Mazda, the Ford-owned Japanese manufacturer, has successfully positioned itself as a performance car builder that delivers the comfort and convenience family buyers expect. A tough act, but one the Mazda 6 handles well. Our test car, a 220 hp Mazda 6 V6 Sport with 5-speed manual and all mod cons ("modern conveniences" for the uninitiated), leans toward the sporting side while meeting family car expectations. Price $23,295. Warranty: 4 yr/50,000 mi. EPA fuel mileage: 19 city/26 highway.
Mazda has done well positioning itself with the ad line, "zoom-zoom." Yet in my years as an advertising creative director I'd never have composed such a line or allowed my writers to even suggest it. "Too corny," I would have said, "bring me something clever or funny." On the other hand, after being sentenced to advertising's version of Siberia, known as freelance, I created an equally corny sign-off for a Mazda dealer. It went, "Downtown Mazda, where the King meets Parliament." (The dealer was located at the intersection of King and Parliament streets.) And just as with Mother Mazda's zoom-zoom, it worked. Anyone in Toronto who listened to radio knew how to find Downtown Mazda. Now that I'm an Internet star (okay, only in my own mind) I can be corny or clever or both and never have to kow-tow to a client as long as I keep my About bosses in New York happy. Which allows me to state that the Mazda6 is not a zoom-zoom car. It is a triple-zoom car, as in zoom-zoom-z-o-o-o-m! One zoom for performance, one zoom for a comfortable, well-designed interior, one zoom for styling. Combined, these zooms add up to a superb sports sedan at a reasonable price, even allowing for the fact that my press car was a loaded V6.
In the Driver's Seat
2005 Mazda 6: As comfy as curling up with someone you love© Philip Powell
There have been some ladies in my life who, when snuggled next to me in the classic spoon position, created a sense of "oneness." The Mazda6 offered a similar feeling. No, I'm not suggesting that an automobile is a substitute for a woman (though at my advanced age it comes close), but settling into the Mazda6 did make me feel as though the car and I were one. Here, indeed, was a car where seat shape and adjustment, pedals/gear lever location, and steering wheel size, combined for a perfect fit. The instruments, red on black and easy to read, were a delight. The console offered up temperature and sound controls that were intuitive after a brief indoctrination period. A friend, checking the interior, disliked those "big, black radio knobs" but was unwittingly referring to the air vents which, when closed, become black circles on the dash. This is a 4-door sedan, you say... what about rear seat roominess? Well, all those journalists who beefed about the Mazda6 vs. the competition are full of beef themselves. Even with the front seat positioned for a 6-footer who drives in the classic lean-back style (me), there was enough kneeroom for Steve Nash and his girlfriend, assuming he has one.
On the Road
Not every Mazda6 is the same, so pay attention. You can buy a Mazda6 with a perfectly competent 4-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, and enough features to keep you comfortable and safe, for less money than what you'd pay for my test car. I suspect most buyers fall into that category, but it shouldn't discourage you upon discovering that our test vehicle came loaded with a V6, 5-speed manual transmission, alloy wheels with semi-low-profile tires, full body cladding, sunroof and leather. The basics, however, apply to all versions of the Mazda6. Having admitted that, I must also admit that when equipped with full-zoot trim like our test car, this is a triple-zoom performance sedan. Give that V-6 its head and when 5000 rpm is reached at 140 kph (87 MPH -- ours came with a metric speedo) it suddenly hits you in the shoulders with turbo punch... yet it's not a turbo! Suddenly I'm thinking the Mazda V-6 is very under-rated. Accelerating quickly it growls, at cruising speeds it remains whisper-quiet, a sure-fire combo for speeding tickets if you're not careful. In the corners a 3-Series Bimmer might beat it, but not by much, for this is a car that loves to be driven through mountain chicanes.
2005 Mazda 6: 2005 Mazda 6: Back seaters get plenty of legroom, but watch your head© Philip Powell
Readers inevitably question rave reviews like this one, wondering if there were no faults to report. There were. Although the rear passenger compartment offers plenty of legroom it supplies no frills. No reading lights, no individual hot/cold air controls, not much storage space. Both front and rear passengers may find headroom tight (although the sunroof is responsible for some loss of space). The 5-speed manual transmission is precise, throws from gear-to-gear fairly short, but it isn't as butter-slick as a Porsche or BMW. Trunk space is only average, assuming you are one of those "four golf bags on every trip" types. Enough negatives? Okay, let's talk about that buffet-free sunroof, a joy to keep open. The dimensions, too, less than primary competitors Accord and Camry, both of which have grown fat as if fed on fast food in an effort to please an expanding (in the wrong way) population. While the differences may be subtle, the Mazda6 is much more a sports sedan, truly a joy to drive without neglecting the passengers. Zoom-zoom. No, make that zoom-zoom-zoom.