The Mazda6 comes to market for 2009 completely redesigned, representing the best effort yet in a midsize sport sedan from this Japanese automaker, which is partially owned and controlled by Ford Motor Co.
Mazda introduced the 6 for 2003, replacing the popular 626 with a new single-digit designation and a whole host of improvements.
For 2009, though, the 6 has been taken to a whole new level, making an already good car an even better competitor to the segment-leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The segment is a large one - more than two million U.S. consumers buy new midsize cars every year. There are at least 12 vehicles competing for those customers, with the newest generation of the Chevrolet Malibu now challenging the Camry and Accord's dominance of the segment, which also includes the sporty Nissan Altima.
The original 6, whose marketing efforts introduced Mazda's "zoom, zoom" advertising theme, was "the first Mazda vehicle to benefit from the spirit of a true sports car infused in a five-passenger, four-door sedan," the automaker says.
"That revolutionary combination created a commotion in the midsize class where strict practicality, affordability, and economy of operation usually leave no room for driving enjoyment."
In other words, the whole idea was to create a midsize car that broke from the boring pack and offered auto enthusiasts an affordable alternative to the appliance cars from Toyota, Honda and other manufacturers.
The first Mazda6 was a fun car to drive in all configurations, and quickly established itself as something different in a field of sameness.
Mazda hopes that consumers will see the newest generation as a continuation of and improvement on that theme. It's designed to offer the most fun available in a car that is both affordable and practical at the same time.
"The all-new 2009 Mazda6 takes everything learned in that first-generation car, as well as lessons learned from volumes of customer feedback, and proves Mazda's commitment to continuous improvement," the company said.
It is "the first Mazda vehicle designed, engineered, developed, and manufactured on U.S. soil with the intention of surpassing American customer needs in countless categories," Mazda added.
"We sought an exterior design capable of stirring any observer's emotions and distinguishing the Mazda6 from the competition," said Hiroshi Kajiyama, the vehicle's program engineer. "We also strived to achieve a dynamic character that encourages a strong level of interaction with the driver."
Unlike most engineers, Mazda said, Kajiyama treated the car "as a work of art rather than an inanimate machine."
The goal was to instill "the soul of a sports car" in the new model, the company said.
Design goals focused on making the Mazda6 "a unique experience" and "an insightful package," Mazda said.
Styling cues for the exterior of the new model were taken from the Mazda RX-8 sports car, including the front fenders and the raked roofline.
Interior design elements include round gauges, a three-spoke steering wheel, and a T-shaped instrument panel.
There is ample room for up to five adults, and the trunk has 16.6 cubic feet of space. The rear seat has a 60/40 fold-down feature to allow for longer cargo.
Prices for the new Mazda6 begin at $18,550 (plus $670 freight) for the base SV model, equipped with a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 167 foot-pounds of torque, with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The 3.7-liter V-6 Sport model, with 273 horsepower and 269 foot-pounds of torque begins at $24,130. It comes with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Other trim levels include the four-cylinder Sport model ($20,250); the four-cylinder Touring model ($21,705); the four-cylinder Grand Touring model ($24,910); the V-6 Touring model ($25,075); and the V-6 Grand Touring model ($28,260).
The four-cylinder engine is a new Mazda design, and is available with either the base six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy ratings are 21 miles per gallon city / 30 highway with the five-speed automatic, and 20/29 with the manual.
The V-6 engine is the same one used in the Mazda CX-9 crossover utility vehicle, and it comes only with the six-speed automatic, which also has a manual sport shift mode. EPA ratings are 17 mpg city/25 highway.
Standard on all models are air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, four-wheel disc antilock brakes, electronic stability control with traction control, seat-mounted front side air bags, side-curtain air bags for front and rear passengers, an AM/FM/compact-disc stereo with six speakers, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, two 12-volt power outlets, floor and cargo mats, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Sport models also get cruise control, an auxiliary audio jack, and remote keyless entry system.
With the four-cylinder Touring model comes 17-inch alloy wheels, an eight-way power driver's seat, advanced keyless entry system with pushbutton ignition, electroluminescent gauges, black decoration panel, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, center console sliding armrest, fog lights, trip computer and anti-theft security alarm.
The V-6 Touring models get the above extras, but the wheels are 18-inch alloys instead of the 17-inch.
Grand Touring models get heated leather seats, a memory for the driver's seat, a power passenger seat, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with universal garage opening, automatic xenon headlights, heated auto-dimming exterior mirrors, LED rear combination lights, a blind-spot monitoring system, Bluetooth phone connection, and a ground illumination and interior lighting system.
All Mazda6 models are assembled at the joint Ford-Mazda plant in Flat Rock, Mich.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at 210-250-3236; chambers@ star-telegram.com.
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