by Ted Laturnus
It’s rare for an automobile manufacturer to come clean and admit that maybe their models haven’t been up to snuff over the past few years.
But that’s exactly what’s happening at Mazda, who, by their own admission, concede that in the past, some of their products haven’t been all they could be. Explains Hirotake Kanazawa, Mazda’s general manager for the engineering division of the company: “Up until now, some of our designs have been passable, but in other areas, we’ve lost our way. Mazda is a company in metamorphosis.”
A key ingredient in the company’s rejuvenation is their new 6 sedan, which, although it does share a number with its predecessor – the 626 – is a completely new model in every way. It is not, Mazda wants us to know, just the newest version of their mid-sized four-door, but an entirely new model, sharing almost nothing with its predecessor, other than market category.
Scheduled to hit Canadian showrooms this Fall, the 6 will initially be offered as a four-door sedan only, but a hatchback and station wagon will follow eventually. In Europe, the 6 will be known as the Atenza, and is part of Mazda’s global strategy….the car’s launch was held in Italy, which, considering its relaxed traffic laws and classic surroundings, was probably appropriate. Mazda officials describe Rome as a “city of lifestyles”, which also fits into their overall marketing plans for the 6.
The Mazda 6 will come with two engine choices in Canada: a new 160 horsepower 2.3 litre four cylinder, and a 219 horsepower 3.0 litre V6. The latter powerplant is based on the same engine found in the Tribute SUV and MPV mini-van….the Ford Duratec, in other words. Both engines will have twin camshafts and four valves per cylinder, as well as Mazda’s S-VT sequential valve timing, which alters valve lift and cam duration depending upon engine load. The four cylinder version – which I drove in Italy – also has an internal counterbalancing shaft to reduce engine vibrations. The four cylinder model will accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just under nine seconds and give it a reported top speed of 214 km/h. During a spirited dash along the Italian autostrada outside of Rome, we actually got ours up to an indicated 210 km/h. Transmission choices will be five speed manual and four-speed automatic.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise with the new 6, however, was its handling. Without overstating it, I must say that I was amazed at its road-holding ability and stability through tight turns. The rear suspension of the 6, which is similar in design to that used on the old 929, is a multi-link design, with its own subframe and specially designed shocks and coil springs. It has the same kind of rigidity and balance you’d expect in a BMW 3-series or Audi A4….very firm and stable. The front, meanwhile, is double wishbones….also with a sub-frame. If you like to drive with enthusiasm once in awhile, the 6 will put a smile on your face.
It’s not too shabby in the styling department either. Mazda is describing the 6 as “athletic” looking, with inspiration coming from the Miata and RX-7 sports cars. I don’t know about that, but it is a beautiful looking car from just about every angle. I do have mixed feelings about the front end treatment, with its “five point” grille and air inlets, but otherwise, the 6 looks very contemporary and capable. I especially like the flared wheel arches and low stance of the car….very European in flavour.
Inside, Mazda designers have utilized what they describe as a “karakuri” layout, which means, literally “a pleasant way to surprise people”. I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by the interior of the 6, but they’ve done a pretty good job of putting things where they should be and giving occupants plenty of elbow room. One minor quibble: the a/c switch needs to have its own indicator light so that you know when it’s on or off. On the other hand, an excellent feature is the rear floor/deck in the trunk, which folds completely flat and you don’t have to remove the headrests when the 60/40 rear seat is deployed. The 6 boasts 492 litres of rear trunk space, which is just about the roomiest in its class.
Mazda is quite candid about their desire to challenge the benchmark cars in the mid-size sedan marketplace – Camry and Accord – and with a projected price tag of under $25,000 to start in Canada, the new Mazda 6 has drawn a line in the sand.