2008 Mazda Mazda6

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2003 Mazda Mazda6

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2008.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5
Pros:
  • Youthful styling
  • Won't be as ubiquitous as Accord, Camry
  • Competitively sized trunk
Cons:
  • No bargain pricing
  • Smaller than some other midsize sedans
  • Unknown reliability

Because so many of us keep our vehicles for years, there's often the dilemma of whether to buy a car that fits our tastes and lifestyle today or choose one that sets us up for our next, anticipated lifestyle.

An example: A single woman or man, with limited resources, who's engaged or expecting to be engaged and starting a family in the next few years.

It's always a tough call, especially if the automotive shopper is image-conscious and looking to be both practical and trendy. But Mazda has a new solution.

Its just-introduced Mazda6—sold only as a sedan for the time being — competes in the midsize sedan segment as the mainstream Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus.

But shoppers may not readily relate the Mazda6 to the Camry, Accord and Taurus in the four-door, family car category if they get an eyeful of the car with optional sport package that adds a rear spoiler, body side rocker panels and expressive and 17-inch wheels and tires.

All come from Mazda and are the kind of sporty, customized touches seen today on coupes driven by young drivers. In other words, the 2003 Mazda6 tries to combine the spirited styling of youth with a practical midsize car that can dutifully—and without a lot of fuss—carry child safety seats or new in-laws in the back seat when the time comes.

Taking different approach
Mazda has an interesting experiment going on in this bread-and-butter segment, where buyers of Accords and Camrys, at least, tend to have a median age in their mid to late 40s and already be married.

The majority also are women, but hey, Mazda wants to change all this and is looking for men, many of them single, to make up 60 percent of Mazda6 buyers.

No bargain basement price
Too bad that base pricing is at the higher end of the segment. An entry Mazda6 with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of more than $19,000.

This is before the optional sport package is added and compares with just over $16,000 for a base Accord DX sedan and more than $17,000 for a 2003 Altima. In fact, the base Mazda6 is close to the approximately $19,500 starting price for a 2003 Camry.

And we all know the kind of reputation Toyota has accrued for quality. In contrast, the Mazda6 is a new model, coming in as Mazda phases out both its 626 and Millenia sedans.

Starting price, with destination charge, for a V6-powered 6, which was the test car, is more competitive with Accords and Altimas with V6s at just over $21,000.

Sport-oriented ride quality
I didn't need to spend a lot of time in the front-wheel-drive Mazda6 to notice that the ride is less cushioned than in the Camry and more sport-oriented than in the Accord sedan.

It's a firm ride, with the car feeling as if it's rippling over any irregular pavement. Passengers feel road bumps mostly mildly, at 30 miles an hour as well as at highway speeds.

The Mazda6 felt well-planted and quite stable, even when I dodged drivers making nonchalant lane changes on the interstate. Traction control, standard on the Mazda6 with V6, worked well during heavy downpours.

More evidence the Mazda6 has a sporty personality comes in the strong braking performance. But anti-lock brakes are standard only on the V6 model.

Fun and function inside
Inside, there's a mix of sporty cues—bright orange-red gauges and supportive front bucket seats—and smart family sedan necessities such as well-sized map pockets with cupholders molded into them and a roomy trunk.

The clear, distortion-free sounds from the Bose audio system in the tester could please many an audiophile.

A tad smaller inside than some others
But this car is a bit smaller than major competitors like the Accord and Altima.

The Mazda6 has a shorter wheelbase and overall length, is slightly skinnier and isn't quite as tall as the Accord and Altima. As a result, some interior dimensions for riders are a bit less, too. For example, front headroom of 38.7 inches in a Mazda6 without moonroof is less than the 40.4 inches in a comparable Accord and the 40.8 inches in an Altima.

Front-seat legroom of 42.3 inches is commendable, but it also is less than the 42.6 inches in the Accord and the 43.9 inches in an Altima. The 36.5 inches of legroom for back-seat riders is quite competitive, though, to the Accord's 36.8 inches and the 36.4 inches in the Altima.

Sporty V6-manual tranny combo
The Mazda6 is one of the few midsize sedans offering a manual transmission with its V6. Nissan's Altima has this sporty combo, too. But the Accord and Taurus don't.

I did wish the five-speed shifter in the test car didn't feel quite so spongy as it got into the higher gears, but the engine's response was strong and more than just spunky.

Adding to the enjoyment was the low exhaust tone of the six-cylinder-powered 6. It sounded confident and pleasing. Maximum horsepower is 220 with the V6, while torque tops out at 192 lb-ft at 5000 rpm.

Both performance numbers are less than the V6s in the Altima and Accord, though. At least drivers of the Mazda6 don't have to buy premium fuel; regular is recommended for both the V6 and the entry, 160-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.

Final note
The Mazda6 family will grow in 2004, when a five-door hatchback and a wagon will debut. But sales still will be far less than the huge volumes of Accords and Camrys out there.

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BB05 - 8/29/2014 7:03:39 AM