Mazda 3 is the Knight in the forest of compacts. Can the 6 be the Lord in the sea of midsize sedans?
What’s the most common thing you see in a parking lot? Seagull picking on garbage? Hot soccer mom? Seagull dropping? Camry? Accord? A parking lot in your local grocery store is a good representation of the car market of the region; of course, the lots at Home Depot and Concurs d’Elegance event would skew the finding.
Nowadays everything out in the mainstream segment all somehow looks, drives, performs, and sizes similarly as if midsize sedans have identical genetic code. Every midsize car offers 2.4 to 2.5 L 4-cylinder engine, has about 170hp, and doesn’t matter if it is inline-4 or horizontal-4. Some owners have said they have a V-4 after few seconds of really hard thinking. How could one manufacturer differentiate its midsizer from another where the buyers can’t comprehend the technicalities? Is it simply a game of who got the bigger trunk? Is hub cap better than alloy rims since they meant to be curbed?
In Mazda’s family tree, the Mazda 3 has dominated the compact segment as the most rewarding and agile compact to drive. The 6, however, is in the more mature and family oriented market. Fun to drive might not be the buyer’s top priority. Can a Mazda 6 characterize itself in the sea of midsizers? How does its character stand against the segment’s best selling plain-jane? To put things in perspective, we will compare some of the 6’s data with this segment’s volume seller, the 2010 Toyota Camry LE. LE is chosen as it’s equivalently equipped as our tester. The references to the Camry are in italic parentheses.
Unlike Mazda 6’s mainstream rivalries (Accord, Altima, Camry, Galant…) that have been carrying the same model name for decades, the 6 emblem didn’t appear until just a little after the turn of this century at the time when Mazda revolutionized its model names; 323 became Protégé and then 3, and 626 became simply 6. What really gained in this process was that Mazda purged the bad reputations of their bread-and-butter 626 by inventing the all new 6. It was new to the market as a product. New to the consumers as it disassociated with the 626’s almost Pinto like image.
The first generation [chassis code: GG] known as the Mazda Atenza in Asia was introduced to the U.S. market as a 2003 model in 2002. The GG made it to Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list in 2003, and often praised for its dynamic handling, responsive steering and attractive design; a rare driver’s car in the midsizer segment. It was an instant success.
A low production performance model, Mazdaspeed 6, was released in 2006 to further enhance its sporty nature. The Mazdaspeed 6 was equipped with a 2.3L I-4 engine producing 270 hp and 280 Ib-ft of torque. Power is routed to four wheels via Mazda’s Active Torque Split central differential through a 6-speed MT. Although the Mazdaspeed isn’t Subaru Impreza WRX STI or Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution material in terms of trackability but it certainly made a unique statement.
Our 2010 Mazda 6 is the 2nd generation [chassis code: GH] of the series, competing in the same segment and carrying the GG’s driver’s oriented nature as Mazda is the BMW of the East. It debuted in the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show for global market. For the North America, the 6 release was postponed until 2009 since the North American 6 was widened and lengthened for our bigger-the-better market. The fastback and station wagon in the previous generation are gone.
The 2010MY comes in two trim levels: “i” and “s”. The “i” trim level consists of the following sub-models: SV [base], Sport, Touring, Touring Plus & Grand Touring. The “i” trim equips with 2.5L I-4 engine with standard 6-speed MT. 5-speed AT is optional in Sport & Touring models, is standard in the Touring Plus & Grand Touring. The “s” trim consists of only Touring Plus and Grand Touring models. They come standard with 3.7L V6 engine that produces 272 hp and 269 Ib-ft of torque and mated to 6-speed AT. Anti-Lock Brake System with EBD, Dynamic Stability Control [DSC] and Traction Control [TC] are standard across the line.
The diversity in trim levels offer wide spread of price range: base model “i” SV @ $18,600 ($19,395) to top-of-the-line “s” Grand Touring @ $28,540 ($29,045).
The tester in Performance White paint is the “i” Sport model. It has $20,579 MSRP ($21,900) and is assembled in a joint venture plant, AutoAlliance International [AAI] in Flat Rock, Michigan, alongside with Ford Mustang. At the time of writing, Mazda would be pulling out of AAI with the next generation Mazda 6. It was expected that the new production would move back to Hofu, Japan.
Under the hood is an aluminum block and cylinder head, 2.5L 16-valve DOHC engine with 89 x 100 mm bore and stroke undersquare design. It has variable valve timing on the intake cam and 9.7:1 compression ratio. This MZR engine pumps out 170 hp @ 6,000rpm and 167 Ib-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm on regular gas. In PZEV states such as, the tree hugging California, the outputs are lowered to 168 and 166 respectively (2.5L 169 hp, 167 Ib-ft).
Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) is defined as a gasoline burning vehicle that meets the SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) exhaust standard and with a fuel system that emits zero evaporative emissions. The components of the emission system also contain a 15 years or 150,000 miles warranty from the manufacturer.
SULEV produces 99.9% less HC (Hydrocarbon), 99.5% less NOx (Nitrous Oxides) and 98.8% less CO (Carbon Monoxides) than vehicles without any emission control. Emission reductions are achieved from utilization of higher cell-density catalytic converter (commonly known as cat) that contains large catalytic surface with low heat capacity and engine that emits low raw emission by optimizing air-to-fuel ratio control.
To ensure fast reach of operating temperature during warm-up, cat is mounted as close to the engine as possible soaking up heat to promote fast light-off to further reducing cold start and during warm-up tailpipe emission output. PZEV produces fewer horsepower and torque than non-SULEV. It mainly contributes to the more restricted exhaust system and different engine tuning; the latter is to protect emission components for warranty reasons. Extra components equal extra costs. There is usually a $200 surcharge in MSRP for a PZEV.
Aside from technicality, PZEV was part of the negotiation between auto manufacturers and CARB (California Air Resources Board) to defer production of mandated electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles – ZEV (zero emission vehicles). Putting politics aside, being a consumer driving a PZEV in a typical urban environment, the PZEV might in fact purify the air.
Whether you like the idea of cleaning the air as you drive, or you don’t like the fact that you are paying more and getting less, PZEV Mazda 6 is the only choice for Californians.
Mated to the 6’s “air purifier” is a 5-speed (6-spd) automatic transmission with manual mode. It has the same goodness, perhaps could be the same unit as in the Mazda 3. Despite of having one less gear compared to its competitors in this segment, this transmission has very good calibration and response. It automatically downshifts to utilize engine braking under heavy braking and when descending from a slope. It doesn’t mind kicking down a couple of gears if hard acceleration is needed. It won’t try to get to the top gear to try to save fuel at any chance it get. Cruising at 70mph in top gear, the engine revs at 2,500 rpm.
Engine makes decent power making it efficiently merge and get up and go. Engine is very quiet when cruising. Engine note increases nicely the harder it revs. Note is pleasing with minimal vibration even at its 6,200 rpm redline. Throttle map is very natural and linear. In translation, the powertrain is capable to propel the Mazda 6’s 3,309 Ibs (3,307 Ibs) curb weight from 0-60 mph in low 8-second (high 8s) and reaches the quarter mile mark in low 16-second (~17s).
During our 800 miles journey from San Francisco Bay Area to San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, our observed average is 30mpg. The respectable fuel economy is contributed by the overdrive ratios in the fourth and fifth gears. EPA rated the 2010 Mazda 6 at 21 City/30 highway with 24mpg combined (22/32 26).
Exterior – Squint…RX-8?
The wedge profile and high rear deck, nice front flared fenders and the RX-8 like stance contains 109.8” (109.3”) wheel base, 193.7” (189.2”) overall length, 72.4” (71.7”) width, and 57.9” (57.9”) in height. The 6 has its own styling in this segment.
The respectable fuel economy is aided by 6’s proficiency in aerodynamic. The 6 has 0.27 (0.28) coefficient of drag. The coefficient of drag was improved by the use of under engine and rear seat covers to smooth under-car air flow. Wind noise is also reduced by reduction in under-car turbulence flow. According to Mazda, even the side mirrors were designed through Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) analysis. All of which transpire to exceptional stability even under heavy crosswind conditions.