2009 Mazda6 Review

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
2009 mazda6 review

Back in 1987, Mazda wanted a big piece of America’s midsize pie. So the Zoom Zoom brand requisitioned an idle plant from the Ford empire. For two decades, even with heavy fleet sales, Mazda’s family sedan struggled to utilize a quarter of the plant’s capacity. Ford re-assumed managerial responsibility in the early 1990s. A few years ago, The Blue Oval Boyz moved Mustang production into the Flat Rock factory to take up some of the slack. For 2009, Mazda’s totally redesigned the Mazda6. Will the new car finally fill Flat Rock?

To that end, the previous gen Mazda6’s handsome but thoroughly forgettable shape has been replaced by a roofline that sweeps kink-free from the front fenders to the rear deck, and fenders that bulge upward and outward like those of the RX-8. It’s a sexy little thing, but there are plenty of aesthetic nits to pick.

As in many front-drive sedans, excessive front overhang spoils the proportions (Mazda’s photos favor the rear quarter view). The largest wheels accompanying the four cylinder engine—17” shoes—fail to fill the muscular fenders. Still, the new Mazda6 wears the segment’s swoopiest sheetmetal, without appearing bizarre.

Aside from a steering wheel’s homage to Wall-E’s EVA, the 6’s interior styling is less distinctive, less dramatic than its exterior. The materials are a step up, the ergonomics are excellent, and the electroluminescent instruments’ blue and red lighting (with black and silver graphics) provides Zoom with a view.

Mazda has finally caved to the American taste for space; the new Mazda6 all but matches the supersized Accord’s dimensions. But the coupe-ike roof exacts a penalty: merely adequate thigh support and limited headroom in back. If you seek rear seat comfort– or a driver’s seat with generous lateral support– shop elsewhere.

Those fearful of sliding about should consider the Touring trim level. The package offers attractive cloth center panels in the leather seats rather than the Grand Touring’s full leather. Cargo carriers will appreciate the roomy expandable trunk and its non-intrusive hinges, if not its modestly-sized opening.

The Maxda6’s features are generally in line with the competition. You can get voice-activated nav, Bluetooth and basic power adjustments for the front passenger seat— but not cushy armrests on the doors or air vents for rear seat passengers. The most curious omission: no shift buttons on the steering wheel with the automatic.

The 6’s four receives a bump from 2.3 to 2.5-liters, and now kicks out 170 horsepower. With the five-speed automatic, the four’s acceleration is adequate but uninspiring; curb weight is over 3,300 pounds, after all. With the fluid yet crisp-shifting medium-throw stick, there’s a bit more pep, but still few thrills. The engine revs smoothly to the redline, but its refinement cuts both ways. Like the old 2.3 it never seems to come on cam.

[Performance-minded Mazda buyers will choose the 6’s new 272-horsepower 3.7-liter V6— providing they can live with class-trailing 17/25 EPA ratings. FYI: The 375-horsepower Hyundai Genesis V8 offers similar efficiency Manual cog swappers also note: the ’09 six is autobox only.]

The Mazda6’s handling story is similarly uneventful—much the same as the old Mazda6. As before, the steering is light, precise and nicely weighted, with a modicum of feedback. Like most Mazdas, this one has a thinly padded steering wheel rim that asks to be guided delicately with the fingertips, rather than aggressively with the palms.

In conjunction with excellent forward visibility, the 6’s steering disguises much of the new car’s additional size and weight. In turns, roll and understeer are present but not excessive, and the overall feel is tight and precise. As before, credit goes to double wishbones up front and multiple links in back. Grip is decent, but would be better with the wider, higher-performance (but harsher riding) treads that attend the V6.

Aside from the slightly busy ride and attendant tire noise, what’s not to like? Not much. On the other hand, what’s to love? The Mazda6’s steering and handling are competent, but not engaging. Some competitors are more overtly sporty. Perhaps the Mazda’s chassis possesses a subtle excellence that requires extended exposure to fully appreciate? We’ll find out when Berkowitz spends a few days in a V6 Mazda6 later this month.

Meanwhile, brand-faithful corner carvers will want a sportier driving experience— which means there’s plenty of room for a new MazdaSpeed6. Mazda’s goal with the regular Mazda6 is to steal buyers away from Honda and Toyota. The new Mazda6 finally matches the leaders in terms of interior space and horsepower, and tops them with more dramatic styling.

That could well be enough to gain on the America’s midsize sales monsters. With its fifth attempt, even as Mustang sales decline, Mazda might finally fill Flat Rock.

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2 of 82 comments
  • Rm Rm on May 29, 2009
    broccoli: What clutch burn up issues? Not saying it doesn't happen, but I've got 146kmi on my V6+MTX and have yet to see a need to replace the clutch. There have been a couple instances where I've thought it was slipping, but the TCS can do some odd things in terms of modulating throttle input, so until it becomes a frequent problem I don't see the point in replacing it. The reason there's no MTX for the Cyclone V6 is because FMC is responsible for the V6 powertrains going in Mazdas and they aren't developing a manual transaxle for these engines. It just is not going to happen. We got lucky with the first gen 6 because FMC already had a MTX on the same engine in Europe. On the topic of the current 6... I'd go with a 3 and be happy. Similar in overall dimensions and mass to the old 626 with an I4 that has as much power as the old K series V6 and marginally better fuel economy. Not to mention the turning radius is likely better thanks to the shorter wheelbase.

  • Laoh Laoh on Jun 04, 2009

    I'm sick and tired of "americanization" of cars... all the cars being released these days are big and bloated. i miss sedans the size of e36 3-series or IS300 without having to buy something like a Yaris. All the car magazines praise the fact that the next release of a model is now larger. When will someone write an article that cars are too big and heavy now. not everyone wants a car that you have to squeeze out of b/c it's so wide and you don't want to hit the garage wall or the car next to you. Remember, even as cars get bigger, roads and parking spaces don't!

  • Desertwanderer Across Australia, from Sydney to Perth, via the Nullarbor Highway. Desolate, very impressed to pass a bicycle tourist somewhere in the middle, I think he'd have a story to tell. Oh, and the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS, in my S4.
  • Cprescott Please stop production of all Camry's - they are hideous and vomit inducing ugly.
  • Cprescott Excellent! Complete garbage.
  • Kos65701744 A lot of people back then didn't like the downsizing idea, which is why some didn't sell better than before. Which is why in final gen sales were record high in sales. My own father wouldn't buy a downsized GM car, he switched to a Ford LTD, a nice car but he hated it but wanted a big car
  • Parkave231 I'll never understand Ford's 40-year aversion to using knobs for volume and tuning...It's like they were using us as a long-term experiment for touchscreens, and we never knew it.