Mazda introduced a brand-new sedan at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2001, simply named the Mazda6. Its actually part of a new family of midsize automobiles that are planned for production and will take the place of the existing 626 sedan. Sales have been sagging for the 626, down by 18 percent for the 2000 calendar year. For the first nine months of 2001, Mazda 626 sales declined further yet coming in 27 percent below the comparable period in 2000.
In addition to a four-door sedan, Mazda contemplates offering five-door hatchback and wagon body styles, but probably not for the U.S. market. The sedan and wagon are expected to go on sale in Europe and Japan under the Atenza badge. Mazda also has a broad selection of powertrains in mind for the new vehicle, including diesel engines but again, not all of them will reach American dealerships.
Mazda expects the new sedan to rival European models in ride and handling capabilities. Designed in Japan on an all-new platform developed by Mazda, the Mazda6 will be built both in Hofu, Japan, and Flat Rock, Mich., where the current 626 was produced. Developers used a variety of competitive models as benchmarks, including the BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat. The same platform will likely be used for several midsize Ford vehicles sold elsewhere in the world.
Mazda6 represents a new direction for our products, says Phil Martens, Mazdas managing director of product strategy. One of a dozen or so new products planned for the near future, its the first of aggressive new product launch initiatives that will see Mazda increase its production pace over the coming years, he said.
The new model exhibits a far different look than the rounded, relatively mainstream 626 sedan. [It] is like a well-dressed athlete, says Chief Designer Tom Matano. Stylists eliminated corners but created defined shoulders that are supposed to emphasize athleticism. Narrow headlights flank a large, five-pointed grille with a thick chrome horizontal bar and a Mazda logo. The Mazda6 has a well-defined belt line and wheel arches. Chrome is used sparingly.
The Mazda6 rides a 105.3-inch wheelbase and has an overall length of 186.8 inches, which makes it a trifle shorter than the length of the 626. At 70.1 inches wide and 56.7 inches high, the Mazda6 measures more than an inch wider and 1.5 inches taller than the 626. European models, at least, will have a self-leveling rear suspension. Standard tires measure 16 inches in diameter, and 17-inchers will be optional.
Mazda says the Mazda6s additional body width translates to extra passenger space, which also claims 2.4 inches of knee clearance for backseat passengers. The drivers seat adjusts through a 9.4-inch range to accommodate people of varying stature, and the 60/40-split rear seatback folds down. The three-spoke steering wheel is mounted on a tilt/telescoping column. Trunk volume for the sedan totals 15.2 cubic feet.
The dashboard contains a felt-lined upper storage tray, and another tray appears in the center armrest. Two integral cupholders go below a flip-open lid. Rear occupants get cupholders in their armrests. Some models will have an optional navigation system.
Under the Hood
A Mazda-engineered 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 160 horsepower, and Fords 220-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 will also be available. Diesel engines will be offered in other parts of the world. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard and a four-speed-automatic comes optional, but sedans with V-6 power can team with a five-speed automatic.
In addition to dual-stage front airbags, the Mazda6 will have inflatable curtain-type airbags and seat-mounted side-impact airbags. All-disc antilock brakes are standard and come with electronic brake-force distribution. In a severe collision, the new Crushable Pedal design is supposed to help prevent intrusion of the cars lower body structure into the drivers foot area.
The Mazda6 is pleasant to drive and sportier than many of its competitors, but its not dramatically different than them. Its spirited performance hails from the stick-shift V-6 engine, which isnt a powerhouse but has plenty of vigor. The sedan dashes off enthusiastically in each gear. Mazdas manual gearbox is easy and fun to manipulate but is a tad notchy. The clutch requires full attention to achieve easy takeoffs.
Red-lit gauges are big, easy to read and set into twin round dials. All of the controls are quickly accessible and easy to operate, except for the low-mounted climate controls, which are somewhat puzzling. Radio buttons are clear enough but oddly laid out, and the metallic center stack looks unusual but doesnt look bad. A huge glove box is easy to reach, and the large trunk has a low liftover.
The seat bottoms are short and bolstered with superior support and inviting cushioning. Visibility within the interior is very good all around.
Taking curves with confidence and cornering crisply, the Mazda6 suffers only modest body lean and enjoys a satisfying grip on the pavement. Overall, the Mazda6 is quiet, refined and well built, and features an excellent panel fit.