By now, most non-cave-dwellers are aware that Mazda is the self-proclaimed performance brand from Japan. Generally speaking, Mazda's got a point, as most of its cars are indeed sportier than rival models. However, the 2009 Mazda 6 s doesn't quite fit the mold. Make no mistake -- this 6 is one of the best midsize sedans on the market, thanks to significant bumps in size and power relative to its predecessor. It's just no longer the sports car in sedan clothing that Mazda's marketing mavens make it out to be.
For most shoppers in this segment, that's probably just fine. Let's face it -- if you're in the market for a midsize sedan, attacking apexes like Helio Castroneves probably isn't high on your to-do list. The previous-generation Mazda 6 is a case in point: It was arguably the sportiest midsizer on the market, yet the U.S. version sold about as well as pork sandwiches in Peshawar. That's why Mazda bit the bullet with the new 6, transforming it into precisely the sort of big ol' family sedan that American consumers crave.
To be fair, Mazda hasn't sacrificed every ounce of the 6's sporting DNA at the altar of mainstream appeal. The car remains an above-average handler, with sure-footed grip and good body control for its class. However, unlike the smaller and friskier Nissan Altima, this supersized 6 never acts like it wants to play. The engineers may have been aiming for "bigger Altima," but they ended up with "sporty Accord" instead.
As noted, though, that's likely more than enough for the average American car shopper. The 2009 Mazda 6 s offers plenty of power and plenty of space, and its reasonably capable handling is just icing on the proverbial cake. Fuel economy and interior quality are a step or two behind class leaders, but otherwise, this Mazda is a strong contender. Japan's performance brand has learned its lesson: In this country, bigger -- not sportier -- is usually better.
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Mazda 6 s Grand Touring is propelled by a 3.7-liter V6 that churns out 272 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is mandatory with the V6. Our test car hustled from zero to 60 mph in an extraordinarily swift 6.4 seconds, dispensing with the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 96.5 mph. The V6 isn't as smooth as the best engines in this segment, but what it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in brawn.
The six-speed automatic transmission comes with a manual-shift mode that's activated by sliding the lever into the manual gate. We like the way Mazda sets it up -- push forward for downshifts, pull back for upshifts. Pity that Mazda didn't add a "sport" automatic mode to speed up downshifts, though, as they're so slow that you can almost hear the transmission protesting, "Wait a minute.... Do you really want that much power?" Disappointingly, manual mode doesn't help matters -- shifts arrive just as slowly as they do in Drive.
Handlingwise, body control is laudable for a big sedan, with markedly less body roll than the similarly sized Honda Accord. However, the 6 falls short of Nissan's athletic Altima, which has become the dynamic benchmark for this segment. There's a noticeable dead spot in the 6's steering while cornering -- you can wiggle the wheel left and right midcorner without altering your path, in stark contrast to the Altima's impressively tight rack. The Mazda's tiller isn't very communicative either, and steering effort is too light at speed to be sporty. Perhaps most damningly, the 6 never feels smaller than its size -- you always have the sense that you're piloting a large vehicle. On the bright side, the turning circle is notably tight for such a large car.
With EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 mpg city/25 highway and 20 combined, the 2009 Mazda 6 is about as thirsty as they get in this segment. We observed an even 20 mpg, not bad considering that our shoes are encased in lead.
The 6 is impressively composed over bumps despite its standard 18-inch tires. The ride is firm without being harsh -- not quite BMW-like, but perhaps closer to this ideal than any other family sedan. Road noise, however, was more intrusive than we'd expect of a car in this segment.
The front seats have clearly been designed for ample American posteriors, so slimmer drivers should be prepared to slide around a bit in enthusiastic driving. There is also a distinct lack of lateral support, an odd oversight in a sedan with sporting pretensions. The rear seat, on the other hand, is beyond reproach, with ample head- and legroom even for 6-footers. Indeed, the upsized 6's generally commodious interior is one of its strongest selling points -- this is a big, roomy, comfortable car.
Most of the 2009 Mazda 6's controls are logically arrayed and easy to use, though the buttons on the right side of the center stack -- such as the tuning knob and the disc-selection button for the CD changer -- are too far away from the driver for comfort. The lukewarm breeze produced by our test vehicle's air-conditioner did a poor job of cooling down the all-black interior on hot days. As is typical of Bose-branded Mazda stereos, the one in the 6 is underwhelming, with a generally muffled sound and weak bass response that'll have you doubting there's a subwoofer at work.
The optional blind-spot warning system is quite useful, however, emitting a clear beep whenever you start to change lanes with a vehicle in your blind spot. It can be overzealous, frequently beeping even when the vehicle is more than a car length behind you, but overall we found that it added to our peace of mind.
In our real-world usability tests, we found that the 6's trunk would please even the most prolific mafia hitman -- its cavernous 16.6-cubic-foot capacity made our standard suitcase and golf bag look puny. Moreover, the deck lid is propped up on non-intrusive hydraulic struts, which can't be said for many competing sedans. We had no problem fitting our child safety seat in the 6's expansive backseat.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Mazda 6 is 7 inches longer and about 2.5 inches wider than its predecessor, and its wheelbase has grown by more than 4 inches. Nonetheless, Mazda has largely preserved the car's tight styling. The exterior design is distinctive for this class, particularly from the front, where the 6 incorporates some design cues from the RX-8 sports car. Inside, however, the odd decorative trim pieces resemble piano black trim that's been mauled by a bear. There's a lot of faux chrome trim on the dash, as well as a shiny Mazda logo on the steering wheel, and you'll be cursing the resultant glare when the sun's shining.
Interior materials are a mixed bag. The emergency brake handle is made of chintzy hard plastic, which is disappointing considering how often one uses it, and the center armrest is thinly padded. The dashboard is covered with a supple soft-touch material on the passenger side, but the rest of the dashboard and center stack is all hard plastic. The Altima and Accord both feature higher-quality materials. Fit and finish was satisfactory on our test car, but we did notice a persistent UDR (unidentified dash rattle).
Who should consider this vehicle
Midsize-sedan shoppers who like the formidable size of the Honda Accord but want extra helpings of style and sportiness should consider the 2009 Mazda 6 s Grand Touring.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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