For 2006, the Mazda6 undergoes numerous changes, including the addition of a new Mazdaspeed6 model.

On the sedan, a five-speed automatic transmission replaces the four-speed automatic on the four-cylinder engine; the V6 engine’s horsepower drops to 215 hp from 220, but torque rises from 192 lb-ft to 199, with new fuel economy numbers; front brakes increase from 283 mm to 299 mm; there are new front and rear bumpers; a new sport grille, black headlight housings and black combination taillamp bezel on the GT-V6; dual exhaust mufflers with bright oval finishers on all trims; the fog lights move to the lower front valance; the V6 badge moves from the side to the rear; and there are redesigned door handles. As well, there is a redesigned audio and centre panel; keyless entry with a retractable key; auto up/down windows that close with the driver’s door key cylinder; new cloth fabric design; new exterior and interior colour combinations; and Tungsten Grey Metallic and Dark Cherry Mica take over for the departing Dark Grey Metallic and Burnt Orange Metallic.

The Sport Hatchback receives similar changes, along with Xenon headlights standard on GT models, 18-inch alloy wheels with P215/45R18 tires on the GT-V6, and the deletion of Glacier White, Sonic Blue Metallic, Dark Grey Metallic, Gold Ash Metallic and Burnt Orange Metallic exterior colours, replaced with Tungsten Grey Metallic, Dark Cherry Mica and Bright Island Blue Metallic.

The Sport Wagon receives all of these changes, except that Xenon headlights are optional on GT models.

Available as a sedan, Sport hatchback and Sport Wagon, the Mazda6 sedan and Sport hatchback offer two engines, a 2.3-litre four-cylinder or a 3.0-litre V6. Both come standard with a five-speed manual transmission; the 2.3-litre options up to a five-speed automatic, while the V6 moves up to a 6-speed automatic. The Sport Wagon uses the V6 exclusively.

The new Mazdaspeed6 comes only with a turbocharged version of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder, features all-wheel-drive, and is available only with a six-speed manual transmission.

On the sedan and Sport hatchback, the GS-I4 includes speed-sensitive variable power steering, four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch steel wheels, variable intermittent wipers, CD player with six speakers, air conditioning, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, cruise control, 60/40 folding rear seat, floor mats, and tilt and telescopic wheel.

The GT-I4 adds ABS and traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, six-disc CD with wheel-mounted audio controls, automatic climate control, power sunroof, garage door opener, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated seats, leather-wrapped wheel, and side and curtain airbags. The V6 versions are similar, but with a ground effects package and rear spoiler on the sedan GT-V6, and the Sport GT-I4 and Sport GT-V6.

On the Sport Wagon, the GS-V6 includes speed-sensitive steering, ABS, traction control, 16-inch steel wheels, power heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear wiper, CD player with six speakers, manual air conditioning, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, cruise control, and 60/40 folding rear seatback.

The GT-V6 adds 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, six-disc CD changer with wheel-mounted controls, automatic air conditioning, garage door opener, heated front seats, leather-trimmed upholstery with eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped wheel, side and curtain airbags, and anti-theft alarm.

The Mazdaspeed6, based on the sedan, features an all-new active torque split all-wheel-drive system that uses input on steering angle, yaw rate, lateral force and engine status to adjust front-to-rear torque distribution up to 50/50. Available in a single trim line, it includes variable-assist steering, limited-slip differential, traction control, 18-inch alloy wheels with high-performance tires, unique bumpers, hood and grille, rear spoiler, speed-sensing wipers, Xenon headlights, fog lights, six-CD changer with subwoofer, automatic climate control, one-touch up and down on all windows, cruise control, eight-way power driver’s seat, alloy foot pedals, and fixed rear seat.

Like the smaller Mazda3, the Mazda6 feels more expensive than its price range. Steering is direct and responsive, the ride is comfortable, and the fit-and-finish is superb. Carrying cargo is a cinch; on the sedan model, pulling latches in the trunk releases the seats, which spring forward with no extra help to form a flat floor. On the wagon, latches near the liftgate serve the same purpose, and you don’t have to remove the headrests. The Sport also offers impressive cargo capacity and is almost impossible to differentiate from the sedan, should you not be fond of wagon styling.

The new turbocharged Mazdaspeed6 ups the driving fun, offering 274 hp and all-wheel-drive. Think of it as a budget-minded Subaru WRX STI: it doesn’t have that legendary rally car’s 300 horsepower, but it’s also $13,000 less.

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