I was born into desperate peonage in eastern North Carolina, and then things went downhill. My parents assembled our house out of twigs, leaves and dryer lint.
But I was soon raised up. While attending some of this nation's finest agricultural colleges, I learned to speak a foreign language -- English -- and studied art history. I majored in yard gnomes. Thus I was able to shake the working-class dust from my heels and can say today that I am no longer a peon. Today, I am a bumpkin.
The Mazda6 reminds me of me. In particular, the Mazda6 I Grand Touring, which starts life as a rather lowborn family sedan of indifferent parentage -- a Ford/Mazda/Volvo mid-size front-drive global platform -- and then becomes astonishingly suave and sophisticated, by dint of practically every luxury option and feature in the Ford/Mazda larder (Ford cut its stake in Mazda to 13% from 33% in November 2008, but the companies' products remain cheek by jowl).
The base model Mazda6 -- nicely equipped with lots of power doodads and standard stability control -- is priced at $19,220. However, after all the optioning and box-ticking that can be done is done, the car becomes the I Grand Touring, a wildly overachieving and entertaining pseudo-luxury sedan with -- take a breath now -- proximity-sensing keyless entry and push-button start; 17-inch alloy wheels; rain-sensing windshield wipers; auto-dimming heated outside mirrors with "puddle" lights; automatic Xenon headlights and LED taillights; leather upholstery; and a blind-spot monitoring system. Add the optional moon roof/navigation/Bose audio package ($3,760 total) and $100 for California, and you've got a singularly uplifted mid-market sedan out the door for $29,440.
Think of it as a Lexus without the snotty attitude.
Our Midas-touched Mazda6 test car prompts a question: Is it better to buy a cheap car and max it out with options, or is it better to buy a relatively bare-bones luxury car? The answer is that, though you don't recoup the money you spend on options in the resale or residual value of the mass-market car, you enjoy that car a lot more while you have it. Priceless.
And I must say, there is something almost illicit in the day-to-day experience of this mega-Mazda. It's a lovely car, with a sleek, coupe-like profile and superbly ordered lines that whisper to the wind even while it's parked in the driveway. Still, it's fairly modest and unassuming. Then you walk up to it and the doors unlock for you (proximity-sensing keyless entry) and the puddle lights illuminate your way; you drive it and the headlights snap on and the wipers swash away when the rain comes. The leather is soft, the dash graphics are bright.
This is luxury so stealthy it's practically ninja.
To set the stage a bit: The first-generation Mazda6 (2003-2008) was a fierce little terrier of a car, strung and sprung tightly and kissed with a kind of sporty kinesiology that made you think "four-door Miata." It formed the basis for one of my 100 favorite cars of the 21st century, the Mazdaspeed wagon.
The previous Mazda6's problem -- at least, this is what they tell me -- was that it was too tight for Americans' lardy hindquarters; at the same time other notable competitors such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry kept getting bigger until they fit American mall-walkers like a pair of loose Juicy Couture sweat pants.
The new car, completely overhauled, is 6.1 inches longer, 2.1 inches wider and about 150 pounds heftier than the old 6. In other words, it's a completely different and much larger car such that you wonder if they shouldn't have called it the Mazda6.5 or even Mazda7 3/4 . The trunk is enormous -- 16.6 cubic feet -- and the cabin has more elbowroom than the neighborhood bar.
It is not the mid-size, four-door dagger that the old car was, yet on the 17-inch wheels and racy summer tires, the new car has loads of sheer mechanical grip. Here's a note from the Department of Handling: Grip is more important to a front-drive car than a rear-drive car because it tends to neutralize a front-driver's forward weight bias, so that understeer manifests itself only at higher speeds and side loads. At anything less than banzai attacks on a canyon road, the Mazda6 feels as neutral as a rear-drive car.
Turn-in is crisp and composed, body roll is nicely controlled, and the car generally feels as stuck to the pavement as the Department of Transportation's yellow paint. Yet the Mazda6 offers a pleasant, smooth and composed ride -- even a touch elegant. Nice chassis tuning, Mr. Mazda.
Between the handsomely fluted front fenders is a 2.5-liter, 168-hp in-line four (the same as in the Mazda3) twisting the half-shafts with 166 pound-feet of torque and purring and chirring through alloy-trimmed dual exhaust ports integrated into the rear bodywork. A six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic are available. Our test car had the tightly notched and greasy-fast six-speeder. Initial tip-in is smooth and affirmative, and while acceleration is not mind-blowing (about 8 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph), the car feels plenty quick enough.
It even gets reasonable gas mileage -- 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway. That's not class-leading, but it's a dang sight better than the car gets with the optional 3.7-liter, 272-hp V6 (17/25 mpg. That's the kind of petrol abuse I'd expect from a rotary engine RX-8).
Do you buy grand cru wine by the box or sprinkle gold dust on your breakfast cereal? Here's the car for you. Cool, classy and about the most refined thing ever to be born in Flat Rock, Mich., the Mazda6 might be a mule in horse collar, but it's certainly a very nice mule.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||October 2, 2008|
|Cars.com Staff||Cars.com National||July 18, 2008|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||July 16, 2009|
|Bill Griffith||Boston.com||July 3, 2009|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||May 29, 2009|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||December 24, 2008|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||December 14, 2008|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||December 7, 2008|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||October 26, 2008|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 15, 2008|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||August 3, 2008|
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