2009 Mazda6 i Sedan Grand Touring Review


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MORE: Compare to Audi, Honda and Toyota-Mazda buyers Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Mazda6 i Sedan Grand Touring

Say "mid-size sedan" and you'll likely immediately think of one of the two or three most popular cars in that most popular of categories. Cars designed by committee, with input from focus groups and customer clinics to ensure the broadest possible appeal. Cars that are best described as transportation appliances. Which is not a derogatory term at all, but does denote a certain lack of excitement.

But there people who need something with a little more passion than your common mid-size sedan provides. Yes, you need to transport the kids to school or stuff the trunk or even back seat with groceries or other "stuff", but if that could be done with a little more panache, a little more sports-sedan emphasis on the driving experience than is provided by the common transportation appliance, life would be good.

There are always the premium European or Japanese sports sedans, but the price premium isn't in your budget, and a used (er, in modernspeak, "pre-owned") example of one of those is, well, used and might not have the reliability of a new car. Entropy happens...

A word of advice: Mazda6.

The Mazda6 nameplate has been around since 2003, but the car called Mazda6 for 2009 is new and significantly different. The first-generation Mazda6 was at the small end of the mid-size category. With a 4.5-inch stretch in wheelbase and increased width, the new model now sits at the large end of mid-size, for improved passenger comfort and space. A size increase like that can mean middle-age spread, increased fat with a loss of toned muscle and the disappearance of any sport orientation.

Can mean... not here. The new Mazda6 is notably improved in just about every way. While it is bigger, larger and more-powerful engines more than compensate for the size increase, with no increase in fuel consumption. A coupe-like shape, drawing on the iconic RX-8 for styling cues, promises a more sport-oriented experience than is typical in a middle-class mid-size sedan -- and that promise is delivered upon.

As has been the Mazda custom for the past few years, 2009 Mazda6 models are "i" and "s". Here "i" denotes four-cylinder, "s" V6. No basic difference from the past there, but both engines are new. The four has increased in capacity from 2.3 to 2.5 liters, with power up from 160 to 170. Unusually for the class, it can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox in addition to a five-speed automatic. The V6 now is the 3.7-liter unit first found in the much-larger (but still related) CX-9 crossover. Its 272 bests the old 3.0-liter's 220 by a healthy margin. It is matched to a six-speed automatic.

While the chassis is broadly similar to that of the old Mazda6, modifications to the front suspension and steering gear improve handling and response to driver inputs. The body was not just styled for looks -- aerodynamic management, including oft-ignored underbody airflow, ensures low drag for both fuel efficiency and stability, and low lift to further improve stability at speed and in crosswinds.

The Mazda6 is positioned above the common mid-size choices, and so even the base model is well-equipped, with such niceties as a pollen filter for the climate-control system, a height-adjustable driver's seat, and tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel standard. The Sport adds audio and interior upgrades, while the Touring further enhances the driving environment. Grand Touring means fully-equipped, with premium features like xenon headlights, LED taillights, auto-dimming outside mirrors with ground illumination, the blind-spot monitoring system, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated power front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, and more included. Fit and finish compare well to more expensive marques.

Which means that a Mazda6 Grand Touring, like the "i" model I've spent the past week with, is a very attractive alternative to one of the pricey premium brand sports sedans. From a functional, appliance-oriented point of view, it has the necessary space that perhaps it didn't have before, as well as all of the required convenience features and then some. On the passion side, while it is perfectly suited for everyday family use, the Mazda6 is no mere transportation appliance. There really is a little bit (or perhaps more than a little bit) of sports car inside of every Mazda -- especially with a six-speed stick and high-revving four-cylinder engine.

APPEARANCE: Mazda has developed a distinctive style, and it is expressed in its most elegant form in the new Mazda6. Chief points are the semi-detached front fenders, originating on the RX-8, and a five-sided grille that is becoming ever more triangular. The hood line incorporates that grille, and long, pointed headlights further enhance the front styling. From the side, strong wheel arches, upswept character lines, and a near-fastback roof line say "coupe" far more than "mere sedan" -- but there are four doors. A tasteful amount of chrome trim around the side windows adds a touch of elegance. A slight ducktail at the edge of the trunk aids aerodynamics as much as looks, and bulging LED taillights give a contemporary touch.

COMFORT: At the Grand Touring level, the Mazda6 looks, and is, more upscale than the common midsize, middle-class sedan. But it's not pretentious, merely honest. Front seat comfort is very good, and height-adjustability of the driver's seat plus tilt- and telescope-adjustability of the steering wheel allows the driver to find the perfect driving position. The Grand Touring's push-button start/stop and keyless entry via proximity-sensing fob is a pleasant upscale touch. Instruments and controls are easily visible, and simple to use -- even the optional navigation system. A CD changer behind the touch screen is the only slightly unintuitive interior quirk. Rear seat space and comfort are improved compared with earlier versions, especially leg room, and the 60/40 split folding seat back and large trunk aid in cargo ability.

SAFETY: The 2009 Mazda6 scores high in both passive and active safety. A unibody structure designed to protect passengers by absorbing crash energy, or channeling it around the reinforced passenger cabin and front, front side, and full-length side curtain airbags address passive safety. Strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes, Dynamic Stability Control, and good handling characteristics address active safety in all trim levels.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The same "triple-H" structure that contributes to passenger safety also contributes to the Mazda6's first-rate ride and handling characteristics by providing a solid, rigid mounting for its moderately-firm, fully-independent double-wishbone front, multilink rear suspension. Steering effort is never too light, or heavy, turn-in is good, and while there is some body roll when playing hard, it's hard to beat the combination of comfort and roadholding.

PERFORMANCE: If you need "overhead", a vast reserve of power untapped in normal operation, consider the 3.7-liter, 272-hp V6. For an engaging driving experience not normally associated with "middle class mid-size sedan", go for the four with six-speed manual gearbox. With 170 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 167 lb-ft of torque (at 4000) it's as powerful as the old 626's similarly-sized V6, and balance shafts eliminate the vibration that would otherwise plague a large, 2.5-liter inline four. Aluminum alloy construction keeps weight down, aiding handling, and dual overhead cam architecture with 16 valves and variable phasing on the intake cam means smooth, efficient power. It pulls readily from as low as 2500 rpm, although keeping it over 3500 will reward the driver with instant power. It's spirited and likes to play, helped immensely to that end by the smooth-shifting manual gearbox. So-equipped, the Mazda6 i is every bit as rewarding a drive as any high-dollar front-wheel drive German sports-luxury sedan.

CONCLUSIONS: The second-generation Mazda6 combines style and performance in a manner that makes it stand out from the common mid-size sedan.

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 Mazda6 i Sedan Grand Touring


Base Price			$ 24,910
Price As Tested			$ 29,440
Engine Type			dohc 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with
				 variable intake cam phasing
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.
Horsepower			170 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			167 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		109.8 in. / 193.7 in.
Curb Weight			3258 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.2
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P215/55R17 93V Michelin Energy MXV4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, DSC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone/
				  independent E-type multi-link
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 29 / 24
0 to 60 mph				8.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
LEV2 emissions				$   100
Navigation system			$ 2,000
Moonroof and Bose package - includes:
  moonroof, BoseŽ audio system, 6-disc CD changer,
  Sirius satellite radio		$ 1,760
Delivery charge				$ 670   

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