Truth in advertising should count for something these days when so much of sales is smoke and mirrors.

Well, the only smoke with the new Mazda6 S Sport Wagon will be from the front-drive tires as you rip away from the stoplight.

That's because the blue-gray wagon I tested was, indeed, sporty, with a high-revving 3.0-liter V-6 with variable valve timing and 215 horsepower that was put to the pavement via a slick five-speed manual gearbox.

Not to be confused with any European sport wagons, the sleek, sassy Mazda6 also starts at a price middle-income buyers can live with: $24,445 for the S model. This one added a moon roof and Bose audio package at $1,335, and, combined with delivery charges, checked in at $26,340. That's very middle-of-the-road in today's market.

But just chucking a zippy engine into a wagon doesn't necessarily make it a sport wagon. Mazda goes further by offering the manual transmission to help you harness those ponies and boost the car's sporty feel. Slipping through the gears with this torque-happy engine is a hoot. It has a decidedly turbo-esque feel, with barrels of power early on. 614092006 Mazda6

Yet it's the feel of the wagon's sporty handling and steering that tells you this is a special car. Credit that to a multi-link rear suspension with a stabilizer bar and a double-wishbone system and stabilizer up front.

The car turns into corners well with less play in the wheel and more precision than a Toyota Camry.

The ride is a luxury and sporty mix, just soft enough to be comfortable and firm enough to give you some seat-of-the-pants feel. This one feels great running at speed over railroad tracks that can cause too much jostle in some European makes.

Braking is top-shelf, too, with vented front discs and solid discs in back. Plus, there's an antilock system and traction control, so spinning those tires could be a bit more challenging.

In any case, the Sport Wagon won't disappoint you on the performance end.

Inside, the test car was attractive, too, coming with a two-tone gray interior with a leather-look dash, cloth seats and brushed-metal look on the console. There are chrome rings on dash gauges, which are simply laid out and easy to see.

Mazda adds a tilt-telescope steering wheel to help the driver get comfortable. Radio and cruise-control buttons are on the wheel's hub.

Head and legroom are good in the front and back, and there's plenty of flat storage space behind the rear seat, and a cargo cover. Or you can fold the back seat down in sections to create storage space of near mini-van proportions.

The power driver's seat is easy to adjust, and the lower cushion is well-contoured. Several riders commented on the seating comfort.

Overhead is excellent lighting, plus solid sun visors up front with lighted mirrors but no extenders. The test car added the sunroof, too, which was nice on a few sunny fall days and not too noisy when opened.

But then this has an exceedingly quiet interior, too, befitting a more expensive car.

Gas mileage? This vehicle prefers premium fuel, its only real nod to the cost of performance. I got 20.6 mpg, while the EPA says to expect 19 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway.

I must mention the car's tall clutch pedal, which took the better part of a week to get used to. I'm not sure whether this one wasn't adjusted right or what. But it was about an inch higher than the brake pedal and was initially uncomfortable to use.

That said, the Mazda6 S Sport Wagon is a delight to drive and gives middle-income drivers an excellent sporty choice if they want a wagon.

The Mazda6 also comes in a sedan and a sporty four-door hatch. (They call it a five-door, but unless you're crawling in the hatch, you won't consider it a door.) Both of those start a couple of grand less than the sport wagon when equipped with Mazda's 160-horse, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Both also are available with the wagon's V-6.

In any form, the Mazda6 gives you plenty of sporty choices.

Mark Savage welcomes your new vehicle related questions and comments at Savageonwheels@yahoo.com.