Considered "all-new" for 2009, Mazda's redesigned Mazda6 midsize sedan is made specifically for the North American market. Exterior and interior styling is called "bold and exquisite," and the Mazda6 has expanded substantially in size. Back in 2003, the first-generation Mazda6 took the place of the former 626 model.
Wheelbase has grown by 4.5 inches, compared to the 2003-08 version of the Mazda6, now measuring 109.8 inches. Front and rear track dimensions (distance between left and right wheels) have increased. Overall length has increased by 6.1 inches, and the 2009 Mazda6 is 2.3 inches wider than its prececessor. Trunk volume is almost 10 percent greater. As a result, Mazda claims the Mazda6 has moved "from the bottom to the top of the midsize class as defined by SAE and EPA volume measures." In other words, it's substantially bigger all around in this fresh form.
As before, the family/sport sedan comes with either a four-cylinder or V-6 engine. Like nearly every redesigned model these days, engine outputs have risen substantially. Both engines have been enlarged, too. A 170-hp four-cylinder replaces the prior 2.3-liter, which made 156 horsepower. Last year's 3.0-liter V-6, rated at 212 hp, has been supplanted by a 3.7-liter V-6 that makes 60 more horsepower.
Seven versions are offered: Mazda6 i SV, i Sport, i Touring, and i Grand Touring with the four-cylinder engine; plus Mazda6 s Sport, s Touring, and s Grand Touring with V-6 power. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard with the four-cylinder "i" editions; a five-speed automatic transmission is optional. All "s" editions with the V-6 engine include a six-speed automatic transmission.
Active Adaptive Shift senses winding road conditions and selects the best gear for the job. When passing, it can also hold gears longer for more effective acceleration. Depending on the model, 16-, 17-, or 18-inch tires are mounted.
Both engines have dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder develops its 170 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 167 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Mazda's 3.7-liter V-6 generates 272 horsepower at 6200 rpm, and 269 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. Each engine runs on regular-grade gasoline.
Touring and Grand Touring models include keyless entry that automatically unlocks doors as the driver approaches, permitting pushbutton starting. Available options include a Blind Spot Monitoring System, rain-sensing wipers, and Bluetooth audio/phone connectivity.
Like most Mazda models, the Mazda6 sedan exhibits a more sporty character than its competitors from Toyota and Honda - though Nissan's Altima comes closer. Acceleration with the V-6 engine is as vigorous as expected, but the Mazda6 mostly excels in taut handling, which comes without much penalty in ride comfort.
Manual-shift family sedans aren't the most popular items on the market, but the Mazda6 with a six-speed and four-cylinder engine makes a particularly appealing combination. Mazda's manual gearbox is among the smoothest-shifting examples, flicking neatly from one gear to any other and matched by a clutch that combines gentle engagement with confident, positive action. Gas mileage is satisfying with the stick-shift four-cylinder, too.
Increased size is evident when getting into the Mazda6, which offers plenty of passenger space, front and rear. On the road, though, this sedan handles like a more compact model, blending agility with confidence. Apart from a slight but invigorating exhaust note, this car also is quiet-running. Gauges are easy to read. So is the navigation screen (if instaled), though it would be better if positioned a bit higher. Visibility is good all around, and Mazda's available blind-spot warning is helpful without being intrusive.
Pricing starts at $18,550 (plus $670 destination charge) for a Mazda6 i SV sedan with the four-cylinder and manual gearbox. The Mazda6 s begins at $24,130. Sales began in August 2008.
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