- Still one of the best-handling affordable sedans
- Base engine and manual transmission are a peppy combination
- Hatchback model makes a lot of sense
- Fuel efficiency (with the four-cylinder)
- Styling looks quite dated, especially inside
- Cramped back seat, and for some, tight headroom
- More road noise than typical
- Sluggish throttle can hamper V-6 experience
- Electronic stability control not offered
The 2008 Mazda6 lags behind the competition in terms of space and practicality, but it’s still among the most fun-to-drive affordable sedans.
Mazda's mid-size sedan, the Mazda6, returns for 2008 with some changes to the lineup; the 2008 Mazda6 is still also available as a five-door hatchback, but the Sport Wagon has been discontinued. In addition, the Mazda6 loses its hot sports version, the Mazdaspeed6, for 2008.
The standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 156 horsepower; the optional 3.0-liter V-6 makes 212 horsepower. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on the base 2008 Mazda6 model, with a four-speed automatic transmission available optionally; V-6s can be mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The Mazda6 is several hundred pounds lighter than most mid-size sedans, so don't let its unimpressive horsepower figures scare you away. The 2008 Mazda6 has peppy performance with the nice, refined four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, while the V-6 feels torquey and responsive from just about any speed, with either the manual or automatic. A sluggish throttle calibration on the V-6 keeps it from being as much fun as it should be, though, and with better fuel economy of 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, the four-cylinder is the best choice if you prefer the manual.
Handling is one of the Mazda6's strongest selling points. It has very crisp, direct steering, and the Mazda6 has great poise in corners, with very little body lean. The ride is quite smooth and absorbent, though there's an underlying firmness, so railroad tracks and potholes can be jarring.
The Mazda6's interior styling, considered among the best five years ago, is now becoming quite dated, but it still manages to look attractive. However, the climate and audio controls are quite low in the driver's field of vision, and the controls are unnecessarily odd (buttons that appear to be knobs), while the display is mounted higher. Front seats in the 2008 Mazda6 are very firm, supportive, and comfortable, with better lateral support than most mid-size sedans--headroom can be right for taller drivers, though--but the backseat is downright cramped unless the front seats are quite far forward. In the hatchback mode, loading and unloading is a bit easier, and the seats fold forward to create a more useful cargo area than in the sedan.
In the 2008 Mazda6 lineup, four-cylinder models are designated 'i,' while V-6 models are designated 's.' Both come in VE, Touring, and Grand Touring models, while the sedan also comes in a base model. VE models come quite well equipped, with steering-wheel audio controls, a six-disc changer, cruise control, and an alarm system, but top Grand Touring models upgrade to a host of upscale features including a moonroof, HID headlamps, heated mirrors, leather-trimmed heated seats, and automatic climate control. Sirius Satellite Radio is available; other options on the list include remote engine start and a voice-activated navigation system.
The 2008 Mazda6 has crash-test results that are respectable but not at the top of its class. In the federal crash tests, the Mazda6 was rated five stars for frontal impact but four stars for side impact, with a Good rating for frontal impact and a Marginal rating for rear impact from the IIHS. The Mazda6 now has most of the standard safety features that are expected in the mid-size class, including front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes. However, electronic stability control, a lifesaving feature that is rapidly becoming expected in this class, is not offered.