Shopping for a new Mazda MAZDA6?
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Exactly what is “zoom-zoom”? We don’t mean to touch off some deep, philosophical debate, but every time we hear Mazda’s catchy advertising jingle, it gets us wondering precisely how you define it.
The Japanese automaker’s products aren’t the fastest in their individual segments, nor the most powerful. So maybe it’s a bit like art: you just know it when you see it — or in this case, when it grabs you by the seat of your pants. Robert Davis, the head of product planning for Mazda’s U.S. operations, likes to call it “the emotion of motion.”
There are plenty of great commuter cars in the mid-size segment, and the fact that the Mazda6 is on the small side sends many potential buyers scurrying to Honda and Toyota dealers. But those who don’t live by the maxim, bigger is better, recognize that at the end of a busy day, the Mazda6 is the sort of car that encourages you to take the long way home, especially if you find a few tight curves along the route.
And now, with the addition of the new Mazda6 Sport Package, you might not want to go home at all. This package is offered on the original 6 sedan, as well as the new Mazda6 Sport Wagon and five-door. The changes emphasize the cosmetic side, though there are some modest performance enhancements worth noting.
Taut and tight
All three models share the same, taut platform as the original Mazda6. The Sport Package also comes with the basic suspension, double wishbones up front, with an E-type multilink in the rear. One of the notable features of the 2003 Mazda6 sedan was the standard front stabilizer bar, which helped minimize body roll and control weight transfer.
2004 Mazda6 WagonEnlarge Photo
The rack-and-pinion steering system has been tuned for aggressive driving. The speed-sensitive system is quick, responsive and linear. Put it on a slalom course and it’s a matter of point-and-shoot.
The new Sport Package brings an improved braking system, 11.1-inch ventilated discs up front, with 11.0-inch solid discs in the rear. Pedal responsive is again smooth and linear, with little to no fade, even after a series of aggressive driving maneuvers. It helps to have a new ABS system that incorporates both Traction Control and Electronic Brakeforce Distrbution, or EBD. The system is standard on the Wagon and up-level sedan and five-door, optional with other Mazda6 packages.
Shape of things to come
It’s been a long time since wagons ruled the American roadways. Indeed, until recently, this body style was an endangered species. Mazda is one maker that intends to bring the wagon back. Surprisingly, its wagons seem to have found their niche on the sporty, rather than family side, of the market.
That’s not to say the Mazda6 wagon doesn’t offer some functional advantages, as well. With the rear seat up, you’ll find 33 cubic feet of cargo space, twice as much as the 6 sedan. Fold the seat down — with a nifty little system that quickly creates a flat floor — and that jumps to a full 60 cubic feet of room.
But visually the wagon may be the sportiest model of all, as was Mazda’s smaller Protégé5. And befitting that image, the wagon is offered with only the 220-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6. It’s mated to a five-speed manual transmission, thought a five-speed automatic is available. The wagon comes with 17-inch wheels and tires.
With the sedan and five-door, you can order both the V-6 or the smaller, 160-hp in-line four, which is still a reasonably powerful engine. The 2.3-liter powerplant can be ordered with either a stock five-speed stick or a four-speed automatic. Even with the smaller engine, all five-doors are sold in Sport Package trim.
It’s interesting to note that while the word “wagon” is undergoing a redemption, the term “hatchback” is still a no-no. There are still too many bad memories of those sloppy-bodied hatchbacks of the ’80s. It’s too bad. Like the wagon, the Mazda6 five-door is stiff and solid, with little sense of body flex even on rough pavement or while making some aggressive maneuvers. To achieve that, Mazda added extensive additional sheetmetal, creating a virtual ring looping around the frame of the rear hatch.
At first glance, you might not even realize this is a hatchback. This is no “goofball bubble-back design,” in Davis’ words. The rear notch so closely resembles the sedan’s silhouette you may need to look for the rear wiper to tell which is which. The five-door’s most apparent visual cue, it’s not offered on the sedan.
2004 Mazda6 five-doorEnlarge Photo
As with the wagon, the rear seats fold flat, an operation that can be one-handed from either the back seat or by reaching in through the rear cargo bed. Seats up, the five-door has 22 cubic feet of cargo space, but that expands to a wagon-like 58.
Both the wagon and five-door add a bit more of a wedge to the basic design of the Mazda6, a touch that clearly enhances the sporty appearance.
The powers that be at Mazda have made matters a bit more complicated than you might expect choosing the various packages for the 6’s numerous body styles. Complicating things, the Sport Sedan continues to come with the base car’s chromed grille, rather than the body-color grille offered on the wagon and five-door. But you can order the body color package as a sedan option.
Considering all the mix-and-match offerings, one might wonder what happened to the Mazda6 coupe? “It’s a fickle segment,” laments Davis, and Mazda simply doesn’t see enough long-term demand to justify a two-door.
On the other hand, there’s a market waiting to be tapped for all-wheel drive, it appears, and while company officials won’t confirm specific plans, we expect to see an AWD version with the in-line four in reasonably short order. Unfortunately, the V-6 is squeezed in so tight, there’s not likely to be an all-wheel-drive version of the bigger powerplant until the next-generation Mazda6 arrives, probably no sooner than decade’s end.
That may disappoint some potential buyers, but even without the AWD package, there are plenty of ways to customize the Mazda6, especially with the arrival of the new body styles and Sports Package. Mazda is also expanding its catalog of aftermarket options.
The 6 isn’t going to knock off those kings of the hill, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. But for buyers looking for a sportier, more sophisticated ride, it’s hard to do better than the Mazda6, at least without blowing your budget. With the three body styles, and the arrival of the Sports Package, it becomes a little bit easier to demonstrate, if not explain, precisely what Mazda means by “zoom-zoom.”
2003 Mazda6 Sport Sedan, Wagon and five-door
Base price:$19,415 - $23,415
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 220 hp/192 lb-ft; 2.3-liter in-line four, 160 hp/155 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual (standard), or five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive with V-6; five-speed manual or four-speed automatic with in-line four
Length x width x height (inches): 186.8 x 70.1 x 56.7 in, sedan and five-door; 187.8 x 70.1 x 57.3 inches, wagon
Wheelbase: 105.3 in
Curb weight: 3166-3472 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 24/32 mpg (manual in-line four); 19/26 mpg (manual V-6)
Safety equipment: Driver and passenger front airbags; optional front side and side curtain airbags; four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control; sport package adds ventilated front discs, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Traction Control
Major standard equipment: Tilt/telescoping steering wheel, AM/FM stereo, flip/folding rear seat
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles