Mazda refines midsizer

  • 15-Jul-2008 10:08 EDT
Mazda6_bodystyles.jpg

All three Mazda6 body styles for world markets enjoy improvements in both structural rigidity and aerodynamic drag, but probably only a larger version of the four-door sedan will come to the North American market in 2008.

Following the growth trend among replacement models, the new global Mazda6 has expanded to be larger than its predecessor. In this case, the car is 65 mm (2.6 in) longer, 15 mm (0.6 in) wider, and 5.0 mm (0.2 in) taller. It rides on a 50 mm (2.0 in) longer wheelbase than the outgoing car.

This version of the car is available in markets outside North America, which will get its own still larger version of the car in late 2008. The newly introduced world edition of the Mazda6 comes in four-door sedan, five-door hatchback, and station wagon body styles. Because of the poor sales of the wagon in the U.S., that body will not return after the current car concludes its run, and the five-door hatchback is unlikely, though that style remains a possibility, according to the company.

Goals for the new model were to improve consumers’ perception of the car as a premium product, explained Ryuichi Umeshita, Program Manager for the Mazda6. To that end, engineers strove to quell noise within the cabin, an effort that went to the creation of the body shell itself. By stiffening the body’s torsional rigidity by 30% in the hatchback, 25% in the wagon, and 14% in the sedan, Mazda engineers were able to stop some noise at its source.

Use of high-strength steel increased from 42% of the old car to 49% of the new model, contributing to the added stiffness. Careful use of CAD to optimize structural shapes also assisted in adding strength without excessive weight gain.

Built the same way as the old car, the new car would have gained 100 kg (220 lb) in mass, according to Umeshita, but because of optimization, weight gain as the result of added safety systems was held to 35 kg (77 lb), he said.

Stylists penned a shape that cuts the air with only a 0.27 coefficient of drag, reducing the incidence of wind noise too, Umeshita pointed out.

One area where the company compromised on serene isolation was in the selection of bushings to mount the subframe to the unibody, Umeshita said. That is because the ride-quality engineers are in conflict with the handling engineers, “but in the Zoom-Zoom company, the driving dynamics engineers always win,” he grinned. So the company opted for the harder bushings that will give the Mazda6 the company’s signature secure handling traits, even at the expense of some ride comfort.

The global Mazda6 is powered by three variants of the company’s MZR I4 gasoline engine plus a diesel. The 1.8-L gasoline engine is backed by a five-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed manual available with all of the larger engines. A five-speed automatic is available only with the 2.0-L gasoline motor.

The company promises improved material quality in the cabin and the availability of advanced safety technologies such as electronic stability control, and active front lighting will assist in the Mazda6’s aim to move upmarket.

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