Mazda6 grows up, evolves

  • 31-Oct-2008 12:43 EDT
The 2009 Mazda6 is the first in its line to be geared specifically for the North American market.

­­Traditionally smaller than its nearest midsize competitors—the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry—the Mazda6 has, since its introduction in 2003, been unable to rightfully shine. Considered  a “tweener” by North American market standards, and often directly competing with its more nimble sibling the Mazda3, the powers at Mazda finally decided a significant change was in order. As a result, the once lean family sedan is now 2.3 in (58.4 mm) wider and 6.9 in (175.2 mm) longer than its predecessor and boasts a greater wheelbase at 109.8 in (2788 mm)—lending to a better overall stance. And the vehicle’s exterior styling has also been dramatically overhauled.

“We sought an exterior design capable of stirring any observer’s emotions,” said Mazda6 Program Engineer Hiroshi Kajiyama. “We also [tried] to achieve a dynamic character that encourages a strong level of interaction with the driver.” That interaction—which Mazda refers to as its signature ride and handling—appeared impressively intact during test drives of preproduction models in late July. In fact, despite bulking up to meet the demands of market research (apparently, buyers still want bigger cars), the 2009 Mazda6 has retained the sporty appeal its devout followers expect.

Rolling out as a four-door sports sedan with three trim levels—Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring—the  Mazda6 is the third new vehicle from the company designed specifically for the North American market. With that said, the Mazda brain trust in Japan appears intent on making its competition nervous as it angles for a larger chunk of market share.

According to Mazda, lessons learned in the development of the Mazda CX-7 and CX-9 encouraged a clean-sheet approach to building the new Mazda6.

“The original Mazda6 was really the start of our new design language as well as our new engineering language—our Mazda DNA,” said Tim Barnes, Director of Product Planning and Strategy for Mazda North American Operations (MNAO). “So this new Mazda6 is the first vehicle of what we’re calling ‘Zoom-Zoom evolution.’”

As far as the Mazda6 is concerned, this “evolution” meant focusing efforts on producing a single four-door sedan body style that would be offered in two basic series: Mazda6 i powered by a 2.5-L four-cylinder engine and the Mazda6 s powered by a 3.7-L V6.

Increased size usually equals more weight, which can lead to less-than-stellar performance if ignored. So, in response to the new 6’s heftier frame, more power was added. The Mazda6 i’s 2.5-L four-cylinder engine has 170 hp (127 kW) and the Mazda6 s has a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 272 hp (203 kW).

Along with output gains ranging from 9 to 28%, fuel economy on the I4 automatic increases EPA highway from 28 to 30 mpg. Some of the efficiency gain is attributable to transmission improvements. A new six-speed manual gearbox is standard in the Mazda6 i, while a five-speed sport automatic with manual shift mode is optional. All the s models are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.

Both the i and s series include a host of new standard features: side and curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, and tire-pressure monitoring. Touring models have a keyless entry system that automatically unlocks the doors when the driver approaches and grips the front door handle. Grand Touring editions have dual-zone automatic climate control and Bluetooth wireless phone and audio capabilities. An options package includes an advanced moonroof, a 10-speaker Bose surround sound system with a six-CD changer, and Sirius satellite radio. And a blind-spot monitoring system alerts the driver of traffic approaching from the rear.

With its elegant exterior design, revved-up powertrain, and impressive set of package options, the 2009 Mazda6 will most likely attract the Accord, Altima, and Camry customers the company has targeted. However, the exact number of defectors Mazda can create, and how that influences quarterly sales, remains to be seen.

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