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2005 Mazda6 S Review

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

2005 MAZDA6 s
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Finally, the flashy Mazda6 arrived here at TheAutoChannel’s Detroit Bureau for a road test. We’ve been looking forward to a little time with it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its reputation, gleaned from the mostly glowing reviews of other evaluators. Our friends at Car and Driver named it to their respected 10 Best list in 2003. Of course, we’re always worried about car companies these days taking short cuts on new designs in order to compete more efficiently. After all, Mazda’s tag line used to be “Zoom, zoom, zoom!” Now it’s just “Zoom zoom!” So we’ll need to take a close look.

I was certainly a bit skeptical since my last experience with the Mazda sedan was less than positive. My pretty blonde’s winter beater is a 1995 4-cylinder 626 we bought from my mom. She couldn’t drive any more. It has barely 75 thou on the odo but has had repeated brake troubles, transmission problems and a slew of other unpleasant issues, not to mention it’s so slow it can barely get out of its own way. And it’s styled like a loaf of white bread. Yes it is efficient and soft and friendly, but it has little character.

After a week and nearly a thousand miles with the new Mazda6 s I’m impressed and so are my pals. One friend rented a new Mazda6 with 300 miles on it from Hertz here in Mid-Michigan and drove it to Chicago. He couldn’t say enough about how well appointed, tightly built and quick is this four-door sedan. Its visual ambiance impresses as well. With swooping good looks and a number of hot colors available even youngsters will be happy to be seen in the 6. Dual exhaust and a modest wing make the rear view exciting without being garish.

My first impression on the road to town was that it feels like a much more expensive car – tight, smooth and powerful. Materials, fit and finish are excellent. It took our rough railroad tracks in stride seeming to brag on its chassis stiffness. Take a corner with verve and you might get a chirp from the 17”, 50-series Michelins but it holds the road admirably. Bravo, Mazda!

My pretty blonde has a good eye for details and she likes the car too. Just the right size, she thought, and very nicely finished. She was a bit disconcerted when her cute little backside began to heat up on our second drive into town. There was no sign of seat heaters but it sure felt like one, she thought. Then we found the seat heater switch, hidden under the armrest, inadvertently turned on. Odd place for that switch, we thought.

Our bright orange test car has the all aluminum DOHC, 24-valve, 3-litre V-6 with 220 horsepower, 192 lb-ft of torque and six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. It felt a bit timid off the line with moderate pressure on the go pedal. Push it hard, though, or shift manually with hard acceleration and there’s nothing to complain about. Car and Driver got zero to 60 mph times of 6.4 seconds. My first day with the car I had a bit of trouble getting used to the manual mode and shifted down a couple of times instead of up. It was revving to red line before I knew it because the engine is so smooth, willing and quiet. The tach seems to indicate red line to be about 6500 rpm but the rev limiter doesn’t kick in until about 6800 – still remarkably smooth and unflustered at that speed.

Here’s a niggle that annoys me about most sedans but not this Mazda. Ever notice that the rear windows seldom go down more than half way on most four-doors. Why is that? There usually looks to be enough space inside that door. It’s as if the car companies just want to be obstinate. Well, the Mazda 6’s rear windows go nearly all the way down with just an inch and a half unretracted. Another Bravo for Mazda.

The Mazda6 is built in the Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant with 65% US and Canadian content. With a base price of $23,295 the “s” model (not sure why they use the lower case letter) includes the V-6 engine, 17-inch wheels with 50-series (low profile) Michelin tires, fog lights, power driver’s seat, side air bags and curtains, front and rear stabilizer bars, ABS with Traction Control, sporty trim with spoiler, and all the power, safety and convenience stuff you would expect. Our test car came with the 6-speed sport automatic transmission at $950 extra, the leather package (which includes heated mirrors and seats as well as electroluminescent gauges) for $1240, and 200-watt, 7-speaker Bose sound system for $1335. Bottom line on this one - $27,380.

The EPA estimates 20-mpg city and 27 highway with this 3300-pound front-drive, four-door, 5-passenger sedan. Near as I can figure I averaged about 23 in mixed, and certainly spirited, driving. With an 18-gallon fuel tank we can expect a cruising range in the neighborhood of 350 to 400 miles.

On the outside the Mazda6 appears smaller than its competitors but inside it is roomy and comfortable. The leather seats have a quality look and feel and trim level is admirable. I hauled a load of folks to the annual family reunion and all three back seat passengers had plenty of room and said they were comfortable, even the one in the center.

For a bread and butter, mid-sized sedan, I think the Mazda6 has the others beat in style and ambiance and at least matched in power and handling – such a vast improvement over the last generation of the car. While the 6-speed automatic was fun and quick I’m now squirming in anticipation of getting into one with a 5-speed manual.

In the meantime we’ll continue to puttz around in the old 626.