2009 Mazda 6 i Grand Touring: Light steering
January 26, 2009
In terms of day-to-day usefulness, the newly re-jiggered Mazda 6 is as innocuously functional as your everyday Camry or Accord. It feels solidly built, has plenty of room, and in Grand Touring guise, has plenty of bells and whistles to make you feel special on your daily commute. The styling has some nice lines helping hide the car's length, and it keeps the 6 from earning an anonobox label. All good. But if you've been drawn to Mazdas and the previous-gen 6 in particular by their Zoom-Zoom tuning (my brother bought one), you'll almost certainly be disappointed the first time you put the cane to the new 6.
Our 6 i Grand Touring has been a pleasant surprise in the oft overwrought mid-size sedan class, sporting all the cool options to help you feel rich (nav, powered and heated seats, etc.), but with the slightly more frugal four-cylinder powerplant. If you spend most of your time in any sort of commute, this is a sensible combo. Unless loaded with passengers and luggage or seeking pole in the on-ramp grand prix, the stouter V6 is not constantly missed. The chassis feels both stout and athletic, but the real letdown is a distinct lack of steering feedback.
When lapping the Home Depot or Cotsco parking lot, the steering is fine: light and precise. Unfortunately, it stays light though still precise once up to speed. This is fine when chasing interstate miles, but it flat stinks when charging down a decreasing radius off-ramp. The over-boosted tiller makes fine adjustments tricky, and the lack of feedback through the wheel means you have to wait for audible or other chassis clues to tell you when grip is fading. The lifeless steering makes this chassis feel betrayed.
Of course, if you're Mazda, and you're sick if getting waxed in sales because your car isn't tuned for mainstream tastes, you'd probably make the same tuning tweak. Camry people should love this car, getting all the same practical benefit but with some actual style they've been clamoring for. Accord folk would probably notice the lack of steering feel, but probably feel a little richer and enjoy the slightly better road-noise isolation. That just leaves Mazda's Zoom-Zoom faithful, who've lost a low-priced mid-size sedan with real handling spunk. With the 6 out of the sharp-steering mix, have we lost the only driver's car in the class?
Paul Seredynski, Executive Editor @ 4,451 miles