2009 Mazda Mazda6 i Grand Touring Review
By Kevin Miller
The first car I spent my own money on was a 1988 Mazda MX-6, a two-door version of Mazda’s 626 sedan. In 1988 Mazda introduced it’s third-generation 626 family, which included the two-door MX-6 coupe, a 5-door hatch, and the traditional four-door sedan. Even six years later, when I bought my used MX-6 in 1994, it seemed sleek, sporty and very modern.
Fast forward to 2009. After five generations of the 626, the name was changed to Mazda6, and its first generation, built from 2002 until 2008, was available in wagon, five-door, and sedan body styles. Now 2009 is the first model year of the second-generation Mazda6, which has been enlarged to compete head-to-head with the most popular vehicles in its segment, namely the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. This time around, the Mazda6 is available only as a traditional four-door sedan in North America.
The Mazda6 is available with two engine choices: a 170 HP four-cylinder in the Mazda6 i, and a 272 HP V6 in the Mazda6 s. The four-cylinder is available with either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic, whereas the V6 is available only with a six-speed automatic. The tradeoff for the 100 HP bonus of the V6 is markedly poorer fuel economy: 17/25 MPG rating vs. 20/29 rating from the four-cylinder car.
The vehicle I tested was a Sangria Red Mazda6 i Grand Touring, with Grand Touring being the highest trim level. The car had impressive levels of standard equipment: rain-sensing wipers, heated exterior mirrors, leather seats, power, heated front seats with three-position memory function on the driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, electroluminescent gauges, xenon headlamps, LED tail lamps, advanced keyless entry system with push button start, automatic dimming interior and exterior mirrors, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and blind-spot monitoring system. That is an impressive amount of equipment for $24,910. The blind-spot monitoring and electrically-dimming exteriors are rare finds in this class and this price range.
The vehicle I tested was additionally equipped with a $2000 navigation system, and a $1750 Moonroof and Bose Stereo package, plus $100 surcharge for LEV2 emissions and $670 destination fee, for a total price of $29,440. To sweeten the deal even further, Mazda is currently offering a $1000 rebate on the Mazda6. Thinking about the cars in my own garage, the feature content and space that this Mazda provides offers a much better value proposition than similarly-equipped cars from Saab and Volvo, let alone Toyota, Nissan or Honda.
With all of the above features and specs going for the car, I was looking forward to spending a week with the Mazda6. I was not disappointed. Climbing into the driver’s seat, I found plenty of legroom for my 6’ 4” frame. The tilt-and-telescope steering wheel adjusted to a comfortable position, and all of the controls were intuitively placed; it didn’t take much time to become acclimated to using the Mazda’s controls. The electroluminescent gauges on the nicely-styled dash went from dark circles to very legible gauges when I sat down. The dual-zone climate control and three-position memory for the driver’s seat were unexpected features to find on this mainstream sedan. The armrests on the front doors were wide, made from nicely-padded plastic, and long enough for me to rest my elbow on even when my seat was adjusted back to my driving position- which is not often the case in four-door sedans and wagons, including the two such vehicles our family owns.
As noted above, the vehicle I tested was equipped with both an in-dash navigation system, and Bose premium stereo. The navigation screen was used to control AM, FM, Sirius , 6-disc CD changer, and Bluetooth-linked MP3 players and mobile phones. While my iPhone doesn’t support Bluetooth music playback, it did pair with the Mazda’s system quite easily, However, the telephone control feature didn’t download my phone book for easy contact browsing, and the system doesn’t allow phone or navigation control while the vehicle is in motion. While the Mazda6 is available with the upgraded audio system without navigation, it would be difficult to intuit the MP3 player controls, and the satellite radio’s track information would not be readable in the small display at the top of the dash.
The stereo had a different volume level for each function, which was a bit challenging to understand. When I received the car, the navigation system’s spoken commands were at a very low volume level. I was driving and listening to the stereo, and the spoken commands were nearly inaudible. When I received a phone call, the ringing was incredibly loud. Finding the screen which allowed each of the volume levels to be adjusted (FM, AM, SAT, NAV, and TELEPHONE) was a challenge but was well worth doing.
I had the opportunity to take the Mazda6 on a weekend family overnight getaway about 100 miles from home. Packing the car for that trip, the Mazda’s huge trunk swallowed everything we could dream of bringing for two adults and our two carseat-bound children. Our family’s own Saab 9-5 sedan, which itself has a very large trunk, doesn’t hold as much as the Mazda6 does. The amount of room was truly impressive. The trunk’s capacity is rated 16.6 cubic feet, which is the best in its class.
One thing the Mazda6 doesn’t have is a rear-seat 12V power outlet, nor is there one in the trunk. In fact, there are only two power outlets in the car, one on the dashboard and the other in the decent-sized compartment between the front seats. Our family’s 12V cooler had to be plugged into the outlet in that compartment, and its cord routed through the back seat and between the halves of the 60/40 split-folding seatback into the trunk. That compartment between the front seats has an armrest which can slide forward to accommodate shorter drivers’ elbows, and is also where the AUX input is found.
Even with all of its upscale features, a few things give away the pedestrian origins of the Mazda6. The front door pockets are unlined, with visible mold cut lines on their edges. The ends of the turn signal and wiper stalks have very irritating mold lines and nubs, which ruin the otherwise-nice look and feel of those controls. There is just a single lamp on the dashboard to indicate a door or trunk is open, rather than a display to actually show which one is ajar. Hard plastic is used for the B-pillar trim (as well as A- and C-pillar trim), and the passenger seatbelt buckle rattles against that trim unless the belt is actually buckled. Missing in the backseat are storage bins of any kind in the doors. There are only thin pockets in the front seatbacks, and a dual cupholder in the fold-down center armrest. My wife didn’t feel like any of these were things to complain about, evidently that’s why I’m the auto writer in the family. Really, none is a major gripe.
Minor complaints about storage aside, the rear seat seat was a great place to be. It had plenty of legroom; after adjusting the driver’s seat to my driving position, I was able to sit in the back seat behind the driver’s chair without my knees even touching the seatback in front of me. That makes this Mazda the first sedan I’ve tested since the Jaguar XJ Super V8 with that amount of rear legroom. Such space allowed the installation of a rear-facing infant car seat and a forward-facing convertible car seat in the two outboard seating positions of the Mazda6. The only difficulty was situating the convertible car seat and attaching its upper tether anchor correctly, since the rear seat’s adjustable headrests cannot be removed.
While the front and rear door openings are large enough to make getting in and out quite easy, the sills are not protected against road dirt. Instead, the sills actually have a large flat plane that catches dirt and traps it. My week with the Mazda6 saw rain and snow in the Seattle area, which quickly got the car dirty. The dirt-catching sills meant it was very easy to get pants dirty while getting in and out of front or back seat of the Mazda6. Unfortunately, the shape of the car also causes the trunk lid to get dirty very quickly. The exterior trunk release was always wet and dirty to touch, and there is no grab handle inside of the trunklid for closing it, you’ve got to grab the exterior surface and pull the trunk lid closed, which makes fingers dirty and leaves handprints on the car.
The Grand Touring trim level includes keyless entry and keyless go. With the key in my pocket or briefcase, I could open the car’s door, climb behind the wheel, and press the start button, which is located on the center stack just below the climate controls. When the 2.5 liter four-cylinder started up, I was immediately disappointed. The engine sounded coarse and unrefined. Engaging first gear in the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission and pulling away, I was still not impressed, as the low-RPM noises made by the engine were far from pleasant.
Once at speed, however, the 170 HP engine moved the car smartly along, and noises at higher revs were just fine. While the car was not overpowered, power was more than sufficient. When cruising on the freeway, it really did require a downshift from 6th to 3rd to get into the car’s powerband to pull away. The actuation of the clutch and the gearbox, however, made easy work of such gearchanges. The Mazda6 had a pleasantly firm ride, responsive steering, and good body control, which made driving this car more enjoyable than I had expected.
The Mazda6 is the first vehicle I’ve tested equipped with Blind Spot Monitoring, and I was surprised at how useful the system was. When a car was in my “blind spot” on either side of the car, a small yellow icon illuminated on the exterior mirror to indicate the vehicle was there. The icon disappeared when the offending vehicle was no longer in my blind spot. I did have one experience where the system was “confused” by a fence beside the road, so when I signaled a right turn next to the fence, the BSM system beeped to indicate an obstacle.
In addition to the Blind Spot Monitoring, the heated exterior mirrors also featured electrochromatic dimming, which was an unexpectedly surprising feature to find as standard equipment on this mainstream family sedan.
Over the course of the week, I drove nearly 450 miles, of which about half were on the freeway. At the end of the week, the Mazda’s trip computer showed average fuel consumption of 25.4 MPG at an average speed of 37 MPH. As the car I tested was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 snow tires (which will be the subject of their own review), the fuel economy may have been somewhat poorer than on OEM rubber, though Mazda6’s 20/29 MPG fuel economy rating is near the bottom of its class, which is led by the 22/33 MPG rating of the Chevrolet Malibu LTZ and the 23/32 MPG rating of the Nissan Altima (which we will be reviewing later this month).
While the Mazda6 is in the same vehicle category as the Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu, it is set apart from those transportation appliances by the fact that it is a lot of fun to drive. The vast amount of room in both the back seat and the trunk make it a great choice for a family sedan, while the unexpected features like Blind Spot Monitoring and automatically-dimming exterior mirrors give the impression that the car is from a more-expensive vehicle class. If you love driving and are in the market for a family sedan, the Mazda6 should absolutely be on your short list.
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