Mazda introduced a brand-new sedan at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2001 to replace its 626 model. Expected to rival European cars in ride and handling, the Mazda6 began to reach dealerships during the 2003 model year.
Designed in Japan on an all-new platform, the Mazda6 is built in Japan and Michigan. Developers used a variety of competitive models as benchmarks, including the BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.
“The Mazda6 represents a new direction for our products,” said Phil Martens, managing director of product strategy. One of a dozen or so new products planned for the company’s near future, it’s “the first of aggressive new product launch initiatives.”
In the spring of 2004, five-door hatchback and wagon body styles will join the sedan. Other than revisions to option groups, no changes will take place for 2004.
Far different than the rounded, relatively mainstream 626 sedan, the Mazda6 “is like a well-dressed athlete,” said chief designer Tom Matano. Stylists eliminated corners but created “defined shoulders” to emphasize the car’s athleticism. Narrow headlights flank a large, five-pointed grille with a thick chrome horizontal bar and a Mazda logo. The wheel arches and belt line are well defined. Besides the grille, chrome is used sparingly.
Built on a 105.3-inch wheelbase, the Mazda6 has an overall length of 186.8 inches. Four-cylinder sedans get 16-inch tires, and V-6-equipped models feature 17-inchers.
Compared to the old 626, the Mazda6’s wider body translates to extra passenger space and also adds 2.4 inches of knee clearance for backseat passengers. The driver’s seat adjusts through a 9.4-inch range, and the 60/40-split rear seatback folds down. A tilt/telescoping column holds the three-spoke steering wheel. Trunk volume totals 15.2 cubic feet.
The dashboard contains a felt-lined upper storage tray, and another tray resides in the center armrest. Two integral cupholders are placed below a flip-open lid.
Under the Hood
A Mazda-engineered 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine develops 160 horsepower, and Ford’s 220-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 power plant is available. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard with both engines. A four-speed automatic is optional in models equipped with the four-cylinder engine while a five-speed automatic is optional in V-6-equipped sedans.
Side curtain-type airbags and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional. Antilock brakes are standard on models with the V-6 and optional on four-cylinder versions. In a severe collision, the crushable pedal design should help prevent intrusion into the driver’s foot area.
The Mazda6 is pleasant to drive and indeed sportier than some rivals, if not dramatically so. This sedan is able to corner crisply, and it takes curves confidently with modest body lean and satisfying grip. Moderate steering effort is accompanied by good feel and feedback.
Though it’s no powerhouse, a V-6-powered sedan equipped with the manual transmission exhibits spirited performance. The clutch is a bit touchy and the gearbox is a tad notchy, but it’s easy to manipulate. In fact, it’s one of the better stick shifts available on the market.
Overall, the Mazda6 is quite refined and well built, and it features an excellent panel fit. Front and rear headroom is adequate but just passable in the center. Legroom is very good in all seating positions. The seat bottoms are short, but their support is top-notch.