2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6. Click image to enlarge
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2009 Mazda6

North Vancouver, British Columbia – Like people, car models seem to get larger and heavier over time, particularly in North America. Hm..perhaps there is a connection. I mean, after all, a car that you fit into five years ago may just not be big enough when it comes time to trade it in for a new one. (Note to self: ask for low-fat mayonnaise when ordering next Baconator and jumbo fries).

Or maybe it’s about keeping up with the Jones’. The previous Mazda6 was smaller than all of its major competitors in North America, rendering it the critics’ whipping boy when it came to comparisons of legroom, headroom, trunk space and so on.

So bigger it is, about 195 mm (7.7 in.) longer and 60 mm (2.4 in.) wider than the previous model: the new Mazda6 sedan is now as big as the Honda Accord, which also grew in size when it was redesigned in 2008.

2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6. Click image to enlarge

The Mazda6’s growth spurt means considerably more interior room, notably rear legroom, and a larger trunk, as well as improved ride and handling courtesy of its longer wheelbase and a wider track. But it also means a minimum weight gain of about 100 kg (220 lbs) on base models

To counter that, two new, more powerful engines have been introduced for ’09: a 170 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder (replacing a 156-hp 2.3-litre 4-cylinder) and a 272-hp 3.7-litre V6 (replacing a 212-hp 3.0-litre V6). As well, a new six-speed manual transmission replaces a five-speed as the standard tranny on four-cylinder models. A five-speed automatic remains optional on four-cylinder models and a six-speed automatic remains standard on V6s.

Despite its increased bulk and greater horsepower, the ’09 Mazda6’s fuel efficiency hasn’t suffered greatly when compared with the previous model: the new four-cylinder engine offers almost as good fuel economy while the new V6 is actually slightly more fuel-efficient than its smaller predecessor. Official figures (L/100 km) for the four-cylinder model are 10.4/6.9 City/Hwy, and for the V6, 12.1/8.0 City/Hwy. Still, when compared to its major competitors, Accord, Camry, and Altima, the Mazda6 isn’t as economical with either engine.

Sadly, last year’s practical-yet-stylish Sport hatchback version has been discontinued, as was the even-more-practical-and-stylish Mazda6 wagon model in 2008. We are left with the four-door sedan which has morphed into what is probably the sportiest-looking family sedan in the import class. The Mazda6s swept-back headlamps, sculpted front fenders (reminiscent of the RX-8), sleek profile, wide stance, 18-inch radials, and dual exhausts (V6 models) all say “vroom-vroom” in a way that makes the Camry look sedate, the Accord look angular, and the Altima look bulky.

2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6. Click image to enlarge

Still, I’m not totally convinced that the RX-8’s front fender mimicry works on a family sedan – and those flattened chrome tailpipe tips look a bit gimmicky.

Interior impressions

The V6 GT model, this week’s test car, is equipped with shiny leather seats with perforated seat inserts and bun-warming (Low/High) heaters in the front seats, and power operation for both driver (eight-way) and passenger (four-way) seats. The driver’s seat also includes a manual lumbar adjuster. I found the driver’s seat wide and comfortable yet with enough thigh and torso support to hold me firmly when cornering briskly. The steering wheel is also adjustable for height and reach.

The 6’s interior is nicely finished with good quality materials and tight panel gaps – although I thought there were too many panels. My GT’s interior was mostly boring black, but bright highlights such as stainless steel rims around the gauges, silver trim in the centre console, chrome trim on the heater dials and shifter, and blue/black trim around lower dashboard and console helped add style without being gaudy.

The new gauges are housed in deep pods, which despite their backlit red numbers and blue perimeter glow, are harder to read than last year’s larger, pod-less gauges. The horizontal red digital information display in the centre stack has been moved to the top of the dash and includes such info as the time, interior temperature, fan speed, media, title of song, and selectable trip computer information such as average speed, instant fuel consumption, and average fuel consumption.

The redesigned radio/CD/WMA/MP3 player now takes up more real estate in the centre stack and there are more buttons to push. I didn’t like the smaller silver-coloured buttons integrated into the silver trim around the radio: they’re harder to read and operate. In the GT, the premium Bose audio system with 10 speakers provides big, clear surround sound, and I enjoyed listening to commercial-free Sirius satellite radio that is included free for the first six months.

Below, the stereo, three larger dials for the heater and air conditioning system are easier to use, and in the GT, an automatic climate control system with separate driver/passenger temperature controls keeps both sides of the car comfy. Additional controls for the audio, cruise control and Bluetooth hands-free phone are found on the steering wheel spokes.

In the GT, an optional engine start button is located at the bottom of the centre stack. This allows the car to be started while the door key is still in your pocket. Some critics don’t like this feature, but I did because of the way Mazda’s key-free system works. When unlocking the car, you grip the handle and the doors unlock. You then start the car without using your key. After you get out, you lock the car from the outside by pressing a black button on the driver’s door handle. Basically, you never have to take the door key out of your pocket or purse.

2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6. Click image to enlarge

Between the front seats is a sliding armrest with a deep storage bin underneath with an auxiliary jack and a 12-volt outlet where you can hide your music player. There’s also a coin tray near the driver’s door, front door pockets, a glovebox, and map pockets on the back of the front seats. The dashtop storage bin is gone.

The rear seat is wider than in the previous Mazda6, so you can put a thin friend in the middle seat, or if not, fold down the centre armrest and insert a couple cans or cups in the integral cupholders. There’s also more room in the back of the new 6 to stretch your legs.

For storage flexibility, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks fold down via release straps in the trunk. They don’t fold flat, but the opening is fairly wide and the whole trunk is lined. The trunk is now 469 litres (16.5 cu. ft.), bigger than the Accord’s, Camry’s and Altima’s trunks.

Driving impressions

Apart from the 3.7-litre V6’s extra horsepower and torque, the main difference between the four-cylinder Mazda6 and the V6 model is the V6’s smoother, quieter operation. It’s a remarkably smooth engine with effortless power. Its maximum 272 horsepower is developed at 6,250 r.p.m. and 269 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 r.p.m. While the four-cylinder Mazda6 does 0 to 100 km/h in about nine seconds, the V6 model takes under seven seconds, according to Consumer Reports. At a steady cruising speed of 100 km/h in top gear, the V6 engine turns over a lazy 1,900 r.p.m., so the engine is quiet and unobtrusive.

2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6
2009 Mazda6 GT V6. Click image to enlarge

The six-speed automatic transmission, the only transmission offered in the V6 model, responds quickly to throttle input and changes gears silently and smoothly. The floor shifter can be shifted manually by pushing forwards to shift down and backwards to shift up: this is the opposite of many manumatics, but you get used to it.

Fuel economy is worse than average in its class. In a week of mostly city driving, I averaged 13.0 L/100 km (22 mpg Imperial) with regular fuel.

Grippy 18-inch Michelin radials combined with a wide track and a fully independent suspension (front double wishbone/rear multi-link) provide stable, balanced handling while the rpm-sensitive variable-assist steering is responsive and quick at higher speeds while easy to manage when parking. However, I found the Mazda6’s ride rather firm over uneven surfaces and road noise occasionally intrusive, depending on the surface.

Braking is good: standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS haul the four-cylinder Mazda6 down from 100 km/h to 0 in 42.3 metres (139 ft.), according to AJAC (www.ajac.ca), and the V6 model in 40.5 metres (133 ft.) according to Consumer Reports.

Standard stability control (which wasn’t available last year) and traction control provide extra security on slippery roads, and an optional Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) system alerts the driver to vehicles in its blind spot with audible and visual warnings. As the rear C-pillar does restrict visibility somewhat, the BSM can be useful – but it’s not a substitute for actually looking over your right shoulder.

Now that it is a “large” mid-size car, the Mazda6 isn’t as easy to parallel-park or manoeuvre in a tight parking lot, and its wide turning circle of 12.2 metres (40 ft.) makes it harder to make quick turns. On the plus side, the Mazda6’s longer wheelbase and improved rigidity make it a quieter, more refined, and more comfortable highway car. The bi-xenon headlamps in the GT provide impressive night-time lighting with a wide arc and a sharp upper cutoff with the low beams. High beams add significant depth and height. Interestingly, the headlamps can be adjusted manually using a scroll wheel near the drivers’ door.

Verdict

Bigger and roomier than the previous Mazda6, the stylish new Mazda6 V6 sedan is more refined, quieter and more powerful than the four-cylinder model, and the top-of-the-line GT is more luxurious too. Performance and handling excel, but relatively poor fuel economy detracts from the package.

Pricing: 2009 Mazda6 GT V6

Base price: $33,095

Options: $ 1,965 (Luxury Package: Smart keyless entry, push-button start system, BOSE audio system, Centre point system, 10-speakers SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Bluetooth with audio profile, blind spot monitor, welcome foot light on exterior mirrors)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,395

Price as tested: $36,555
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Mazda6

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