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by Greg Wilson
Smaller than the competition, but sportier
Mazda’s replacement for the 626, the new Mazda6, has been a long time coming – at least it seems that way. It was introduced to the rest of the world more than a year ago. Mazda Canada could have introduced it here in late 2002 as a 2003 model, but they decided to wait until 2003 so they could market it as a 2004 model.
There is a possibility that Mazda didn’t want to launch the Mazda6 sedan at the same time as the new 2003 Honda Accord in the Fall of 2002. Understandable. Who wants to be compared with one of the world’s best family cars?
Auto journalists are partly to blame here. When you compare pure numbers – such as horsepower, torque, interior volume, and fuel consumption – the Mazda6 comes in a definate second to the Honda Accord. In fact, the same applies when you compare the Mazda6 with the Nissan Altima which was redesigned for the 2002 model year. And the redesigned Toyota Camry, though not quite as powerful as the Mazda6, is definately roomier and thriftier.
The problem with these numerical comparisons is that it doesn’t tell the whole story. At the moment, we’re in the middle of a ‘horsepowers war’, and to say that the 220 horsepower V6-powered Mazda6 is not as ‘good’ as a 240 horsepower Honda Accord V6 or a 245 horsepower Altima V6 is essentially meaningless. 220 horsepower is a lot of horsepower for a family sedan.
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And even though you’ll find more rear legroom and hiproom in an Altima and Camry, the Mazda6 is roomy enough for four adults up to six feet tall. The Mazda6’s smaller exterior dimensions have some advantages too. It’s easier to park, and more maneouverable around town. And despite being smaller, it has a huge trunk.
The Mazda6 sedan also leans more towards a sporty driving experience. Its engine-speed sensitive variable-assist power rack and pinion steering is quick and responsive, and its combination of ride and handling is superb for a family sedan. In terms of vehicle dynamics, the Mazda6 is arguably superior to the Camry, Accord and Altima.
Two engines, three transmissions, and two trim levels
The 2004 Mazda6 is available in one body style, a four-door sedan. Hatchback and wagon models are expected to arrive in Canada next year. Mazda6 sedans are offered in GS and GT trim levels with both four and six cylinder engines, and both are available with manual and automatic transmissions. Base Mazda6 sedans, which start at $24,295, have a new 160 horsepower 2.3 litre four cylinder DOHC 16 valve engine with variable valve timing – this an all-new engine developed in conjunction with Ford, Mazda’s owner. It comes with a choice of a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic transmission with a manual shift ‘Sport’ mode.
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Mazda6 V6 models, which start at $27,995, have a 220 horsepower 3.0 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 with variable valve timing and balance shafts. The V6 is mated to a standard 5-speed manual or an optional new 5-speed automatic transmission with manual ‘Sport’ shifting mode. Mazda’s V6 engine is a modified version of Ford’s Duratec powerplant.
My test car was a fully-loaded GT-V6 with the 5-speed automatic transmission and the optional GFX package which includes a front spoiler, side sills, rear spoiler, oval dual chrome exhausts, and faux carbon fibre interior trim to go with the standard black leather interior and silver trim. With a Freight charge of $925, the as-tested price of my car came to $35,085.
View from the inside
The interior of the Mazda6, like the exterior, could be described as ‘sporty but tasteful’. The front sport seats have raised thigh and side bolsters, and I found them firm but comfortable on long drives, and extremely supportive during aggressive cornering. The driver’s seat has 8 power adjustments including lumbar support, and both front seats have seat heaters. However, it took me about a week to find the seat heater buttons – they’re located just in front of the centre armrest.
There is a lot of trendy silver-coloured trim on the dash, console and doors – even the dials and buttons are silver-coloured – but it doesn’t look cheap, and it contrasts nicely with the black dash, black seats and carbon fibre trim.
A sporty, fat-rimmed leather-covered three-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and includes buttons for the stereo and cruise control. Two big round gauges for the speedo and tachometer are easy to see not only because they’re big, but because they’re backlit in red in the daytime. The console and door controls are also backlit in red when the headlights are turned on.
A handy covered storage bin is positioned on the centre of the dashtop – I found it useful for storing my garage door opener. Just below that is a red digital readout for the clock, radio station, fan, ventilation and temperature indicator for the automatic climate control. It’s unusual to have these readouts in a separate location from the heater and radio, but I didn’t find it confusing.
The GT-V6 includes an upgraded stereo – an am/fm/6-disc in-dash CD player with four Bose speakers, two tweeters and a subwoofer. The sound is bright and clear with plenty of power – I was impressed. This audio system is available as a $500 option on all other Mazda6 models.
Both front and rear passengers have adequate headroom, even in models with a sunroof, and legroom at the rear is generous if you don’t push the front seats all the way back. The raised front seats have plenty of footroom underneath for the rear passengers feet, and there is a folding centre armrest with two cupholders at the rear. The Mazda6’s cabin is narrower than a Camry or Accord, and three adults will find it cosy. And I was disappointed that the Mazda6 does not have adjustable rear head restraints.
The trunklid opens with a remote key fob, and the fully lined 430 litre (15.2 cu. ft.) trunk is extremely spacious and easy to access even though it’s not the biggest in its class. A bonus is the 60/40 folding rear seatbacks that fold down automatically when released by handles inside the trunk.
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While the base four cylinder Mazda6 strains a bit under hard acceleration and engine noise and vibration are noticeable in the cabin, the V6 model has an abundance of power and is amazingly quiet even under full throttle. Perhaps due to its balance shafts, this engine is exceptionally smooth and very quiet while cruising down the freeway. I recorded 2200 rpm at 100 km/h and 2600 rpm at 120 km/h. I give top marks to this powertrain for its effortless operation and smooth gear changes.
In automatic mode, the 5-speed automatic transmission shifts cleanly and quietly, and you’re hardly aware of it shifting. To engage manual mode, the floor shifter is pushed into a separate gate to the right of the Drive position, and the lever is pushed forwards to change down, and backwards to change up a gear. Shifts are fast, and add to the enjoyment of driving on the open road.
Fuel consumption of 12.4 litres per 100 km (23 mpg) around town and 8.7 l/100 km (33 mpg) on the freeway is not as good as it competitors, particularly on the highway. The class leader, the Honda Accord V6, offers 11.2 l/100 km (25 mpg) city, and 7.3 l/100 km (39 mpg) highway. Still, the Mazda6’s fuel consumption around town performance is not far off, and it takes Regular Unleaded.
Handling is above-average for a mid-size sedan – its excellent balance and control make this sedan fun to drive. Underneath is a new fully independent suspension (front double wishbone and coil springs; rear multi-link and coil springs) which provides excellent stability and handling without sacrificing ride quality, even with the low-profile 17 inch Michelin Pilot tires. The Mazda6’s highway ride is very smooth, and the cabin is very quiet – my only criticism was some tire noise on dry roads – however, I may have noticed this because the car was otherwise very quiet.
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The steering system is an engine-speed sensitive variable assist rack and pinion setup which provides low effort at parking lot speeds and a firmer feel at freeway speeds. The steering is quick without being too sensitive, and easy to manage while parallel parking. The car’s turning circle of 11.8 metres (38.7 feet) is a bit wider than I would have liked.
Standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake differential pull the Mazda6 to a stop in just 37 metres from 100 km/h, says Mazda’s tech specs. That’s very good. For comparison, a 2003 Honda Accord used up 42 metres in last year’s Car of the Year testing conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.
For safety, all Mazda6 models have standard dual-stage front airbags with a driver’s seat position sensor and whiplash resistant head restraints. All but the base GS four cylinder have standard side airbags for front occupants, and curtain airbags for front and rear passengers. Mazda also claims the car’s new body is much stiffer and safer in a crash, although I haven’t seen any crash test results.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for the 2004 Mazda6 are as follows: GS 4 cylinder $24,295, GT 4 cylinder $28,195; GS V6 $28,195; GT V6 $31,995. Available options on the GT V6 include the 5 speed automatic transmission with Sport Mode feature ($1,300), and GFX aero package ($765).
The chief competitors for the Mazda6 GT-V6 ($31,995) are the Honda Accord EX-V6 ($32,500), Toyota Camry XLE V6 ($32,615), and Nissan Altima SE-V6 ($29,098). As you can see, the Mazda6 GT-V6 is a little cheaper than the Accord and Camry, and a little more than the Altima – but generally, prices are comparable.
All of these are very fine cars any one of which I would recommend – but as far as differences between the cars go, the Mazda6 has smaller dimensions than its competitors and less horsepower than all but the Camry, but offers more nimble handling, more precise steering, excellent brakes, and a sportier driving experience.
More compact than its rivals, the new Mazda6 GT-V6 feels sportier on the road yet offers a wonderful highway ride, a quiet powerful engine, adequate interior room for four adults, and a huge trunk.
The Mazda6 is built in the United States.
Technical Data: 2004 Mazda6 GT V6
|Options||$765 (GFX package)|
|Price as tested||$35,085|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves, variable valve timing|
|Horsepower||220 @ 6300 rpm|
|Torque||192 @ 5000 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic with manual Sport mode|
|Curb weight||1502 kg (3311 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2675 mm (105.3 in.)|
|Length||4745 mm (186.8 in.)|
|Width||1780 mm ( 70.1 in.)|
|Height||1440 mm ( 56.7 in.)|
|Cargo volume||430 litres (15.2 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||12.4 l/100 km (23 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.7 l/100 km (33 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|