Barry Winfield, Contributor
Rushing a midsize family sedan into a downhill switchback on the tortuous Glendora Mountain Road here in Los Angeles sounds like inappropriate behavior, doesn't it?
Maybe, but since Mazda has been getting as much mileage from its zoom-zoom ad campaign as it can — implying that a fundamental sporting temperament lies deep within the DNA of all its cars — we had to check it out.
Tearing up and down Glendora in the 2009 Mazda 6 s Grand Touring is useful therapy for the enthusiast driver in any case, but it also turns out to be proof that Mazda did not lose its soul when it decided that if you can't beat 'em in the midsize family bracket, you have to join 'em.
The Mazda 6 Grows Up It seems that no matter how hard the company tried to peddle the alternative charms of its previous Mazda 6, the darn thing was just too small and too weak to kick against the titans from Honda and Toyota. Not to mention Nissan.
Hence the 2009 Mazda 6 s now boasts generous interior dimensions of the kind that will accommodate 6-foot-5 passengers in a most unexpected way. Legroom in the backseat for a tall guy with a 34-inch inseam is good. Headroom isn't bad either, optimized by a scalloped headliner so that one's head just grazes the mouse fur. There's also commensurate largeness in the castings of its V6 engine, now displacing 3.7 liters and cranking out a class-leading 272 horsepower.
But back to the front seat and Glendora Mountain Road, where the 2009 Mazda 6 s Grand Touring gives a good account of itself, despite pandering to the appliance-buying drones that snap up generic sedans on the promise of long and cheap service. Beyond the slightly soft suspension feel is a chassis that offers decent levels of control. Meet a series of undulations while under braking or in mid-bend, and the Mazda 6 swallows them without bounding about or getting out of shape.
Still Athletically Gifted At first the 2009 Mazda 6 feels softer in roll than we expect from the engineers in Hiroshima, but further experimentation unearths a chassis that will take a pretty stable set in the corners once turned in and then maintains an unruffled stance. Our slalom test reveals a car that tolerates transitions well, too, as its 66.2 mph speed suggests. Our wheelman at the test track comments that even though the Mazda 6 doesn't deliver Altima levels of athleticism, it's pretty good nonetheless.
The steering is a tad light to prove zoom-zoom paternity, but the wheel directs the nose of the car with real precision, and it supplies a natural sense of control at the rim without transmitting a great deal of kickback shock. In fact, a big bump in the middle of a corner just freezes the power assist for an instant as it baffles the mechanism, but it doesn't transmit much of the impact to the driver's hands.
All of which is to be considered in the light of the Mazda 6's all-season tires, which typically soften steering responses and smudge cornering accuracy, and produce an unimpressive 0.81g on the skid pad. Lever a quartet of summer tires onto this Mazda and we suspect the car's demeanor will sharpen up considerably. It might even quiet the ride on particular surfaces where these P235/45ZR18 Michelin HXMXM4s raise their voice to insistent levels, mainly on cast concrete, where they trundle along like cart wheels. Their braking performance also doesn't seem to be impressive, as this 3,593-pound car comes to a halt from 60 mph in 127 feet.
But to give the tires their fair due, they exhibit decently progressive breakaway characteristics. Despite a fairly early onset of squeal, the Michelins will tolerate an overcooked corner entry quite well, allowing a reasonably aggressive trade-off of braking to steering as the driver (who, me?) seeks to optimize the situation.
On other types of pavement, the Mazda 6 s is much quieter. The drivetrain is muted at cruising speeds, and wind noise is kept at perfectly acceptable levels. But it has to be noted that the 3.7-liter V6 gets a little rowdy when you're asking for everything it has to offer. It's not as smooth or quiet at full throttle as Toyota's V6, in our opinion.
Under Power We won't complain about engine performance, though. This Mazda 6 gets to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds (6.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a dragstrip) on the way to the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 96.5 mph.
The 3.7 V6 has plenty of torque, even if it peaks at a relatively lofty 4,250 rpm, where its exertions occasionally twist the steering wheel a little to the right. Big applications of power make the car weave slightly, and you get lots of chirping from an inside wheel when making turns at intersections. On front-drivers like this one, good torque often means the presence of torque steer, but it's not bad enough here to blunt one's enjoyment of the Mazda 6's otherwise great steering.
A six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available on the V6 model, and we think that's about right. Despite its greater power, the V6 is routinely selected as the luxury option rather than the sporty one. Even so, this automatic six-speed is equipped with a manual override so that one can assume control in the right circumstances.
It's a good tranny, but we would really like to see a throttle blip incorporated for downshifts, as much to acknowledge the request as to synchronize all rotating components for quicker shift action. With some large ratio gaps in the lower gears, a call for a downshift as one brakes hard into a tight turn is sometimes ignored as being beyond the practical operating speed for the gear in question.
And the request evidently doesn't stay in memory long, because we sometimes found ourselves trailing off the brakes to get back on the throttle, and then being in a higher gear than anticipated. A blip of the throttle (or its absence) would be a clue here.
Conveniently Luxurious Naturally, most of this is academic to the 2008 Mazda 6 s Grand Touring's likely owner body. They'll be more interested in the luxury trappings, safety appurtenances and convenience gadgets, and the car has plenty of those. For a vehicle as well equipped as this one, the interior layout is pleasantly uncluttered. Controls and gauges are arrayed in a simple, unpretentious fashion in an attractive interior design.
With the possible exception of the radio memory buttons, everything is easy to find and simple to operate. We have concerns about the Grand Touring model's standard-equipment blind-spot warning device, which looks back down the adjoining lane, then utters a little cry if you signal an imminent lane change.
First, hardly anyone around here in Los Angeles signals a lane change (unfortunately). Secondly, the system warns about cars that are all too far away to be of real concern. Luckily, there's an off switch. It's right next to the off switch for the stability control system, which we found far less intrusive. (You can leave that one on even when fooling around on your favorite twisty road.)
The keyless ignition system is well thought out. It recognizes the driver and unlocks the door when the handle is pulled. Once seated, the driver has only to put his foot on the brake to have the system go green — literally, with a small green LED light on the button — regardless of whether the system is off or in accessory mode. At that point, a quick finger jab initiates the starting sequence, and you're off.
Beyond Transportation The extent to which a sporty nature implied by Mazda's zoom-zoom catchphrase is still present in this car is a bonus to those of us looking for some involvement as well as mere transportation.
In this 2009 Mazda 6 s Grand Touring sedan, this zoom-zoom character may not be as overt as it was on previous models, but it is still there. And for those who find zoom-zoom merely something to spray Raid at, this new model should give them the space, the power, the suave new looks, the carefully balanced ride/handling compromise, and the value they're looking for in the segment.
If this doesn't jog Mazda 6 sales into the territory where the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry live, then surely nothing will.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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