The manual-equipped four-cylinder Mazda6 impresses most, but then that’s no surprise. I’m one of those jaded auto journos who prefers manuals to automatics.
The snappy six-speed manual is perfectly matched to the 170-hp 2.5L MZR inline-four. The shifter is well positioned and has a nicely weighted feel and crisp action. In terms of lever actuation, it might be the best in the economy group, but I’ll go one step further. I prefer it over BMW’s current crop of latex-sheathed manuals.
I would like a little more clutch effort — but that’s just me being Piloti-wearing punk again. Actual engagement is light and easy, no rough spots or jerkiness (pay attention, Subaru). In fact, the only real misstep, albeit tiny, is the odd tachometer setup. Mazda chose to put seven hash marks between the tach numbers, which means rpms are ticked off in increments of 142.9. Weird. There’s also no redline, other than a bolding of the aforementioned marks after 6000 rpm because all the big numbers on the gauges are already red. Of course, these are all details 99.9 percent of the Mazda6-driving public will miss because only about 3 percent of last-gen Mazda6 buyers checked the manual option. What a shame.
With the CX-9’s 3.7L V-6, the 2009 Mazda6 is now the class leader in displacement, horsepower, and torque. She feels it, too — zipping away from stoplights with tire-chirping glee. I tried inducing torque steer and found it possible only if I cranked the wheel to near lock and floored it.
Kudos and chocolate-covered granola bars to Mazda engineers for also giving the V-6 Mazda6 a proper automatic. I’m not saying the six-speed is all that — since sampling the sensual treats of dual-clutch transmissions, I can’t look at plain-jane automatics the same way — but at least Mazda’s autobox manually shifts as God, inertia, and motorsport intended: forward for downshifts, back for upshifts. This alone puts it worlds apart from the automatics of Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion — which offer nothing in the way of manual driving fun.
It isn’t perfect, mind you. In manual mode, it won’t always serve up the downshift you demand — its computer logic no doubt choosing transmission and engine longevity over your need for zinging, engine-braked corner entry. But you’ll never be looking for giddyup — particularly if you find yourself zipping around unfamiliar roads. Just pop it into the very tractable third gear and worry about the road ahead.
Though it receives revised dampers, stabilizer bars, and springs to account for a roughly 200-lb increase over the I-4 model, it’s easy to tell that the V-6 Mazda6 is heavier. Sometimes that’s a good thing; it rides smoother and less nervously over broken pavement. Other times, not so good; while bombing down a set of Malibu twisties, I found the brakes going away. They never faded on the four-banger.
Brakes notwithstanding, there is clearly a lot to like about the Mazda6. So what’s the problem then?
The five-speed auto, four-cylinder-equipped Mazda6 I drove last.
You see, last month, Ron Kiino and I spearheaded a little four-cylinder family sedan shootout. And by little I mean we corraled together 10 of the top players in the segment for one massive test. This Mazda6 would’ve fit right in.
In fact, its looks would’ve put it near the top of the heap, what with its bold front-end styling that borrows so heavily from the RX-8 and CX-9.
The slick, upmarket interior also would’ve put it ahead of the button-crazy Accord and soporific Camry, possibly in a dead heat with the sumptuous Sonata and refined Passat.
In terms of output, the Mazda6’s 170-hp, 2.5L four wouldn’t have matched the Passat’s 200 turbocharged horses, but with fuel economy of 22/30 — it would’ve been better than the average of our group of gas-sippers.
In fact, taken as a complete package and given our bias toward fine-driving, high-content vehicles, I think the 2009 Mazda6 might’ve won our little shootout. Oh, well, guess we’ll never know.
Pity Mazda’s biggest mistake with the Mazda6 was not getting it into our hot hands soon enough.