2008 Mazda6i Review
We hear reports that Mazda is fueling its growth by stocking American rental companies with product. Normally, this sales strategy is a sure way to run a brand into the ground; to ensure that factories build The Least Objectionable Automobile rather than something inherently worthwhile. Not in this case. In fact, you could say that Ford's Japanese partner has created the world largest, perhaps best demo fleet for the four-cylinder Mazda6i. If you have a choice, make it your default option.
Mazda's family friendly tribute to zoom-zoom is a wake up call to the importance of great design. When picking-up our tester, I had to remind myself that this is a six-year-old model destined for the chopping block. While the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord go for derivative shapes and portly portions, Mazda's designers took bread and butter transportation and gave it a protein shake before hitting the gym.
From stem to stern, the Mazda6i offers nothing but trim proportions, sleek lines and muscular tones. Even the 6i's trippy, bubble-headed lighting pods have aged well on their (revised) midnight black backgrounds. Compared to the old 626, or its current competitors, the Mazda6 is an instant classic.
The Mazda6i's interior also shows how well a non-derivative Japanese design stands the test of time. The three spoke, leather-wrapped wheel would look at home in any BMW. The tasty switchgear, velvety door panel inserts and distinctive oval air registers feel better in your hands than any materials in any other car in this price range. Speaking of, the dashboard's northern hemisphere comes from polymers too rich for an entry-level Lexus, much less a dowdy Camry.
Older design or not, the Mazda6 continues to impress when your crew meets for four-portal pleasure. There's comfort for a quartet of average Joes, and it's not a bad place for a third person in the back. The large-ish trunk proves that Japan's latest redesigns add wasteful bulk and little value. That said, the omission of a decklid assist handle should be a punishable crime: smearing a dirty paint job with a wet hand in a thunderstorm is the family sedan equivalent of changing a kid's diaper.
And yet, the Mazda6 never stops with the shock and awe. I opened the dash-mounted coin holder, exposing a thickly flocked cubbyhole that makes the Chrysler Sebring's carpet hang its head in shame. Vault-like in construction, I felt obligated to give the useless crap in my pocket a new home. If you can find a better example of Industrial Design OCD in a sub-$25k car, buy it.
The Mazda6i's magic doesn't end when you twist the key. The base-by-name 2.3-liter four-pot is more than mediocre by nature. Its distinctive growl at idle is proof that there's a performance-minded dual exhaust underfoot. Although there's a paltry 156hp on tap, the Mazda6 revs smoothly to redline. With a willing five-speed autobox in tow, the Mazda6 offers far more spunk than its claimed 9-second run to 60mph implies.
There's nothing wrong with sloth-like speed in a cheap sedan, as long as you can make ample use of the Big Mo. The Mazda6 compensates for its sloth (yes, sloth) with the road manners of more Germanic sports sedans. Mid-corner composure speaks volumes about a suspension tuned with level cornering and minimal understeer in mind. Thanks to the engine's flat powerband, the Mazda6 rarely pushes under a cornering load. Some praise goes to the choice gumballs: 17-inch Michelin Pilots don't come cheap; but they do come prepared.
Mazda obviously told the Larry Winget's of the world to take a hike. The good rubber makes for sublime handling, but with a finessed ride that's simply astounding. The only beef with the Mazda6's dynamics is the parking lot friendly steering: the lack of on-center steering feel in fast sweepers is a bit of a buzz kill.
And then I hit the interstate for some straight-line school of thought. Ay, there's the rub: the Mazda6 howled in protest at the upper reaches of the speed limit, filling the cabin with drones and whacking my eardrums with a constant, offbeat booming. If you're looking for a long-distance, high-speed cruiser, the 6i ain't it.
No doubt: I'd exchange the disturbingly perfect coin tray for more eyeballs in Mazda's NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) department. Reputation aside, this is why the zoom-zoom sedan plays second fiddle to the almighty Camcord. Quiet is the key to Middle America's most basic necessity: a high-speed relaxation chamber to compensate for stressful work weeks, or annoying in-laws riding in the aft cabin.
Fact is, the Mazda6i is the perennial niche player. It's destined for enlightened pistonheads with a small family and an equally modest bankroll. Will the Mazda6i's sharp-looking replacement join the TSX in trading handling for marshmallow comfort? Watch this space. Meanwhile, respect, at a nice little discount.
More by Sajeev Mehta
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