Grown-ups no longer need to be embarrassed by the wing on their Mitsubishi Evolution. Instead of wheels that scream "boy racer," Mazda is offering adults a less conspicuous way to express their need for speed with the new all-wheel-drive 2006 Mazdaspeed 6 sedan.
Mazdaspeed, the Japanese automaker's performance arm, had already worked over the small Protegé sedan and Miata MX-5 roadster. Now it's time for the Mazda 6 to get a performance upgrade as well.
Adult Toy Box Unlike the all-wheel-drive Evo and Subaru WRX STi, the turbocharged Mazdaspeed 6 doesn't announce itself with large spoilers and aggressive hood scoops. Instead, this $28,000 sleeper sedan is "intentionally understated," says Shiro Yoshioka, vice president of research and development for Mazda's North American Operations. "It's an adult's car, not an extroverted toy with wings or scoops everywhere. We could have chosen to install a large hood scoop, but that wouldn't be as elegant or well-suited to the theme of the car."
Instead of sporting a seriously showy exterior, the Mazdaspeed 6's front bumper and lower grille simply allude to performance. The upper grille keeps the standard 6's five-point look, while discreetly breathing air to the intercooler. Wider front fenders crown the standard 18-inch aluminum wheels and tires, and side skirts have been added for improved aerodynamics. In the rear, dual tailpipes resonate with a throaty exhaust note below the conservative rear lip spoiler.
Motorsports Technology But, don't let the low-key look fool you. Underneath the Mazdaspeed 6's sedate hood line beats an all-aluminum turbocharged 2.3-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with direct injection rated at 274 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. These figures make this stealthy four-door the most powerful sedan Mazda has ever built.
Mazda describes this new low-emission (LEV-II) engine as Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI), a power plant that's keen on performance. "A lot of technology we learned in racing we transferred back to the Mazdaspeed 6, and the DISI engine is a prime example," says Todd Kaneko, manager of Mazdaspeed. With DISI, torque is increased by injecting fuel directly into the combustion chamber. As a result, the turbocharger delivers much of its 15.6 psi of boost from approximately 2,500 rpm, making the small engine feel like one twice its size, while still earning impressive EPA ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Kaneko says the DISI engine is likely to carry over to future Mazda vehicles as well.
Unlike the standard Mazda 6 which offers the choice of a manual five-speed or an automatic six-speed transmission for its V6 units, the Mazdaspeed 6 only comes with a short-throw six-speed manual shifter. Expect to make quick work of gears two and three on the way to 60 mph, but that's no cause for concern. Even in 4th gear there's still plenty of power lying in wait.
So It Moves, but How Does It Handle? If you've already experienced the Mazda 6's precise rack and pinion steering, then you'll know just what to expect from the Mazdaspeed version. The same quick, crisp response that makes the 6 such a pleasure to drive is readily apparent in the performance version, and a firm brake pedal combines with ventilated front discs and solid rear discs to confidently distribute stopping power as needed. Antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard, as are traction control and Dynamic Stability Control for added security.
Keeping the Mazdaspeed brand's performance promise, overall rigidity has been improved by 50 percent over the naturally aspirated 6 with upgrades including additional steel in the front and rear bumper areas, and extra reinforcement at the suspension mounting points. Additionally, the front double-wishbone and rear multilink suspension has been retuned to handle the added torque from the Mazdaspeed car's turbocharged engine.
An all-new active-torque-split all-wheel-drive system also plays a part. The system incorporates real-time input data to determine road surface and driving conditions, then selects between Normal, Sport and Snow modes to provide the most power and traction. In Normal mode, power is applied to all wheels, with the majority of the power headed to the front. During heavy acceleration, Sport mode takes over, transferring 50 percent of the torque to the rear. In Snow mode, traction to all wheels is maximized.
A torque-sensing limited-slip differential (also used on the Mazda RX-8) optimizes torque and ensures power delivery when cornering or driving on slippery surfaces. The result is a sedan that remains stable in the corners allowing the driver to push the fun envelope, yet still providing a comfortable, smooth ride for its occupants.
Nothing Bare-Bones About It Inside, the Mazdaspeed 6 keeps all of the creature comforts found in the Mazda 6 with the exception of the 6's fold-down rear seat. Engineers had to let that one go in favor of a large rear brace for added stiffness.
Available in two trim levels, Sport or Grand Touring, the Mazdaspeed 6 offers a level of luxury that competes more with an Audi A4 2.0T quattro or a BMW 330xi than the Subie or Mitsu. Tight-fitting power sport seats wrapped in black fabric, a Bose in-dash six-disc CD changer and automatic climate control come standard on the Sport.
Move up to the Grand Touring for another $1,930 and you'll add leather seats in a choice of two color combinations, xenon headlamps and Mazda's advanced keyless entry and start system, which doesn't require you to insert the key into the ignition. A DVD-based navigation system can be added to either model, and a power sunroof is only available on the Grand Touring version.
No matter which Mazdaspeed 6 model you choose, you'll find a roomy, sporty interior with plenty of red illumination on the dash and center stack. Quality brushed aluminum bezels surround the gauges, and an alloy pedal set reminds the driver that the Mazdaspeed 6 is both show and go. The door handles are chrome-plated and the power window switches are silver to complete the look.
Put It on Your Performance List Although the standard Mazda 6 is built in Flat Rock, Michigan, due to its complexity, the Mazdaspeed 6 comes from Hofu, Japan. Five thousand cars per year are expected to ship to the United States, keeping sales volume relatively low. While this polished sedan has more luxury features than the STi and Evo and is priced lower than the A4 2.0T quattro and 330xi, Mazda isn't expecting to revolutionize the performance sedan industry. But if Hiroshima's new sleeper sedan can coax a few shoppers away from Audi and BMW showrooms, and allow a few boys to grow up and graduate from their winged wonders, the 2006 Mazda Mazdaspeed 6 will have accomplished its mission.
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