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by Grant Yoxon
Last year, the Mazda6 sedan was voted “Best New Family Car” for 2004 by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Midway through the 2004 model year, Mazda added two new variations – a five door hatchback and a station wagon – and both cars have become category winners in the run up to the 2005 Car of the Year award. The Mazda6 Sport was named “Best New Family Car” for 2005, while the Mazda6 Sport Wagon came out on top as “Best New Station Wagon.”
Of the three Mazda6 variations, the wagon offers a unique combination of price, power, practicality, styling and handling that is hard to beat.
The Mazda6 Sport Wagon has the same 220 horsepower V6 engine, fully independent suspension and standard five-speed manual transmission as the sedan. Prices start at $26,995 for the GS-V6 Sport Wagon, while a fully-optioned GT-V6 tops out at $34,560.
By combining features of the base four-cylinder sedan – items like 16-inch steel wheels and manually adjustable drivers seat – Mazda was able to make the base GS-V6 available at a price $1,300 less than a V6-powered GS sedan.
Most V6 wagons will cost considerably more: the Volkswagen Passat 2.8L starts at $30,780, Volvo V70 (5-cylinder), $37,995, Subaru H6-3.0, $39,995, the BMW 325i, $40,950, Mercedes-Benz C240, $44,610, and the Audi A4 3.0 Avant, $47,390. Only the Ford Taurus, starting at $26,345 would be competitive.
While some buyers might prefer four-cylinder power, especially with gas prices rising, the wagon is 113 kilograms (249 pounds) heavier than the sedan. It is also longer (by 35 milimetres/1.4 inches) and higher (15 mm/0.6 in.). It may be that Mazda didn’t feel the 160 hp 2.3-litre inline four cylinder had enough oomph to power the bigger wagon, but it is more than adequate in the sedan and hatch, so why not give buyers a choice?
But realistically, when the V6 Sport Wagon has the full family on board, plus a weekend’s worth of camping gear, there will be sufficient power on tap to get everyone to the lake.
And to Mazda’s credit, de-contenting the GS means a Mazda6 wagon is priced within reach of average families.
Despite the lower equipment level, the base GS is well-equipped by most standards. Features such as dual exhaust, AM/FM CD with 4-speakers and two tweeters, air conditioning, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, power windows, power door locks and keyless entry, illuminated driver and passenger vanity mirrors, and heated outside mirrors are standard equipment.
Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, ‘all-speed’ traction control, fog lights, side impact door beams, dual front airbags, three point safety belts in all seating positions and front seat belt pre-tensioners. In crash testing performed by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Mazda6 Sport Wagon received a five star rating in front impacts for both driver and passenger, three stars for front seat side impact safety and four stars for rear seat passengers in a side impact. The US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Mazda6 its ‘Best Pick’ rating for offset frontal impact, but a ‘Poor’ rating for side impacts in vehicles without optional side airbags.
To get the optional dual front side airbags and front and rear side air curtains, you have to step up to the GT-V6 ($31,495). Mazda should consider making these features optionally available on the GS-V6.
Along with the added safety features come 17-inch alloy wheels and tires, AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD changer with subwoofer, automatic climate control, 8-way adjustable power drivers seat, leather trimmed upholstery, heated front seats and leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel with audio controls.
My test vehicle, a GT-V6 with five-speed manual transmission, also came equipped with an optional GFX package ($1,765), which adds power sunroof, monochromatic interior trim, red illuminated ‘Optitron’ gauges and exterior body enhancements such as front air dam, side sills, rear skirt, dual oval chrome exhaust and rear spoiler.
With the GFX package the wagon takes on a racy look and, judging by reactions during our week of testing, it is a real head turner.
The view from inside is pretty good too. Our dark grey metallic Sport Wagon had a matching leather interior, with metal or metallic look trim, chrome door handles and graphite accents. The look is rich and the fit and finish excellent.
With the eight-way power adjustable drivers seat, combined with tilt and telescopic steering, finding a comfortable driving position is easy. I like the large climate control knobs and the steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, but I’m not fond of the red Optitron gauges – it’s just a personal preference, as I find red illumination difficult to read.
The rear cargo area will hold 953 litres (33.7 cu. ft.) of gear, and quite a bit more with the rear seats folded. And it’s an honest 953 litres. A screen separating the cargo area from the passenger compartment is standard equipment and permits loading the cargo area to the roof, or carrying a household pet, without worrying about flying animals or luggage in the event of an accident. Lowering the rear seats is accomplished by pulling a handle on either side of the rear compartment. The rear seat cushions sink into the floor while the seat backs fold forward to create an entirely flat load floor.
Good pricing, practicality and super styling might be enough for most wagon buyers, but as it turns out, the Mazda6 Sport Wagon is also a fun car to drive. The 3.0-litre V6 produces 220 hp at 6,300 r.p.m. and 192 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 r.p.m., plenty of power for most driving needs, whether merging into traffic, passing slower cars or hauling lumber home from the hardware store.
The 5-speed manual transmission allows you to make the most of the engine’s relatively narrow power band by delaying the up shift until the tach nears 5,000 r.p.m. where torque is plentiful. Clutch effort is light and shift throws relatively short. If you might not normally consider a manual transmission, take one for a test drive, you might be pleasantly surprised and save yourself the $1,300 cost of an automatic transmission.
Like the sedan and hatch, the Mazda6 Sport Wagon has a fully independent suspension, double wishbone up front and multi-link in the rear. Equipped with Michelin Pilot 215/50R-17 inch tires the car handles extremely well, with minimal understeer in hard cornering. Braking from the four-wheel discs is firm and predictable. The ride is firm, but comfortable, with minimal wind or engine noise. Big pavement cracks and frost heaves are noticeable and some tire noise is evident, but in most respects, the Mazda6 is a quiet, pleasant place to be on the daily drive to work.
Introducing the Mazda6 Sport Wagon mid-way through the 2004 model year allowed Mazda to qualify the car for AJAC’s 2005 Car of the Year testing. Given its price, power, practicality, styling and handling, it’s not surprising the Mazda6 Sport Wagon was honoured as “Best New Station Wagon” for 2005.
Technical Data: 2005 Mazda6 Sport Wagon GT-V6 5-speed manual
|Base price||$26,995 (GS-V6)|
|Base price||$31,495 (GT-V6)|
|Options||$1,765 (GFX package: interior black trim and seat upholstery with titanium coloured accents, optitron gauges with red illumination, front air dam, side sills, rear skirt, dual oval chrome exhaust, rear spoiler, power sun roof)|
|Price as tested||$34,285|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger wagon|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.0-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing|
|Horsepower||220 @ 6,300 r.p.m.|
|Torque||192 lb.-ft. @ 5,000 r.p.m.|
|Transmission||5-speed manual (6-speed auto available)|
|Tires||215/50R-17 all season radials|
|Curb weight||1,537 kg (3,388 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2,675 mm (105.3 in.)|
|Length||4,770 mm (187.8 in.)|
|Width||1,780 mm (70 in.)|
|Height||1,455 mm (57.3 in.)|
|Cargo space||953 litres (seats up)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.1 L/100 km (23 mpg)|
|8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg)|
|Recommended fuel||regular unleaded|