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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Review: 2005 Mazda6 2.3

The engine closes up to 7,000 rpm and the muted sonorous note fills the cabin.  Just before the rev limiter hit, you signal the sequential shifter up a notch.  It responds quickly, almost transparently, pushing the speed even further.  A corner approaches, and without a second thought, you twist the fat three-spoke steering wheel into the direction of the curve.  The car obeys, telepathically taking the line you want.  Your pulse quickens, your breath deepens, and you feel alive once more behind the wheel of the Mazda6.

Surprised?  Actually most were, especially given the 6’s checkered reputation and executive sedan girth.  But, here it is, and this time, it doesn’t just bring back the thrill of the drive.  It nails it convincingly with an exclamation point.

Without a doubt, the new Mazda6 is the best real-world front-driven car.  It starts with the right stuff: independent suspension for both front and rear axle.  However, for the 6, it uses unique high-mounted Double Wishbones upfront (better shock/spring damper settings) and E-Type Multi-Links at the back.  For this model year, engineers sharpened the tuning and added low-profile 215/45 R17 tires to the mix.  The end result is a car that actually begs to be driven hard.   It belittles its size, acting closer to a sports car more than executive saloon.  However, Mazda isn’t careless to throw riding comfort into the wind: the 6 is actually comfy even when hitting road joints and nasty ruts.

As the flagship to the Mazda vehicle line in the country, it’s only appropriate to gift the 6 with the heart of an athlete.  Servicing the new 5-speed automatic is the company’s next-generation inline-4 engine.  With 2.3-liters of displacement it generates 164 horsepower thanks to two key technologies: Sequential Valve Timing (S-VT) and Variable Intake System (VIS).  Besides its high 7,000 rpm redline, the new engine sounds fantastic—making it, subjectively, one of the best four cylinder engines around.

With the 6’s more powerful heart and firmer legs, it would only be fitting to address its styling.  This year, it gains a more aggressive stance thanks to a revised aerodynamic kit and new lamps.  From afar, the 6 looks close to its high-performance brother, the Mazdaspeed6 (or Mazda 6 MPS, if you’re used to the European term).  The bumpers and side skirts are now deeper and chunkier with a gapping lower air intake and color-keyed grille.  The jewel-like lamps are now blacked-out with defined round protectors beneath a smooth cover.  The high-rise rear spoiler has been replaced with a discreet boot lip type, evoking a distinct European feel.  Unique to this market’s 2.3-liter model is a genuine dual exhaust system that hints at the 6’s newfound performance.  There’s absolutely nothing off with the 6’s exterior styling and thankfully, the treatment’s been carried off to the inside as well.

Evoking the same sporty feel, the 6’s new interior benefits from improved materials and workmanship that are well beyond its class.  The most noticeable change is the center console.  Gone is the low-budget faux aluminum in favor of a sturdier, brushed gray metallic tone.  The controls are now rubberized, giving unparalleled tactile feel and precision.  The seating material is now leather, and so is the steering wheel and shifter handle.  The gauges have improved legibility and are now surrounded by a tasteful metallic surround.  As with before, the 6’s interior is extremely driver centered, almost like a fighter cockpit, but the bigger story here is the added creature comforts.

The previous standard issue features on the 6 such as the power moon roof and steering wheel mounted controls remain, but headlining the change is an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with 3-setting memory.  Coupling it with a telescoping steering wheel, the 6 has the best driving position of any sedan thus far.  The climate control is now fully automatic and audio system benefits from a 6-disc in-dash system.

With such stellar performance on tap, Mazda engineers have gifted the 6 with an array of active and passive safety equipment.  The 6 has the most solid braking in its class, and it’s no surprise as it has huge 11-inch disc brakes front and aft with the ubiquitous ABS and EBD.  The Mazda6 also has six airbags as standard. Night time driving has been greatly improved with auto on/off HID headlamps and front fog lamps as standard.  The wipers are now equipped with rain sensors too.  The most impressive feature though is the Traction Control System (TCS).  Curbing wheel spin on tricky surfaces, it enables the driver to push the 6 to its limit without interfering in the fun.  It also gives the 6 idiot-proof handling no matter the condition.

As a product reborn, the Mazda6 plugs all the gaps that plagued the model launched a year and a half ago.  Though it left enthusiasts hanging before, the 2005 Mazda6’s newfound performance, unmatched handling, athletic stance and improved features is more than enough to make up for lost ground.  In genuine Mazda tradition, the 6 is a cohesive product that evokes the company’s uncompromising pursuit of everything zoom-zoom.

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