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Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
People shopping for a new mid-size family sedan will be pleased with the choices available on the market today. Cars like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu and Mazda6 have all been redesigned in recent years, and now offer much better power in both four and six cylinder versions, superior handling and braking, and enhanced safety features.
The Mazda6 GS, the subject of this week’s test, is one of the best handling V6-powered family sedans you can buy for less than $30,000. And it doesn’t give up anything in terms of ride comfort, passenger comfort or creature comfort compared to rivals from Honda, Nissan and Toyota.
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It’s also a great looking car, with more personality than the Accord, Camry or Malibu, and perhaps the Altima, depending on your taste. This car really does look fast standing still, particularly with the optional GFX body work ($765). The look is crisp and clean, from front to back. A strong front end carries the Mazda family look in its blacked out grille. The stance is raked, from the sharply creased hood and narrow headlights (which integrate the fog lights) to a lofty trunk topped by a pre-dominant rear spoiler. Large tail lamps help fill the void here and twin, chrome-tipped exhaust pipes let followers know that the Mazda6 is more than mere family transportation.
Despite its go-fast looks, this is a very rational design. The raked stance allows a high roof line without looking top heavy and leaves plenty of head room for passengers and a very useable trunk (430.4 litres/15.2 cubic feet). A 60/40 split folding rear seat allows even more cargo space when you need it.
The interior design is as sporting as the bodywork. My GFX equipped tester had a grey monotone interior with metallic – Mazda calls it titanium – accents on the instrument panel, centre console and arm rests. A leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob are standard equipment. The gauge cluster is dominated by a large metal-ringed speedometer on the right and tachometer on the left, with white on black lettering by day and red on black by night. Audio, heating and power window controls are also illuminated in red.
The standard cloth covered seats are firm and supportive and the ribbed material feels durable. The driver’s seat is power adjustable in eight different directions and has a manual lumbar adjustment as well. Coupled with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel, it is easy to find a comfortable driving position.
And drive is what the average Mazda6 owner will want to do. The Mazda6 V6 sedan has the power and suspension to be both reassuring and entertaining. The fully independent suspension – double wishbone with MacPherson struts up front, multi-link with coil springs in back and stabilizer bars front and rear – has been designed to maximize tire-to-road contact. To say handling is very good is a bit of an understatement. The car holds the road extremely well, right up to the point where the front end pushes, which is your cue to lighten up a bit. Enthusiastic drivers will enjoy pushing the Mazda6 around freeway on-ramps, while the over-enthusiastic will be grateful that the car is so forgiving.
The power-assisted rack and pinion steering is engine speed sensitive, which provides low steering effort in parking situations, but a firmer feel at highway speeds. Still the Mazda’s steering felt a bit light at high speeds, but not twitchy or nervous. Straight line stability and on-centre feel is good. Ride quality is remarkably plush, despite a super-stiff body and chassis and low profile Michelin Pilot 215/50R-17 all-season radials. The cabin is quiet for the most part, although I did notice more pronounced road noise over broken pavement and some wind noise, which may have been generated by the additional GFX bodywork (front air dam, side sills, rear skirt and rear spoiler).
The Mazda6 has standard four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and standard traction control. EBD controls the front wheels independently and the rear wheels in tandem during heavy braking – to improve vehicle control. The Mazda’s brakes felt very strong, an impression back up by testing at this year’s Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) car of the year testing. The Mazda6 outperformed all other vehicle’s in the family sedan class, stopping from 100 kilometres/hour in 39.8 metres.
Good steering, handling and braking make for a safer vehicle, but when active safety systems aren’t enough, the Mazda6 has a good compliment of passive safety features to help reduce injuries to passengers, including dual front air bags with driver’s seat position sensors, dual front side impact air bags, dual front and rear side air curtains, and whiplash-reducing front seat head restraints.
The 2004 Mazda6 received the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s top rating (five stars) in front impact testing, but only three stars for front seat passenger safety and four stars for rear seat passenger safety in side impacts. However, the Mazda6 performed well in front offset crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, receiving the IIHS’s ‘best pick’ designation.
The Mazda6 GS is powered by either a 160 horsepower 2.3 litre inline four cylinder engine or, as with our tester, a 3.0 litre V6 that produces 220 horsepower at 6,300 r.p.m. and 192 lb. ft. of torque at 5000 r.p.m. The 3.0 litre V6 has plenty of power for passing and freeway on-ramps, but it is not as strong off the line as, for example, the Altima’s 3.5 litre V6.
To make the best use of this engine’s power band requires manual shifting – the automatic equipped Mazda6 has a manual ‘sport mode’ feature – as left to its own devices, the five-speed automatic transmission seems to prefer a more easy going attitude.
AJAC tested a V6 Mazda6 equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission and recorded zero to 100 km/h times of 7.9 seconds – not lightning quick by any means, but not sluggish either. The automatic transmission is a bit more fuel thirsty in city driving than the manual transmission (12.3 litres per 100 kilometres compared to 12.1 l/100 km) and overall the Mazda6 V6 is less fuel efficient than a similarly equipped Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or the current fuel consumption leader in this class, the Chevrolet Malibu (10.4 l/100 km city/6.8 l/100 km highway).
The Mazda6 may not be as powerful as the V6 Altima or as fuel efficient as the Chevrolet Malibu, but it’s other attributes – sporty styling and excellent handling and braking – will certainly appeal to many.
Technical Data: 2004 Mazda6 GS V6
|Options||$3,665 (automatic transmission ($1,300), GFX package ($765), Premium audio and moonroof ($1,500)|
|Price as tested||$31,860 plus destination and dealer preparation charges|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine, front-wheel drive|
|Engine||3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 24-valves|
|Horsepower||220 at 6,300 rpm|
|Torque||192 lb.ft. at 5000 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic (5-speed manual standard)|
|Tires||215/50R-17 inch all-season radials|
|Curb weight||1,502 kg (3,311 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2,675 mm (105.3 in.)|
|Length||4,745 mm (186.8 in.)|
|Width||1,780 mm (70 in.)|
|Height||1,440 mm (56.7 in.)|
|Trunk space||430.4 litres (15.2 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg)|
|Warranty||36 months/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||60 months/100,000 km|
|GFX package||Front air dam, side sills, rear skirt and body-colour rear spoiler with centre high mount brake light, dual exhaust mufflers with bright oval finishers, Monochromatic interior colour, titanium coloured power window switch panel.|
|Optional audio||AM/FM 6 disc in-dash CD changer with clock, BOSE audio system, 4 speakers, 2 tweeters and subwoofer.|