2005 New Car Review: Mazda6 Sport Wagon
WITH CAREY RUSS
2005 Mazda6 Sport Wagon
Here's the scenario: you consider yourself a car enthusiast, and so prefer a car that is entertaining and fun to drive. You've had sport-oriented cars all of your driving life. Handling and power, in good balance, are important to you. But now you need something larger than the Miata or sport-compact sedan you've been driving. Something with more utility, but not at the expense of sport and fun.
What to do? The only ``sport'' in any sport-utility lies at your destination, unless your sport of choice is off-road driving. Hatchbacks and compact wagons are too small; the European sport wagons are too expensive. What else is there before you consign yourself to the automotive doldrums of the midsize, mainstream sedan field or even (horrors!) minivandom?
How about the Mazda6 Sport wagon? It offers the space and versatility of a mid-sized wagon combined with a sporty chassis tuning and a 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine. While it's not a bargain-basement entry-level model, at a base price of $24,025 it's less than any of the European competitors.
The wagon is one of a trio of body styles in the Mazda6 lineup. The sedan is offered with a 2.3-liter, 160-hp four-cylinder engine as the ``i'' model or in 220-hp V6-equipped ``s'' trim. The 5-Door is a semi-fastback hatchback, cleverly-styled to look nearly identical to the sedan, but with a very useful wide-opening hatch for improved cargo access. It, too, is available in i and s trim. Variety is said to be the spice of life, and in the normally staid and conservative mid-size class, Mazda has plenty of spice.
I've been driving a Mazda6 Sport Wagon for the past week, and have found it to have a wonderful combination of sports sedan performance and plenty of useful, well-configured space. Sport meets utility in a way that is never going to happen in an SUV or even a city-oriented crossover. It handles like the front-wheel drive sports sedan it is at heart, and has more useful interior space than some larger-outside SUVs. A wagon can be fun, if the wagon in question is a Mazda6.
APPEARANCE: With its long, lean proportions and sculpted, assertive styling, the Mazda6 Sport Wagon will not be mistaken for a mere transportation appliance. As it is meant to be, the Mazda6 looks more mature than the smaller Mazda3, but it's not old. All Mazda6 models share bodywork ahead of the windshield, and, with the broad-shouldered look given by the hood and fender styling, the Mazda signature pentagonal grille flanked by low, wide faired headlights, and a sporty RX-8ish front bumper fascia, it sets a tone of performance with a certain amount of elegance. The wagon's long, gently-sloping roofline is enhanced by a rear visor-type spoiler, and side sill extensions get the sport message across without overdoing it.
COMFORT: The reasons for buying a wagon instead of a sedan or hatchback are space and versatility, and the Mazda6 wagon has both. There is ample room for four inside, with, as is typical of nearly any sedan, wagon, or SUV of moderate size, space in the center of the rear seat for a smaller third person for less time. With four or even five people aboard, there is also ample room for luggage, unlike in some smaller SUVs with very little space behind the rear seat. Naturally, the rear seat folds, 60/40, when the passenger/cargo mix needs to vary. The removable crossbar that anchors the cargo shade also has a net that attaches to the ceiling, to keep lightweight items stacked high in the cargo area in their place. My test car had the optional leather package, which includes perforated leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and mirrors, and electroluminescent instruments - all pleasant luxury touches. Seat comfort is very good, with the driver's seat power-adjustable. The manually-adjustable tilt-and-telescope steering wheel has a thick, leather-wrapped rim for good grip and control buttons for the audio and cruise control systems. Styling is slightly grown-up sport compact, with a monotone color scheme and metal-look plastic trim on the center stack and doors. Useful storage spaces are found in a covered compartment at the top center of the dash, a coin holder to the left of the steering wheel, a dual-layer console box with a power point, and door pockets with space for drink bottles. Want some real high-performance styling? Check out the vents. They're the same as found in the new Mustang and even the exotic Ford GT.
SAFETY: The Mazda6 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 now standard in all models except the Mazda6 i sedan, where they are optional.
RIDE AND HANDLING: This is not your parents' old family wagon. And that's a very good thing. The Mazda6 Sport Wagon's rigid unibody chassis allows a supple tuning of the fully-independent double wishbone front/ multilink rear suspension that combines good ride comfort and sporty handling. Stabilizer bars at both ends reduce body roll and improve weight transfer in hard cornering. The suspension calibration is more ``sport-touring'' than ``sports-racing,'' but that, and the passenger and cargo capacity and interior versatility, makes for a very good real-world vehicle. Sport meets utility, and sport wins.
PERFORMANCE: The Mazda6 Sport Wagon's V6 engine is made of aluminum alloy, with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing. It makes 220 horsepower at 6300 rpm, with the torque peaking at 192 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. As can be guessed from those specs, power is best in the midrange at at the top, but the variable valve timing helps it make useable power from 2,500 rpm all the way to the 6500 rpm redline. Less low-end torque equals less wheelspin and torque steer under hard acceleration, anyway - just keep it above 3500 for best performance results. And that's easy with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, a rarity in a mid-sized wagon. For those who must, an automatic is available. And this year, it has been upgraded from a four-speed to a six-speed, so its impact on performance and economy should be minimized. The wagon weighs about 120 lbs more than a similarly-equipped Mazda6 sedan, which translates to a minimal difference in performance and fuel economy. EPA estimates are 19 city, 26 highway. With mostly city and secondary road driving (and a heavy right foot), I got around 20 mpg.
CONCLUSIONS: Sport meets utility in the Mazda6 sport wagon.
2005 Mazda6 Wagon
Base Price $ 24,025 Price As Tested $ 27,245 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. / 187.8 in. Curb Weight 3404 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.5 Fuel Capacity 18 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline Tires P215/50 VR17 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multi-link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 26 / 20 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES CA and Northeast emissions equipment $ 100 Leather Package - includes: leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats & door mirrors, electroluminescent gauges $ 1,240 Bose Audio & Moonroof Package - includes: 200-watt 7-speaker Bose audio system, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, power moonroof $ 1,335 Destination charge $ 545