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Base Price (MSRP):$18,550.00 / As Tested (MSRP): $27,340.00
2009 Mazda 6
View The 2009 Mazda 6 Specifications
Review by: G.R. Whale
All-new, more spacious, more refined, more powerful. 

Model Lineup
The Mazda 6i SV ($20,250) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls, 60/40 folding rear seat, floor and cargo mats, map lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, outside temperature display and Sirius radio-ready. Accessories include auto-dimming mirrors, fog lights, rear spoiler and 6CD in-dash changer. The SV trim level comes only with the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission.

All Mazda 6i manual transmission models come with black cloth upholstery, and are limited to four exterior colors; a five-speed automatic transmission ($900) is optional. All Mazda 6s models also get V6 badging, aluminum wheels, and a chrome exhaust outlet on either side.

Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim 2009 Mazda 6 packages are available for each model. The Mazda 6i Sport ($20,250) and Mazda 6s Sport ($24,130) get an auxiliary audio input jack, cruise control, remote keyless entry and auto-down front windows. The Mazda 6s upgrades to larger, 215/55VR17 tires.

Mazda 6i Touring ($21,705) models should prove popular, boasting a 17-inch tire/wheel combination and fog lights, power driver seat, leather wheel/shifter, center console sliding armrest, electroluminescent gauges with trip computer, antitheft system, and advanced key with pushbutton start. Packages include moonroof and Bose package ($1760) with Bose Centerpoint sound system, 6CD in-dash, MP3, Sirius; and a Convenience package ($1610) of dual-zone climate control, Xenon headlamps, leather/cloth seats, Bluetooth phone/audio, blind spot monitors, rain-sensing wipers, and welcome mode lighting. Mazda 6s Touring ($25,075) models get all these upgrades plus 235/45WR18 tires on alloy wheels.

Grand Touring ($24,910) trim includes everything on Touring plus leather seats (heated in front) with three-position memory, auto-dimming (heated outside) mirrors, blind spot monitor system, auto headlamps, LED tail-lamps, rain-sensing wipers, Xenon headlamps, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, HomeLink, welcome lighting, and a power passenger seat. Mazda 6s Grand Touring ($28,260) adds 18-inch tires. Grand Touring may be ordered with the moonroof/Bose package and DVD-based voice-activated navigation system ($2000).

Safety features include front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control and ABS. The Blind Spot Monitor is standard Grand Touring and available on Touring.


Walkaround
The 2009 Mazda6 is half a foot longer than the 2008 version, with 4.5 inches added to wheelbase and 2.3 inches to width. Despite these substantial increases it doesn't look like a big car, especially with nothing adjacent for scale.

Of the Accord/Altima/Camry/Malibu competition only the Malibu has a longer wheelbase, which doesn't translate to superior cabin or trunk dimensions, and only the Accord is longer and wider by fractions of an inch.

But with its flowing roofline similar to oxymoronic four-door coupes and real coupes like the Audi TT, wraparound overhangs that appear 2009 Mazda 6 shorter than they are, and sleeker lines overall, the Mazda6 comes across as a smaller, trimmer car than the relatively box-like Accord.

From dead ahead or in your mirror the diamond teardrop headlamps laid over the front corners add a hint of French to a Mazda RX-8 face, and from any other angle the floating front fenders are signature Mazda: the edgiest front-end in the mid-size market. An upper body crease that would normally go to the front wheel stops just shy of that floating fender, and the rear wheel arches have double creases to mirror the front.

Although both Mazda and Acura use a five-sided grille, Mazda's has a deeper V-shape to it and it's all body-colored. There is no chrome beyond the logo wings, and darker colors show even fewer character lines for the most fluid appearance. Fog lights are set in horizontal openings but the lights themselves are vertically-oriented.

At the rear, taillamps wrap well around the sides, and V6-model exhausts are distinctively shaped stand-offs not actually connected to the pipes themselves. You could stretch the shape and find the RX-8's influence in numerous places on the Mazda6.


Interior Features
The Mazda 6 cabin uses contemporary materials, with metallic-finish surfaces rather than phony wood trim. The exception is the console trim that slashes across the passenger's dash which, on some models, appears a cross between silver-veined black granite and ash-black burnt wood with wide rings in it. It's a look we've not run across recently. Most finishes are appropriate although you will find hard plastic on the doors below the armrest and some console dash pieces; this parallels some cars in the class, while others like the Accord are better.

The seats are cloth on the SV and Sport, and have the same support and comfort as the upper trim lines, lacking only the extra degrees of power adjustment.

Touring uses cloth cushion and backrest centers with leather outboard; the black-and-white striped center seat sections suggest a snow leopard in motion and along with the surrounding leather this combination in the Touring nicely complements the rest of the Mazda6 interior trim.

We found the most striking interior on a Grand Touring, with very light gray leather upholstery and door panel inserts contrasted against black carpeting, lower seat trim, console, dash, and door tops and bottoms. It's a stylish way to get the sun-belt comfort of light colored upholstery without making a mess of a white carpet every time you get in. The Grand Touring is full leather with perforated center sections.

We found the Mazda6 seats comfortable front and rear, regardless of upholstery or power assist. The up-sizing of the Mazda6 has resulted in cabin dimensions similar to and occasionally better than the big Accord, so even 6-foot-plus bodies could sit in front and then jump in back without moving the front seat, even on cars with the moonroof. Frequently the 2009 Mazda 6 case with rooflines like this one, heads of rear riders will be where roof meets rear window so make sure the belts are snug if you see a big bump coming.

The rear seat does offer spacious accommodation, a center armrest (no pass-through), and a 60/40 split seatback that's easy to fold, but we did not find any AC vents, reading lights, or center passenger headrest and the coat hooks will not hold a plastic hangar.

Outward visibility was good in all directions. The hood slopes out of sight, common in this aero era. The roof pillars are not so wide that they obstruct vision; the outside mirrors are fairly low and so is the dashboard, all adding up to a good view out. Projector headlights come with Xenon on some models, and dash and cabin lighting is more than adequate with either set of gauges.

Instruments are laid out with fuel and tachometer to the left, speed and coolant temperature to the right, with gear range (on automatics), odometers, and outside temperature indication between the two. When shifting an automatic manually the gear selected is shown in large font above the odometers.

At top center of the dash is a deep red digital display for climate, radio and clock information, easily read by anyone in the car. Below it are center vents, the audio system or navigation if so equipped, and basic three-ring climate controls. On the sides of the dash next to the big greenhouse windows are sizable, omni-directional round vents.

All the systems are simple to use, our biggest complaint being the beep that accompanied every volume adjustment made by the steering wheel toggle but this is probably one of the 24 adjustments (along with door lock programming, turn signal click volume, and blind spot monitor on cars with it) the dealer can alter for you.

The navigation system found itself, tracked, and rerouted quickly, and it responded to the first word we tried. However, the 333-watt Bose Centerpoint sound system with 10 speakers including a 9-inch subwoofer was infinitely more fun to listen to.

Most controls are on typical stalk layouts, while blind spot off, trunk release, stability control defeat and the like are to the left of the steering wheel next to a small storage tray. More storage can be found in the center console, doors, and glovebox.

Grand Touring models come with a blind spot monitor system (optional on Touring), though the Mazda6 has no significant blind spots. At speeds greater than 20 mph the system senses vehicles adjacent; it casts an orange image onto the exterior mirror if it senses your car going where another car is, and makes a noise if you signal while it senses a vehicle in the way. It worked better and caused fewer false alarms than similar systems we've tried on other brands.

Cargo space is one the strong suits of the Mazda6, as the 16.6 cubic feet of volume covers the class and is about double what some hybrids have. One needs to lift cargo only to the top of the bumper and slide it in, the car's sweeping roofline making the vertical opening much larger than the depth aspect. There are no hinges or trunk arms within the opening nor cargo shelf impediments, and the rear seatbacks can be released from the trunk.

We noted no fit and finish issues inside or out, and found the basic structure very stiff, with no creaks or squeaks entering steep driveways or angled traverses of sharp bumps.


Driving Impressions
Driving enjoyment is nothing new to Mazda and they successfully maintained that in the transition to a larger, more refined Mazda6. And while the car has gained weight with the added dimensions and features, it's also gained power, especially on the V6 models.

A small cadre of purists will bemoan the loss of a manual transmission choice with the big engine, or only black interiors on manual cars, but the four-cylinder manual is still quite entertaining and it is available on top-line Grand Touring models so you can have your nav, heated leather, and a stick together.

For 2009, the four-cylinder's been bumped from 2.3 to 2.5 liters, now at 170 hp, right in line with the base engine from Accord, Altima, Camry and Malibu. It gets the job done just fine, with the best coming on as the rev counter swings through the 4500-4800 rpm range and keeps pulling to near redline. It's plenty to get the Mazda6 around town or up a hill and cruises on the highway effortlessly at less than 3000 rpm, regardless of transmission.

Both automatic and manual have well-spaced 2009 Mazda 6 gears to make the best of the four, and the shift and clutch action on the six-speed showcase Mazda's sports car abilities without any sports car compromises. Back to back drives showed only the Accord LX's (higher-rated) 190-hp four cylinder matched the Mazda's 170-hp engine overall, but the Honda needs higher revs yet for its best work.

Mazda's V6 has made the biggest strides for 2009, jumping from 3 liters to 3.7 liters and from 220 to 272 horsepower, with plenty of mid-range torque to go with it. This bigger engine, similar to that in the Mazda CX-9, is both larger and more powerful than that of any of the competitors and, absent timing equipment, we suspect it might outrun the others in class. The Mazda hasn't the best-in-class fuel economy but the differences are marginal, much smaller than the effect driving style will have.

Each Mazda6 model has its own calibrations for the same suspension system, and they tend to feel more buttoned down as price and engine size increase. But a lot of this can be traced to tires, and a four-cylinder car with the 17-inch wheels is arguably the most fun on a winding road because it's easily a couple of hundred pounds lighter than the V6s. Upgrading tires later would add to both fun and grip.

At the top extreme, a V6 on 18-inch wheels has plenty of grip and surprisingly good sharp-impact rejection (think lane-divider dots) but it is on the firm side, not recommended for lousy infrastructure and some road noise seeps in to the cabin. At the other end of the spectrum, a manual sport on steel wheels doesn't offer quite the same grip, but it does give the same good steering feel and response, directional stability, and solid braking. They all have stability control but even some ham-fisted co-drivers never invoked it, suggesting there's a lot of stability inherent in the design.

The closest competitors in the grip and ride components would be the Malibu V6 for ride, Altima V6 for fun, four-cylinder Accord for fun, and Camry for commuting comfort. The Mazda6 leans toward the fun end of the spectrum yet does so without the busy-ness or bounciness the Accord sometimes brings.


Final Word
The 2009 Mazda 6 is all-new, bigger, roomier, more refined. It has moved from the fringes of the 2009 Mazda 6 market closer to the mainstream mid-size sedans, yet Mazda has kept the soul of the niche that enjoys driving and doesn't consider a car mere transportation.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale test drove the Mazda6i and Mazda6s models in Los Angeles.