What's New for 2008
The Mazda 6 is mostly unchanged for 2008. The Sport Wagon model has been discontinued, leaving only two body styles, and the Touring and Grand Touring can now only be equipped with the six-speed automatic. Minor feature adjustments, such as larger wheels for the Sport trim and a standard Bose audio system for the Touring, round out the changes.
Since it debuted five years ago, the Mazda 6 has been the sports car of the midsize sedan segment. Taught, communicative steering and a poised chassis are hallmarks of a car that begs to be driven with enthusiasm -- even if the destination is the local Wal-Mart. Its stylish design and driver-oriented cockpit exude a visual excitement that others in this staid segment shy away from for fear of turning off more conservative buyers. The 2008 Mazda 6 still happily boasts a sporty personality, yet provides plenty of family-friendly practicality.
For 2008, the 6 provides a little less of that practicality, however. The Sport Wagon has been killed off, the latest casualty in the American purge of the dreaded wagon species. Nevertheless, the unique "five-door" hatchback model remains. This body style is popular in Europe, but rare in America where even the slightest whiff of a hatchback makes consumers go "yuck." Still, the hatchback maintains a very sedanlike profile and to some eyes, its fastback profile is more attractive than the traditional four-door sedan. Plus, its 22 cubic feet of cargo space is the largest available in the family sedan market -- topping even the full-size Ford Taurus.
With so much versatility and driving fun, why not pick a 6? The four- and six-cylinder engines have never been particularly powerful in this class, and newer competitors have made these modest motors seem like Calista Flockhart duking it out on "American Gladiators." The Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry all offer at least 270-horsepower V6 engines, while at the same time bettering the 212-hp Mazda's fuel economy. The base four-cylinder is pretty much the same story, although the power gap isn't as significant. In this era of gas mileage awareness, less power and higher consumption is a tough sell.
An all-new Mazda 6 will debut next year that will hopefully address the power, fuel economy and rear seat space issues. In the meantime, though, if you can look past the current model's downsides, the 2008 Mazda 6 is still an attractive choice. If buying something other than the Camry-Accord-Altima status quo is appealing, then the 6 should definitely be considered -- especially if a "fun to drive" demeanor is a top priority.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mazda 6 is a midsize car available as a four-door sedan and a "five-door" sedan with a hatchback. Both are available in "i" and "s" versions, which denote the four- and six-cylinder engines respectively. The versions are further broken down into Sport (four-door only), Sport Value Edition, Touring and Grand Touring. The Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player.
The Sport Value Edition adds an eight-way power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an in-dash six-CD changer. The Touring adds heated mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a seven-speaker Bose stereo. The Grand Touring adds xenon headlights, foglamps, a sunroof, electroluminescent gauges, automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The s Grand Touring model differs by including 18-inch wheels.
The only factory options are a sunroof on the Sport Value Edition and Touring, and a navigation system on the Grand Touring. Satellite radio is a dealer-installed option on all Mazda 6 models.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2008 Mazda 6 models are front-wheel drive. Standard on the i model is a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 156 hp and 154 pound-feet of torque. The s model upgrades to a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 212 hp and 197 lb-ft. The Sport trim level comes only with a five-speed manual, while the Sport Value Edition offers a five-speed automatic. The Touring and Grand Touring trims are only available with a six-speed automatic. The Mazda 6 s will run to 60 mph in about 8 seconds flat, which is respectable, but at least a second off the pace of the segment speedsters.
Revised 2008 fuel economy figures for the four-cylinder i model are 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with the automatic transmission. The six-cylinder s model rates 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with the automatic. The Sport trim's manual transmission has a negligible effect on fuel mileage.
All Mazda 6 models come with antilock disc brakes, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control is not available. In government crash tests, the 6 scored a perfect five stars in frontal impact testing and four stars in side impact testing. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash testing, the Mazda earned the top rating of "Good."
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the 2008 Mazda 6 has a clean and contemporary design, with solid build quality and easy-to-operate controls. Most materials are attractive, but they're a step below in quality compared to what's found in the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. The front seats are supportive, but rear hiproom and shoulder room are tight. The sedan has a 15.2-cubic-foot trunk capacity, while the hatchback boasts a very impressive 22-cubic-foot cargo hold that expands to 59 cubes with the rear seat folded down.
Like most other Mazdas, the 6 is a thrill behind the wheel and is the sports car of its class. Neither engine is exceptionally powerful, especially off the line, though the V6's smooth, quiet power delivery offsets this. The four-cylinder is also smooth, but it gets a little noisy at higher rpm. Communicative steering goes a long way toward making the 6 fun to drive, whether it's on the highway or from corner to corner on back roads. The well-sorted suspension achieves a superb balance between comfortable ride quality and athletic handling.