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This Review is as posted at www.epinions.com

The contestants:
2003 Mazda 6s, 5-Speed Manual Transmission, $25,445 Sticker Price
2003 Nissan Altima 3.5SE, 5 Speed Manual Transmission, $28,483 Sticker Price

Common Options:
Leather Interior
Premium Stereo
Sun Roof

Mazda 6s:
My experience with the 6s is based upon my two separate test drives of this vehicle, both equipped exactly the same with the comfort package and sport package. The interior of both vehicles was outfitted with very nice black perforated leather interior and a handsomely decorated T shaped dash. The seats have excellent support both vertically and laterally and feel nice and firm. All controls are very easily in arms reach, but the button layout takes some getting used to. Audio controls are also mounted on the leather wrapped steering wheel. There is just something about this interior which has a quality feel. Even opening and closing the doors leaves you with a feel of quality. Pushing the buttons or touching the materials makes you feel as if you are in a much more expensive car. The 6 is equipped with a power drivers seat and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel which makes it easy for any driver to find a comfortable position. At 6’4” tall I also had plenty of head room in either of the front seats. Also, surprisingly, I could get into the back seat with suitable head and shoulder room as well. The trunk is very large and has a wide bumper level opening. Mazda did a great job with the trunk using hydraulic hinges which do not protrude into the trunk space. One of the neatest things about the trunk is that the shock towers do not intrude on the trunk space either, due to the design of the rear suspension. Also, the 6 is equipped with 60/40 split seats which fold down from trunk mounted levers.

Driving the 6s is a truly pleasing experience. Bottom line is this is a driver’s car and 5 minutes behind the wheel will let you know this. The engine is quiet at idle but has a nice reedy growl when pushed. The power band is smooth and swift making any acceleration maneuver a breeze. The clutch and the manual transmission take some getting used to, but once I did, they were both more than adequate. The clutch has a longer travel than most that I am used to, and the manual shifts from gate to gate smoothly and easily. The ride in the 6s is quiet and the handling is tight. This car feels very neutral in corners and makes you want to push it to see what it can do. At high speed the car is very smooth and quiet. When driving in normal conditions, the suspension does a good job of drowning out normal bumps and cracks in the road. However, the larger more extreme bumps do communicate through the chassis. The steering feel on this car is excellent and communicates from the road to the driver very well. No rubbery vague feel here. The brakes like the clutch will take some getting used to because they are so good! The Bose premium stereo was excellent as well and just adds the whole package that is the 6. My overall impression of this car was that it was a great package. Everything fits well together and works well together and contributes to the driving experience. And Mazda, in its effort to win drivers over though of EVERYTHING. Driving the 6 felt like I was driving a smaller car than I was.

Nissan Altima 3.5SE
My impression of the Altima is based on my test drive of a 2003 3.5SE equipped with the Leather Sport package (a $4,000 package) and the ABS and Airbags package. Upon walking up o this car it has a very nice profile. However, those foil tail lights have got to go. Style wise, Nissan was making a leap, but it doesn’t work well with the package. The thing about the Altima that struck me after having driven the Mazda 6s 5 minutes before, was how cut rate this car seemed. The interior was a combination of hard plastics. The door pockets were paper thin and feel as if you could easily rip them right off. The door closes with a thud that you expect from a Kia. Buttons and controls are well laid out, but feel cheep. The leather interior is very poorly executed because it looks like Nissan was trying to make it look expensive, but it feels hard and cheep. The manual transmission looks like it was ripped out of an economy car. Honestly, I looked at it and got the impression that Nissan just offered it so that they could say they had a 5 speed. This car had a power driver’s seat and tilting and telescoping steering wheel which made getting comfortable easy. I adjusted myself in the seat and attempted to telescope the steering wheel….which was stuck, and came clunking out thrusting me back in my seat. Once I was adjusted in, I put my foot on the clutch, which I must say had the longest pedal travel I have seen in my entire life. The pedal was so long that it caused me to re-adjust my seat and steering wheel in order to drive the car. At 6’4” tall, I had plenty of room in the Altima’s plentiful front interior. I was easily able to get in and out of the back of this car. This car does have a lot of room, more so than the 6s. The trunk was an extension of the interior and was cheaply finished with carpeting that didn’t even fit together right.

Driving this car you will quickly learn that it is all about the VQ 3.5 engine. Wow does this car have a great power band. Problem is, in 5 speed, the transmission is so poorly executed that it just doesn’t feel that sporty. Hard acceleration is very swift but being that the Altima is a front driver, Torque steer is a problem. The ride in this car is very quiet and soaks up the bumps well. The cornering feel is not nearly as nice as the 6s, but reasonably confident. Comparatively, the drive in the Altima feels vague and non-committal compared to the 6s. Overall, the Altima was a faster car and a bigger car than the 6s, but not nearly as fun. To be honest, the Altima just does not feel worth $28k+, which is why this review, especially of the interior, is so harsh.

Conclusion:
After the test drive, my impression was that the 6s was just a better car. True, the 6s is not as fast as the Altima (recently tested 0-60 at 6.67 and 5.95 respectively in 5 speed) and does not have quite as much room. But the 6s is still a fast car, handles better, and has enough room to meet my needs. Looks are in the eye of be beholder, but the 6s’s styling works better than the Altima’s. Bottom line is, given its sticker price, I just couldn’t justify spending $2,100 more on the Altima. Mazda is a hungry company and they want your business. The things they did in making the 6 show this. Hey, they warned everyone last year when the Altima came out, to much acclaim, that there new midsize was going to run circles around the competition. This car is for someone who wants a mid-size, wants to have a fun car to drive, but cant spring the extra $10k to go German. Its kind of in its own niche. Needless to say, January, 19th I put down a deposit on a 2003 6s, 5 speed manual in Lapis Blue Metalic.

So needless to say I am in waiting, until mid May they tell me, for my 2003 6s to arrive.....How am I going to make it to May! My 97 Probe GT can still help....:)
 

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Reading Topic: The Zoom Zoom Brand vs the Cure for the Common Car

That was a good comparison. I couldnt agree more with all of his points: The 6 feels more expensive than it is, while the Alti feels WAY overpriced.
 

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Reading Topic: The Zoom Zoom Brand vs the Cure for the Common Car

Thanks guys. The hard part is going to be waiting until May-ish when the car is scheduled to arrive. I am lucky that I have a car that I still love to drive in my 97 Probe GT. But, with 102k and counting, it was time to trade her in. Hardest part about trading the Probe in is going to be that with the mileage, I know its going to the scrap heap. As far as the review, the Altima is a great car, dont get me wrong, but Nissan has got to be kidding me with that interior and 5 speed tranny with a 28k sticker price on the window. For me, for my money. the 6 is just a better car, much better overall in my eyes, and in Motortrend's eyes as well....
 

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Reading Topic: The Zoom Zoom Brand vs the Cure for the Common Car

I am getting a 6s in the next couple weeks as soon as I complete the sale on my 97 Supra. I decided that I definitely want lapis blue 6s with the 5spd manual and sport package but they seem virtually non-existent (or at least rare)! My dealer said he could call around and check inventories to trade with another dealer that might have one coming in. Wishful thinking? He also told me that ordering from the factory may take forever.
 

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Reading Topic: The Zoom Zoom Brand vs the Cure for the Common Car

There's allways a chance I suppose. The V6 5speeds are not in great supply though. The way it was described to me, is that each dealership is only allocated a few of these a month. Therefore, if you are in a market where the V6 sticks are selling, another dealership may not want to trade one away. I also hear that Mazda isnt producing that many V6 sticks and most will be special order at this point. Good luck.
 
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