You'll Like The 2011 Mazda Mazda6 If...
If you've been impressed by Mazda's previous lineup - including its volume leader, the Mazda3 - the Mazda6 is an excellent way for a growing family to move up. While not the sport-oriented platform enjoyed by its predecessor, the newest Mazda6 retains fun-to-drive elements, while offering far more interior volume for passengers and cargo. And with a base price of under $21,000, it's perfectly positioned for a consumer's cautious return to the market.
You May Not Like The 2011 Mazda Mazda6 If...
Mazda's recipe for its mid-size sedan has gone mainstream, while (historically) its core audience has been anything but. In the same manner that the Mazda3 wasn't a Civic or Corolla, the previous Mazda6 worked hard to differentiate itself from Accord and Camry. For some, this Mazda may be too much like Camry-lite.
Mild enhancements for 2011 include a new headlight and fog light design, along with a new 17-inch alloy wheel. Upgrades inside include a new steering wheel and premium trim accents on the center instrument panel. Grand Touring models receive a Multi-Information Display, Bluetooth controls and a rearview camera as standard equipment, while the Touring model receives Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio in its standard menu.
In outlining the requirements of Mazda's newest sedan, the design team retained some elements typically identified with Mazda design - round instrumentation and a three-spoke steering wheel - while executing them with significantly higher quality. Surfaces, gloss levels and trim all received more aggressive scrutiny in both their design and manufacture. Mazda also wanted to create an expansive feel, which was helped - to be sure - by the new 6's larger footprint. To enhance a larger cabin, a bi-level theme was approved, with the bottom area conveying roominess and the upper area communicating security. Even at its entry point, the Mazda6 communicates thoughtful design and an upscale choice in materials; for Touring leather is modestly introduced (steering wheel cover), while in Grand Touring upholstery is leather in either black or beige. Notably, the rear seat is split 60/40, and can swallow large cargo when folded.
With a front fender that evokes Mazda's RX-8, and a 4-door profile that reminds an observer of a closely coupled coupe, the Mazda6 stands out in the segment as perhaps the least generic mid-size sedan from Japan's Big Four. And with the right wheel-and-tire package (anything north of the standard 16-inchers), its stance is positively athletic. An aggressively raked windshield and sloping rear backlight provide a visual balance in profile, and contribute to a very low .27 coefficient of drag. The cargo area, boasting almost 17 cubic feet of space, is visible in the Mazda's slightly exaggerated rear overhang.
For Mazda's mid-size sedan, those elements to modify "sedan" with "sport" are all in place. The Mazda6 i Sport and i Touring enjoy a responsive - and torque - 2.5-liter in-line four, all-independent suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes. And while the available 3.7 liter V6 isn't in a particularly high state of tune (with but 272 horsepower), neither does it unbalance the 6's front-wheel drive platform. The end result is a more mature architecture than previously offered, and while refinement is up those more visceral - and often intangible - qualities of its predecessor are missing. This, in the final appraisal, is a mid-size sedan with sporting ambitions, while prior to this iteration's 2009 intro the Mazda6 was closer to a sport sedan with mid-size ambitions. The platform is, however, viable, as demonstrated by a Mazda6 pace car massaged by the folks at MazdaSpeed. "Zoom-zoom" can still be added, but consumers will have to do the heavy lifting themselves.
The 2011 Mazda6 i Sport has a well-equipped base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of approximately $21,000. The mid-level i Touring with a 5-speed automatic is under $24,000, and the "all-to-the-wall" Grand Touring spikes at just over $30,000. Fully optioned, take that $30K and add 10 percent. The end result is a Mazda that remains a value in the segment, although not as aggressively postured as Nissan's Altima. For an idea of what consumers are paying in your market area consult kbb.com's Fair Purchase Price. And the newish Mazda6 enjoys good projected resale value, although it still falls behind the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry.
Entry level is - at least in a Mazda showroom - effectively a misnomer, as the standard equipment menu at entry level is anything but. In the Mazda6 i Sport, propulsion is provided by a smoothly responsive 2.5-liter four connected to a six-speed manual transmission. Air conditioning, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with auxiliary audio input jack and Sirius Satellite Radio-ready head unit are all included in the Mazda6's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of under $21,000. Chassis enhancements include 4-wheel disc braking, Dynamic Stability Control and a Traction Control System.
The move from i Sport to i Touring provides you with 17-inch alloy rims, 215/55R17 rubber, fog lights, 8-way power driver's seat, leather-trimmed steering wheel, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, trip computer and Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio operations. The biggest functional upgrade occurs as you move from "i" to "s" in the Mazda6 hierarchy. Checking that box nets you a 3.7-liter V6 connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission. And the 3.7 is sweet, producing 272 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The Grand Touring spec is among the most comprehensive in the mid-size, affordable sedan segment.
While we still have a manual in a mid-size, volume-targeted sedan, it shall be celebrated. And in an era of distracted driving, a component that demands a driver's undivided attention can't be a bad thing, can it? Happily, not only does Mazda still provide the ability to shift manually, but they equip their 6-speed manual with one of the very best linkages. Go forth and shift!
The Mazda Showroom
As any manufacturer will tell you, its retail network isn't owned or controlled by the manufacturer. With that as a given, the Mazda showroom can still generate excitement for the enthusiast. Even when shopping for something mildly prosaic - Mazda6 sedan, Mazda5 mini-minivan or the Tribute - the glow of Mazda's RX-8 and Miata continue to shine on the process. A Mazda dealership remains an import store, while its more volume-oriented brethren present themselves (with varying degrees of success) as "domestic."
Under the Hood
If the standard 2.5-liter DOHC mill provides zoom, then it's left to the optional V6 to supply the zoom-zoom. Although not stellar (Honda's four retains King of the Hill honors at the entry level), Mazda's base engine does a very respectable job of motivating the Mazda6, delivering 170 horsepower and 30 miles per gallon highway (manual transmission). The 3.7-liter V6 adds just over 100 horsepower while extracting 27 miles per gallon highway (automatic), which is a two mile-per-gallon improvement over last year. If you value handling balance over outright acceleration, note that the V6 Mazda6 outweighs the in-line four by 250 pounds, and most of that weight differential is over the front wheels.
2.5-liter in-line four
170 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
167 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/30 (manual), 22/31 (automatic)
272 horsepower @ 6250 rpm
269 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/27
With this iteration of the Mazda6, the product team at Hiroshima aimed for the sweet spot of the mid-size market in the U.S. In short, the team targeted the Accord and Camry with a North American-specific model larger than that sold in Europe and Asia. The hopes were as big as the Mazda's new, larger footprint - but Mazda marketers have discovered that Accord and Camry loyalists need a compelling reason to change, while in a recession everyone needs a compelling reason to buy. And despite attractive bodywork and feature-laden content, the new Mazda6 hasn't enjoyed many more handraisers than the old Mazda6. With modest enhancements for 2011, Mazda will keep trying.