2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Mazda6

Ottawa, Ontario – In 2004, the first-generation Mazda6 was named Best New Family Car by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) in the organization’s Canadian Car of the Year competition. Flash forward to the 2009 edition of these annual awards, and Mazda has done it again, snagging the prize for Best New Family Car in the $22,000 to $30,000 category.

Not surprising, perhaps, given that us auto journos have been big fans of many of Mazda’s recent designs. What is interesting though, is that the new car isn’t some evolution of its ancestor, as so many “new” cars are. This is a completely different vehicle, not only in looks and mechanics, but also in character. My point is that while both generations of Mazda6 have earned a best family car title, the reasons behind each car’s win are quite different.

2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4. Click image to enlarge

The new design gives up nothing to the original in terms of style. I’d argue it’s a far more attractive car, with better proportions; the pronounced, RX-8-esque front fenders and cat’s-eye headlight clusters really do it for me.

If the redesigned 6’s driving experience has lost some of the original’s outward fun-to-drive nature, it makes up for that with a more grown-up feel. Inside, noise of all kinds is greatly reduced. At idle, the engine’s vibrations are barely perceptible, and my tester’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder (a 3.7-litre V6 is also available) only gets noisy when pressed into high-rev duty.

The ride is much quieter, but the suspension is still on the firm side among other mid-size sedans. I loved it, but some find it too firm; that was one of Assistant Editor, Jil McIntosh’s remarks after driving this car at October’s Car of the Year Testfest event (my tester was one of the three Mazda sent to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the event).

2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4. Click image to enlarge

The new car’s larger size (it’s 195 mm, or about 7.7 inches) longer tip-to-tail, 60 mm or nearly 2.5 inches wider, and rides on a 115 mm or 4.5 inch-longer wheelbase) and added weight (the 2009 four-cylinder model weighs 1,509 kg with the automatic transmission, compared to 1,421 kg for a similarly-equipped 2008 sedan) do make for less-sprightly handling, but this car still responds willingly to spirited cornering.

That said, the steering is too light and lacks much in the way of useful road feel. The grabby brakes take some getting used to, so be prepared for some jerky stops the first time you test-drive one of these cars. The brakes feel strong in panic stops, though. This car posted a 100 km/h-to-zero braking distance of 42.3 metres in Car of the Year testing, which was the best in its category.

The 2.5-litre four-cylinder in base model 6’s is a new one, replacing the old 2.3-litre that was shared with the Mazda3. Power figures are 170 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque, improvements from 156 and 154, respectively, in the previous generation. Opting for the 272-horsepower V6 would make this a fast car; with the four-banger, there’s plenty of power for keeping up with traffic, but that’s about all. In Car of the Year acceleration testing, this car posted a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 9.4 seconds.

2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4. Click image to enlarge

Transmission options in the 2009 6 are a six-speed manual or five-speed auto in four-cylinder models, and a six-speed auto in V6 cars. I’d guess the lack of a manual tranny option for six-cylinder versions will be a sticking point with many enthusiasts; the old 6 could be had with this combination. The five-speed auto in my tester shifted smoothly, and was eager to downshift for acceleration, and a tall top gear keeps engine noise down on the highway.

This car’s fuel consumption ratings (four-cylinder, automatic transmission) are 9.7/6.7 L/100 km (city/highway), a small improvement from 9.9/7.0 for a similarly-equipped 2008 model. My tester’s average consumption was close to 11 L/100 km in a week of city driving.

The interior furnishings are much improved. Fit and finish in the old car were never poor, but the new 6 brings some ergonomic updates, notably heater and ventilation controls mounted higher up in the centre stack for easier access. I would have liked larger volume and tuning knobs for the stereo to make them easier to use with glove-shod hands, but, more importantly, the heater controls are big and chunky. My two minor complaints were the mouse-fur headliner, which looks cheap to me compared to the woven types that many manufacturers now use; and the rattle on my tester that emanated from behind the driver’s side dash.

My biggest letdown in the old 6 was the front seats, which I found uncomfortable on a road trip I took in a 2008 Mazda6 Sport earlier this year. The new ones are terrific, though; this would have been a much nicer car for that long drive (the $1,695 Comfort Package included in my tester adds a lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, but none for the front passenger). The new car’s added size means more space, particularly in rear seat legroom, which was one of the old car’s weak points.

The new car’s headroom didn’t blow me away, though: the sunroof in my tester (part of the $1,695 Comfort Package) eats up some front-seat headroom. Too bad you can’t leave the sunroof out, as that package is the only way to get electronic stability control and a power driver’s seat in the most-basic GS four-cylinder model. In the back, the car’s sloping, form-over-function roofline is the culprit.

My car’s Dark Mahogany Metallic paint is one of two shades that is paired with beige upholstery inside. Choose that combo, and you get a contrasting black/beige that is far classier than the black/grey you’ll get with most of the available paint colours.

2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4
2009 Mazda6 GS-I4. Click image to enlarge

Mazda took some flak for leaving out of the 2009 line-up the hatchback and station wagon variants of this car that are available elsewhere. But where the original 6 was a global design, the new version sold here is actually larger than the other new Mazda6 being sold in other markets. Mazda Canada’s Greg Young said that while a hatchback version of the new car likely would have sold well here, the U.S. market isn’t as receptive to hatches, so at least for now, the North American Mazda6 will be sold as a sedan only.

So we don’t get our hatchback, but we do get a sedan with a big trunk. At 469 litres, the 2009 Mazda6 offers more cargo space than many of its direct competitors, key among those the Honda Accord (397 litres) and Toyota Camry (425 litres). Naturally, the back seats fold to reveal a generous opening for larger cargo.

The 2009 Mazda6 starts at $22,495. Add $1,100 for my tester’s automatic transmission, $1,695 for the Convenience Package and $1,395 in freight, and the total comes to $26,685. That’s a good deal on a great-looking car, so it’s no surprise that this car scored highest in subjective value in its category in Car of the Year voting.

The original Mazda6 certainly deserved its 2004 family car of the year nod, but its critical success never translated into segment-busting sales. The new car may be an award winner for different reasons, but it’s those differences that will likely make this car the successful seller Mazda hopes it will be.

Pricing: 2009 Mazda6 GS four-cylinder

Base price: $22,495
Options: $2,795 (five-speed automatic transmission, $1,100; Comfort Package of stability control, power adjustable driver’s seat, power moonroof, leather-trimmed shift knob and steering wheel, automatic headlights and windshield wipers, $1,695)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,395
Price as tested: $26,785
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Mazda6

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