Zoom-Zoom Faith Gets an Amen
2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon

SAN DIEGO

Mazda Motor Co. practices "Zoom-Zoom" -- a corporate theology based on the belief that good cars have souls.

It is a faith that elevates cars and their various derivatives above the State of Ordinary, placing them into a State of Desire. This is important.

Ordinary cars languish in the retail purgatory of poor sales, from which they are freed only through indulgences, or commercial prayers otherwise known as customer rebates.

Truly ordinary cars, those absolutely devoid of anything that sparks buyer passion, often are beyond salvation. They frequently are banished to the hell of no sales and eventual oblivion.

Desirable cars, those that have that special something, that which Mazda calls Zoom-Zoom, or motorized soul, have the power to convert consumers, popularize models previously considered losers, and thus move markets.

Consider this week's test car, the 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon.

In the BZZ (Before Zoom-Zoom) world, it might have been sold as a "station wagon" and treated as such in the marketplace. It would have been ordinary -- a family hauler stemming from a blossoming family, thus necessitating the purchase of a four-wheeled appliance large enough to haul the offspring.

But the AZZ (After Zoom-Zoom) Mazda6 Sport Wagon takes a different approach. Indeed, its very name "Sport" signals joy, hope -- the possibility that love will last long after marriage and procreation.

Sport! Yes! It's a call to action, a challenge to abandon the stationary life, an invitation to get out there, by golly, and drive!

An aside: Belief is a matter of faith as faith is a matter of belief. One cannot exist without the other, and neither can sustain itself without action or some sort of sign. Let us consider the matter of signage, or signature, first.

As they do in the world's great religions and in great nations that behave as if they are great religions, signs in the automobile industry must have strong emotional appeal. The buying faithful, or prospective commercial converts, must be able to look at a car's badge and know exactly what it means and promises.

More important, in the matter of automobile signage, buyers must be able to look at a car's body and know instantly, without ever looking at the badge, which company makes that car. That instant recognition, if successful, should yield instant joy and desire. At the very least, it should arouse potentially acquisitive curiosity.

In that regard, Mazda has done a masterful job with its mid-size, front-wheel-drive 6-Series Sport Wagon. The body looks sleek, rich. The Mazda badge -- a stylized oval with what appears to be the bird of paradise flying through its center -- is huge and, in some quarters, might be considered overdone. But it works well with the overall package, effectively calling atten tion to itself and the vehicle it represents.

That much was proved in test-drives around San Diego and its wealthy environs, where the Sport Wagon drew favorable nods in traffic, as well as in shopping-center and hotel parking lots.

The car's interior drew more raves . . . and some complaints. The American buying public apparently has gotten into its collective head the errant notion that mid-priced wagons are supposed to have cheap, unimaginative, vinyl-laden interiors. That is the only way I can explain the overwhelming surprise of spectators who found high-quality materials, easy fold-flat rear seats and nifty items such as a standard retractable barrier net that raises from the floor and attaches to the interior roof.

Tall drivers, those taller than my 5 feet 7 inches, complained that the center, floor-mounted console in the Sport Wagon's front cabin intruded on their knees. But even they were pleased with the car's overall presentation.

Zoo -Zoom, of course, would be meaningless were it faith without action. Happily, that isn't the case here. The Mazda6 Sport Wagon comes with a standard three-liter, 24-valve, 220-horsepower, V-6 engine. Handling rivals that of some bona fide sports coupes. The thing moves so well, it's enough to make you shout, "Hallelujah!"

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: Mazda needs to rethink the positioning and design of the floor-mounted, center console in the Sport Wagon. Long-legged people complained mightily about it.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent in all three categories. The car runs with confidence in high-speed, high-traffic environments such as the Pacific Coast Highway (when traffic is moving). It handles valley curves and dips with aplomb. It's quite enjoyable.

Head-turning quotient: High and favorable, unusual for a mid-size, mid-priced wagon of any sort.

Body styles/layout: There are three Mazda6 models -- the tested Sport Wagon, the Mazda6 5-Door hatchback (designed to look like a sports coupe) and the Mazda6 sedan. All are front-engine, front-wheel-drive.

Engine and transmissions: The standard three-liter V-6 engine in the Sport Wagon develops 220 horsepower at 6,300 revolutions per minute and 192 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000 rpm. The engine is linked to a standard five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic with overdrive is optional.

Capacities: The Sport Wagon has seating for five people. Cargo volume with rear seats up is 33.7 cubic feet; it's 60.5 cubic feet with those seats folded. Fuel capacity is 18 gallons of gasoline (regular unleaded recommended).

Mileage: I averaged 25 miles per gallon in the Sport Wagon with the five-speed manual. That fell to 23 mpg with the automatic.

Safety: Overall rigid body construction; collapsible brake and accelerator assemblies (to reduce the risk of severe foot injuries in frontal crashes); front, side and head air bags; whiplash-reducing front-seat headrests; and rear child safety-seat anchors.

Price: The Mazda6 Sport Wagon goes on sale at Mazda's 700 U.S. dealers this spring. Base price is $22,225. Dealer invoice price on base model is $20,494. Price as tested is $26,660, including $3,915 in options and a $520 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: It's a buy. Compare with Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, 2004 Saturn L300, 2004 Ford Taurus wagon (good value!) and the 2004 Volkswagen Passat wagon.