If Batman drives the Batmobile, Bruce Wayne could very well drive the Mazda6. It is a car of two distinct personalities, but always wears the four-door disguise. The costume is completed with a relaxed, quiet ride, with a trunk a soccer-mom (or superhero) could love. Remove this mask and you'll find yourself performing acrobatics that will elude those who disbelieve what a family sedan can do.
While no match for the Batmobile and its plethora of toys, the Mazda6 offers that zoom-zoom aura that Bruce Wayne would need should trouble arise. It's no race car like the Black Knight's signature ride, but Bruce Wayne could be just as elusive in his daily driver. Stylish and comfortable, the '6 doesn't show it's capabilities until you ask for them. The car transforms at 3250RPM.
Over one month and one thousand miles, I've gotten to know this car a little more intimately. I test drove several 6's before buying a Redfire Metallic 2.3l 4cyl base model, but wasn't nearly as happy with the purchase as I am now.
My initial reservations had to do with wanting a sporty rear-wheel-drive car. I wanted a smaller, lighter car, and a car with a little more personality. I looked at 1991-1995 Toyota MR2's, an IS300, and an Acura RSX. I was replacing an automatic 1.6l 4cyl Toyota Celica- a car that seemed bested by everything and yet second-to-none for thrills. I was ready to move into more of a performance oriented daily driving machine, though, and had a preconceived notion of what that would need to be.
The RX-8 was it. Delays and speculation of a $30k price tag nixed that idea.
Both the RX-8 and the M6 interested me. Mazda has always struck me as a company with good ideas- the rotary and the miller cycle come to mind. With the RX-8 out of the picture, I looked into some of Mazda's other offerings. I test drove a Protege and loved it- particularly for the price. Before I had a chance to buy the car, however, I got married, and my wife didn't think the much of the Protege. She was already spoiled by her the level of refinement in her '02 Camry , and missed that in the economy Protege. When she saw the '6, she became jealous of the car, and I knew I had her instant approval. There's no sense in complaining about getting a better car!
My first test drive was awful. I was told by the salesman that Mazda wasn't going to produce manual transmissions for another six months, and that special orders could not be placed. I asked to drive an automatic 4cyl Mazda6 with the premium package anyway, just to get a feel for what the car offers. The salesman drove me out ten miles from the dealership with awkward silences abounding. He didn't have much to say about the car, and it was clear he didn't know much about it. My drive back was on a ten lane highway in medium traffic. The car didn't have much oomph on the highway, and I didn't get to take the car through any corners. The brakes were so firm that I had trouble easing the car to a stop. The interior looked somewhere in-between classy and sporty, and I definitely came away thinking styling was the car's strong point. My test drive as a whole sucked. The car had done nothing for me- I didn't smile at all.
Looking for redemption, I then went to test-drive some sportier cars. I had a good experience in a modified Toyota MR2, and may have bought one if I had found a low mileage, stock car for sale. The Lexus IS300 was far more expensive than MisterTwo, but no more fun and didn't have enough extra room to justify the cost. Neither the RSX, Accord, nor Altima could make me tingle, though I liked the RSX. Then, on the day before Christmas eve, I was given a gift early. While visiting my wife's parents, their local dealer gave me an unsupervised test drive in a 4cyl manual Mazda6. It was the obnoxious "speed yellow" color, too.
I have to admit, I wasn't totally floored by this car. The car was so quiet I didn't feel involved, despite responding to my every move. I still thought the car felt sluggish, and despite being fun, the car was too well behaved to have personality. Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it after my drive was over, and I knew it made the most sense of the cars I had driven. It was the most practical, among the most fun, and among the most refined. I figured I couldn't go wrong with this combination, and bought the next day.
I wanted the Premium Package, Sport Package, and ABS/TCS package. In the end, I saved about $2000, took delivery two months earlier, and got a base Mazda6- no options. With the money saved, I'm going to create my own premium sound and aftermarket wheels. Most people don't seem to realize this (blame dealers); but you can order the car however you like- Mazda doesn't impose any of its package restrictions on port installed options (PIO). Partly impatient and partly because I knew the options wouldn't give me $2000 worth of a better driving experience, I settled for no options.
One month and one thousand miles later, I love this car. I absolutely love it. I've come to appreciate the things about this car I initially didn't like and have learned how to unleash the beast within it on demand. Really, this car is everything I want every day. It's an economical people-mover and my commuter rocket.
On a cold day, when the engine first starts up, you'll notice an interesting characteristic: as the tachometer crosses 3250RPM, the car will lurch forward. This is the moment of transformation. When the car warms up, the engine smoothes out, but this magical point of excitement must not be forgotten.
Underneath this point, and the engine lacks excitement. What it has, though, is outstanding mileage. Based on my observations, the engine may not make its power down low, but it certainly doesn't use any gas either. This is important because I live in the Capital Beltway area, and most of my driving is in traffic. If I can't have fun with the car, I might as well get good mileage, right?
The '6 is very quiet around town. Keep in mind my wife has a softly-spring Camry, and we both agree the ride of the '6 can be just as peaceful around town. I really love the interior of this car- the high mounted LCD display is very easy to glance at while driving and took no getting used to. While it seems odd that the display is separated from the console's stereo controls, I usually adjust the stereo from the steering wheel anyway, making the display's positioning more convenient. The red illumination looks crafty at night.
There's enough power below 2000RPM to putter around town, and the shifter feels good enough that I eagerly shift too often and too early, just for fun. The results? My first tank of gas reached from 108 miles to 530 miles on 10.2 gallons of gas. My second tank used only 14.66 gallons through 972 miles. Now, the 6's owner's manual recommends an engine break-in of only 600 miles, and you can bet the 372 miles after that had a bit of redlines and downshifts in them. And that's an average of 34mpg since I've owned the car.
That puts the '6 as the most fuel efficient vehicle I've ever been in. My previous car, the tiny 1.6 liter, 2500lb Toyota Celica would get 40mpg on the highway, but would barely muster 24mpg on the very same route I've been driving the '6 on. This is simply incredible to the point that I'm still in disbelief. I just haven't been able to disprove myself yet.
Over 3250 RPM, and this car is a rocket. The engine goes from a whisper to a roar- a sound that encourages the driver not to stop. The tires fight for grip right up through second gear, breaking free on road imperfections. Third gear is strong with the tach wound up, and the final two gears are only useful for passing and cruising.
The two personalities of this engine make for quite exciting driving. It doesn't take much finesse to break 3k on the tach, but it does keep the driver involved enough to feel rewarded. Likewise, to those who don't get their thrills g-forces will feel just as rewarded when they get to the pump. I initially didn't think much of this engine, but now think it is as close to a perfect engine (for it's size and class, obviously) as I could ask for. It suits this car very well.
For those who feel the need for speed in third gear (up to 90mph); I'd probably recommend the V6. To those like me who have their fun below 60, the 4 cylinder engine can be your baby. The 4 cylinder engine is mounted curiously forward in the engine bay. There's a 3-4 inch gap between it and the firewall that is just asking to be filled with a turbocharger. The engine could have otherwise been pushed back to improve the weight distribution of the car.
When I bought the car, I actually had a hard time getting the car to understeer. I'd throw the car through corners, the back would begin to slide, and I'd throttle my way into a neutral stance again. The car understeers a bit more readily now that the engine is broken in- a testament to the transformation this engine undergoes in the first 600 miles (more later). The engine will now handily overpower the grip of the stock tires in a turn. Back off on the throttle a bit, and the car will drift quite easily. Again, we see two personalities to this car: push it into corners and it answers back, but it still can ride comfortably on nasty roads.
I said earlier that I had a preconceived notion that I'd need a rear wheel drive car. As I sit contemplating what a sports car is, I still wonder how I ever was motivated to settle for this wrong wheel drive car. Then, when I drive, a miraculous thing happens- oversteer- and any desire for a RWD car disappears. The 4 cylinder Mazda6 has just a hint of dialed-in oversteer, and throttle is used to neutralize this or understeer. It's a great combination, and I've got to say that I've never driven a front wheel drive car like this.
The engine break-in was dramatic. When I got the car it felt rather sluggish and the sound Mazda engineered out of this engine sounded like more of a hollow echo of it's current body. The engine's power output has increased all-around, and the sound has become much more pleasing to hear. While the noise level probably hasn't changed, it's gotten more pleasing- less droning in traffic and more exciting at speed.
The stock speakers even sound significantly better once broken in, although I admit I'm still very unimpressed. I'm rather picky with audio, however, and though the optional Bose stereo was awful. The stock head unit is made by Panasonic and is as loud as a typical Panasonic unit. It would probably power aftermarket speakers fairly nicely. On the back of the unit, there are a series of connectors to allow it to interface with the other optional accessories such as the Bose stereo and the MP3/Tape modules. Two of these pins ought to be analog outputs, making it possible to run an aftermarket amplifier off of the stock head unit.
The heater seems to do a better job with the middle vent at the top of the console closed. It forces more air to the sides and feet of the car, which otherwise don't have nearly the output of the three center vents. Kudos to Mazda for the vent design. Not only is it stylish, but they're the most flexible vents I've ever used. And, thankfully, they still look good closed up.
There are a lot of nice touches to this vehicle. The interior doors to the glove box and cup holders are dampened. The interior lights fade in and out. There are overhead lights in the rear. The dead pedal is comfortable. When opening the doors more than half way, the doors don't "snap" out further to ding the car next to you. The rear seats fold down from a switch in the trunk- no hassle. This car has game, but it clearly has manners too. I used to believe refinement numbs the driving experience- and perhaps this car still too much for my tastes- but it's getting me used to being spoiled. It's like having my cake and eating it too.
The car rides solidly without any squeaks or rattles, even in single-digit weather. OK, there was one rattle. Periodically I hear the sunglasses holder vibrating, but it's awfully sporadic. It was a hard rattle to track down because of this, as it sounded like it was coming from the dash or the passenger's side when it was making noise. The fix is very complex- it involves opening the holder and closing it The engine can sound harsh in the very first moments the car turns on, which seems to be typical of Mazda's. The engine heats up very quickly, though, so it soon goes away. Body gaps are very small and uniform, and the car seems well put together. Overall, it seems quite solid.
I obviously like the vehicle. I'm tired of writing now, so rather than coming up with a witty conclusion, I'll just advertise to check back for a 2000 mile report. New speakers and wheels may be on by then!