, amplifier, 
  speakers and subwoofer		$ 635
Delivery charge			        $ 520

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