2006 Mazda Mazda6 Expert Review:Autoblog
The Mazda6 Sport Wagon that showed up was a little bit of a surprise. First, when the call came that the 6 was coming down, it sparked mixed emotions. After all, Dave Thomas had already spent time with a Mazda6 five door. Furthermore, a wagon would almost certainly be equipped with an automatic. Wagons, while a personal favorite, are not typically the most exciting vehicles around.
Wagons have a special place in the heart of this enthusiast. The first wagon that sparked this appeal was a 1986 Ford Taurus Wagon. The space-aged styling, at the time of course, had this strange attraction. Later, wagons gained even more appeal when a Chevrolet Caprice Wagon reared its head with its road trip worthy rear-facing third row seat. Not only did a chance encounter in the formative years of development influence the love of wagons, but later at work a Caprice Classic wagon busted onto the scene as a company-owned treasure. No other vehicle in the fleet would swallow more gear, while making the driver feel like some sort of geek super pimp. Notice none of these memories really have anything to do with performance. Sure, Volvo has done some spicy vehicles based on their wagons. Even Paul Newman had his own ass-chewing V8 monster Volvo wagon built. The Mazda6 Sport Wagon is a different breed of performance wagon.
The critically acclaimed Mazda6 has some appeal, but the inevitable slush-boxization carried it own fears. What a relief when the 6 wagon showed up with a five-speed! This was going to be interesting. A family wagon, with sporty intentions, a five-speed, and a peppy 220-hp V6, is a rare thing on American shores. When an automaker offers a wagon, a manual is hardly ever offered in the U.S. market.
Behind the wheel, it’s hard to believe you’re not driving a Japanese sports coupe. You have to keep reminding yourself, “it’s a wagon, it’s a wagon.” The flexible V6 is certainly more than adequate to power this vehicle. You almost couldn’t imagine what the 274-hp turbo four would be like in the MAZDASPEED6. The V6 provides such smooth, user friendly thrust, anything more seems unnecessary for a daily driver.
A solid V6, slick shifting five-speed is a great combination in any vehicle, but how does it handle? The weight of the Mazda6 doesn't make it as fun as a Mazda3, but this is clearly the mid-size wagon for the enthusiast-driver. Even if there was a wagon offered by other makes of popular midsize sedans, the Mazda6 is clearly the winner in chassis dynamics. It's hard to shake the sensation of driving a performance car. The tossable chassis tracks well, and the only limitation seems to be where the rubber meets the road, in the OEM tires that is. They are more than adequate for most situations, but it's obvious the platform has more to offer. The Mazda6 handles predictable and safely at the limit. The balance is exemplary. How exciting it is to coerce this family wagon into a graceful four-wheel drift. Definitely do not try this at home, or more appropriately, with your average midsize wagon.
There are almost no compromises in utility or comfort, even with the sporty dynamics of the Mazda6 wagon. The interior is hushed at highway speed. It’s remarkably quiet. Not that the quietness really matters, as our test was equipped with the optional Bose seven speaker stereo. Under the rear hatch, which we’ll get to later, is a subwoofer placed inside the rim of the spare tire. Oh, this system made all the more tempting to thump along in traffic to Geto Boys, Danger Doom, or maybe a nice bluegrass Metallica cover. The Bose system is the best option for the audiophile without the patience for a do-it-yourself upgrade. We’re certainly not qualified to review every detail of the audio system, but at all volume levels the sound is clear with smooth response. Plus, the extra oomph from the subwoofer is satisfying. The true test of a good system is how it doesn’t hurt your ears at high volumes. After cruising around at criminal volume levels, our hearing seems intact. Huh, what’s that? Seriously, we give two big thumbs up to the Mazda’s Bose system.
Besides a kicking subwoofer, the rear of the Mazda is equipped with spacious accommodations for all your goodies. Groceries, for amateurs! A trip to Home Depot, no problem! It’s nice to have the ability to carry the goods and rock the back roads with abandon. The interior accommodations are also very appropriate for the Mazda. Mazda’s designers tried to carry the zoom-zoom into the interior. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of how superior the Mazda3’s interior is. The fact that the Mazda6 could be referred to as the first wave in Mazda’s revitalization makes it a little easier to justify the design and finish differences between the two. It’s certainly more appealing than some of its other midsize competition.
What’s the verdict? We love the car, its handling, engine, and brakes. The Mazda is loaded with mechanical goodness. It’s like oatmeal for the driver’s heart. Also, the long lines of the Sport Wagon really mesh well with the long sweeping hood. Stylistically, it’s a great wagon. Their really isn’t much competition for it, and if you want a midsize wagon with a V6 and a manual transmission this is the only game in town. The interior has a high utility value, but it doesn’t compare well to Mazda’s latest attempt with the 3. Sorry Mazda. The door panel panels feel a touch on the cheap side, and some of the controls and buttons have a toy-like feel. There is some good news; we didn’t get the same impression with the MAZDASPEED6 that was at Frankfurt, and the Mazda6 is set for a design refresh soon. So, our solution is to just crank up the volume and enjoy the drive. That is what the Mazda6 Sport Wagon is all about.
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