In 2003, Mazda released the Mazda6 line-up. Critically acclaimed from the beginning for attractive styling, reliability, combined with category leading driving dynamics, the Mazda6 continues on today as one of America's favorite alternatives to Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet, and Ford. When considering a Mazda, potential buyers are looking at a car that offers more than just point A to point B. I find that the current online Mazda ad campaign about discerning enthusiasts and craftsmanship does ring true with the Mazda products that I've driven. They're just more fun than anyone else in their market.
So what we have here is the 2005 Mazda6 Sport Sedan with the Sport package, which includes front splitter, side skirts, and a trunk-mounted wing. The example I drive has Mazda's 2.3-liter MZR inline-4 engine mated to a 5-speed gearbox. The car came from the factory with 17-in rims shod with Michelin Pilot Sport tires, which turned out to be very expensive to continue to put on the car. All of these features, combined with a relatively low weight translate into surprising performance, but mostly through corners. The 2.3-liter four cylinder engine does only produce 166-horsepower, which isn't a little, but it isn't a lot, even in the four-cylinder segment.
One of the common criticisms from the motoring journals is the steering, which they complain is too light and fast. This may be, but this car certainly does handle and steer well. There is very little body roll, understeer is hardly noticeable, and the overall cornering feel is magnificent. Miles ahead of other offerings in this class. So much so in fact that Ford, Mazda's corporate parent, is using the Mazda6 platform on its new Fusion models.
Braking is accomplished via four discs with electronic ABS. The brake pedal feel is firm, however my driving example suffers from an abnormal sucking noise emitting from the brake pedal. The pedal and brakes still work as normal, so this issue is has not been resolved. The discs do haul the Mazda6 down from speed quite well, though noticeably less so with the new, non sport tires (not Mazda's fault).
Compared to the heavier V6, the I4 is nimbler and better to drive through corners; as such, the I4 is recommended for enthusiasts. Also, real-world gas mileage on the four cylinder engine is far superior to the six. Both models are front-wheel-drive, and when combined with an electronic TCS, the cars handle well in moderate to heavy snow, and are absolutely planted in the heaviest of rainstorms.
Straight line performance does not match that of cornering abilities, due mainly to the 2.3-liter powerplant. Though, acceleration is not bad, and the 5-speed manual with its short and firm clutch pedal and short throw shifter accomplish smooth shifts very quickly. Though not as silky-smooth as the German gearboxes, Mazda's 'box is faster.
Outside, the Mazda6 features aggressive but attractive styling cues similar to the RX-8 model. The svelte headlamp cluster contains projector style low beam and fog lamps, turn repeaters, and high beam. The overall look of the body is very athletic; the rod antenna is mounted at the rear of the roof at a steep angle adding to the sporty appearance, as do the 17-in silver-painted 5-spoke alloy wheels. Combine graceful lines with a wide stance and you have a very pretty sports sedan with attractive, but restrained styling.
Inside, the design falls a little, but only a little. The silver-painted plastic center console isn't necessarily attractive, though the knobs and switchgear are. My example has a standard single in-dash CD player, which is actually a very good system. The seats feature a no-slip fabric, which helps keep drivers in place while exploring the back roads. In the back, there is room enough for three full-sized adults, a feat accomplished by the wide body.
Speaking of the body work, some panels are fairly thin and are prone to dents, especially when someone trying to maneuver a motorbike out of the garage happens to fall into the Mazda6, and leaves dents from elbow contact.
Also, Mazda6 users know that for some reason, plastic is used to mate the shifter cable to the gearbox... and if a driver misses a shift, erm badly, the plastic piece will shatter. Leaving you stuck in second to drive home. Happily, this can be repaired 'easily' in your home. I say 'easily' instead of easily, because annoyingly, you have to take the one-piece console apart and thread it through the firewall. Which as any mechanic can tell you, isn't fun, and if it's your first time, can take over 6 hours to complete.
So then by no means is fit-and-finish a strong suit of Mazda. But then it isn't for Ferrari either, and people still love those. Mazdas are, as their campaign insists, for enthusiasts who like to drive, not just to get somewhere. I love Mazdas with all my heart. You absolutely cannot have more fun for cheaper (and remember it the next day). And at the end of the day, it's still an ordinary housewife of a family sedan car with endless practicality and usability... it just likes to go for a run in its sports bra every now and again.