There may be no segment of the market more competitive than that of the midsize car. With two or three well-established Japanese-brand vehicles dominating the segment, and dozens of likable competitors trying to unseat them, it's tough for any particular vehicle to stand out.
2008 Mazda MAZDA6 s Sport Hatchback Shown
However, the handsome Mazda 6 has something most others midsize cars do not: charisma. Launched for the 2003 model year, the Mazda 6 has received rave reviews for its edgy, handsome design and stylish interior. Even more impressive are its communicative steering, responsive suspension and lively 4-cylinder and V6 engines. Available with a sport-oriented automatic transmission or an enthusiast-pleasing manual, the Mazda 6 is a veritable dance teacher in a class full of wallflowers.
Another ace up the Mazda 6's sleeve is its choice of three body styles. While most competitors offer only a sedan body for their midsize model, the Mazda 6 is also available as a versatile four-door hatchback or a stylish wagon. Thus combining the Mazda 6's inherent goodness with cavernous cargo areas, both the hatchback and wagon represent fun-to-drive, sensible alternatives not just to sedans, but to larger, heavier SUVs.
Although its passenger space and interior quality still lag behind those of the segment leaders, and the V6 could benefit from some extra horsepower, the Mazda 6 remains a good match for midsize car shoppers in search of something a bit zestier than basic transportation.
The Mazda 6 (officially called the MAZDA6) is available as a midsize sedan, four-door hatchback or wagon. For each, there are two trim levels: i and s. The Mazda 6 i is powered by a reasonably gutsy 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine mated to either a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. The performance potential is stepped up considerably with the s, thanks to its 215-hp V6. The s is available with the manual or a 6-speed automatic.
Both Mazda 6 i and Mazda 6 s models come in base form, or with one of three option packages: Sport, Grand Touring or Grand Sport. With power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control and nice cloth upholstery, even base models are reasonably well equipped. Sport models add exterior accessories such as a rear spoiler and foglights and a few interior items, while Grand Touring and Grand Sport models add wheel/tire upgrades and several luxury extras.
An edgy factory-tuned, high-performance version of the sedan, called the MazdaSpeed 6, is powered by a high-strung, 278-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's coupled to all-wheel drive. The MazdaSpeed 6 is available only in Grand Touring and Grand Sport trims, and comes only with a 6-speed manual transmission.
On the safety front, the Mazda 6 offers standard traction control and antilock brakes. Front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side curtain airbags are standard on all but i base models. Stability control is standard on the MazdaSpeed 6, but unavailable on any other models.
In Mazda 6 reviews, the car has received praise for its precise steering, responsive handling and well-appointed interior. In comparison to some other popular midsize cars, however, the 6 is let down by its less roomy backseat and rather average output from its V6 engine.
These qualities also hold true for used Mazda 6s. There have been only a few updates to the car since its debut. The most significant have been the change from a 5-speed to 6-speed automatic in 2005 for V6 cars, and a change from a 4-speed to 5-speed automatic in 2006 for 4-cylinder models. Mazda also made interior and exterior updates in '06, and added extra standard features.
The Mazda 6 replaced the forgettable 626. This model, particularly in its last two generations, 1993-'97 and 1998-2002, sorely lacked distinction. Ironically, like the Mazda 6, early 626 models were celebrated for their European styling and emphasis on performance, but in later years, they slipped into midsize sedan oblivion as Mazda took the car mainstream with too-conservative styling and a sedan-only body style.