Comparison Test/Review: First Place: 2009 Mazda 6i

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
comparison test review first place 2009 mazda 6i

When I set out on a comparison test like this, I have one main question in mind: if I were in the market to buy a new car for my family, which one of the cars tested would I buy? I love supple leather seats, premium sound systems, grippy wide tires and an engine with the torque of a diesel freight train. But the reality at this time is that my employer, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, has lost billions of dollars in recent quarters. Its epic balance sheet can now be described as fragile. As a financial controller, I see first-hand how budgets are being drawn in asphyxiatingly tight. I know that I’m not alone in feeling nervous about my future in this economy. So which of these family sedans would I buy? The Mazda Mazda6 i Sport.

The Mazda6 proves that buying a practical family sedan does not have to be a five year prison sentence of Kafkaesque driving. WYSIWYG: the Mazda personifies the sophisticated sports sedan. Let’s try a little word association. Camry: Beluga. Accord: Bloated. Altima: Zen. Mazda6: Zoom. As cheesy as it sounds, from its RX-8 inspired fenders and light clusters to its aggressive rear haunches, the Mazda6 wears the Zoom-Zoom moniker well. Okay, I admit the four-cylinder is more one Zoom than the double Zoom-Zoom, but it looks the part just as well. Unique in this comparison, the Mazda6 is attractive from any angle-– coming or going.

Unfortunately, the car’s design continuity isn’t as coherent both on the inside and out. The Mazda6i’s interior is a bipolar affair; it may well have been designed by separate committees that never coordinated with each other. On the one hand, there’s the dingy committee that designed the doors and ceiling. The arm rest is a long flat uncomfortable plane with a cheap pocket pull, none of which conforms to how a person’s arm and hand want to relax. Overhead, Mazda fitted a smallish flimsy thin sun visor that looks like it was transplanted from an old Yugo.

The dash was conceived by savant part of idiot savant. From Ford-inspired air vent to air vent, the Mazda6’s dash is the best organized, most visually appealing and highest quality IP of our family quartet. The perfection of the steering wheel shames the other cars (notwithstanding RF’s love for the Accord’s tiller). The blue and orange gauge cluster lighting might be a little Nintendo for some tastes, but overall the ebony layout is more Audi mature than Game Boy. The Mazda6i’s cloth seats are endlessly comfortable and enormously supportive, ideal for both long distance love and all-out horsing around.

A gimmicky push button awakens Mazda’s perky 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve VVT engine. Producing only 170 horsepower, it only offers more juice than the pedestrian Camry. Yet this mini-mill isn’t hamstrung by Nissan’s unfortunate CVT or Honda’s inexplicable porkiness. While the Mazda6i’s not what you’d call a sports car, this engine loves to play hard.

Like the Camry and Accord, the Mazda sports Michelin Energy LX4 tires, though in a narrower P205/65R16 size (compared to P215/60R16 on the Camcords). According to published manufacturer claims, the Mazda is the heaviest of the group by a small margin. Leave it to the suspension to make the car feel and handle like an amorous gnat– flitting back and forth at will with joyous aplomb. The perfectly-weighted steering puts the front wheels intuitively where the driver wants them.

Get into the throttle and the Mazda6i’s five-speed automatic transmission grabs the right cog faster than the Toyota or Honda gear boxes or that irritating Nissan CVT doohickey. Breaking loose from tedious stop-and-go traffic never felt so good. Not in a front wheel-drive four-pot family sedan, anyway.

As you might expect, a suspension serving-up this much control dishes-up a healthy helping of harshness. While the Mazda6i falls far behind the Camry in refinement it’s not far off the marks set by the Accord and Altima. In sum, while the ride is not pillowy cream puff decadence, it remains perfectly livable. And it’s quieter than the noisy Accord to boot.

Going economical this year doesn’t have to be an exercise in self flagellation. None of these cars is bad– and they will all sell well (whatever “well” means). One is as dreadfully underwhelming as comfy grandma underwear [Camry]. One will get more sales based on its fun-to-drive history rather than on its current competence [Accord]. Many drivers will flock to another peacefully unaware that power reaches the wheels by way of a soul-sapping rubber band [Altima]. But above and beyond these, the Mazda Mazda6 i Sport has the ability to put a genuine smile on a pistonhead’s face, or turn a non-pistonhead into something of a, gulp, enthusiast.

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  • Usmc4hire Usmc4hire on Jan 02, 2009

    While shopping for a new mid-size family bla, bla, bla I took the Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Ford for a run. My last stop was at Pontiac where I fell in love with the G8 GT (yea, I know, totally different car). The Pontiac dealer was so desperate for my sale that he offered to let me keep the car for a week. What a huge mistake on his part (while fun to drive, the G8 was a hunk of poor fitted crap). Thanks to a number of reviews I went to check out Mazda's 6. Knowing that I didnt want a I4 I went strait for the V6. What a joy to drive. It didnt take long for me to talk the needy dealer (needed end of month numbers) down several thousand on a fully loaded touring model. For the week that I have owned this car it has been amazing. Great fit and finish (way above the others in this group). Has a great sportiness that this group has been missing. While its no G8 GT in the speed department, I get to the stoplight in comfort, style, and in a reliable way. All that and I'm only 1 second slower. I'll take it.

  • Treedom Treedom on Feb 13, 2010

    I was at the Mazda dealer the other day getting a new headlight bulb for my Mazda3 and happened across a shiny black 2009 Mazda6 V6. The car is unbelievably beautiful in a dark color -- Mazdas in general look far better in person than in photographs. The 18" wheels of the 6-cyl model fill out the wheel arches properly. The RX8 style fenders are breathtaking. The rear is a little Lexus-generic, but you could do worse than look Lexusy. The interior, with its fake zebrano wood and footwell lighting, made me feel like I got a $50,000 raise. The rear seat and trunk are gargantuan. The features (this one had a value package of some sort) are dizzying, from blind-spot warning to Bluetooth. And the thing is packing damn near 300 horsepower. So of course I had to drive it. First, surprise: dead battery. It seems nobody is in the market for a 17 mpg performance sedan. Next: it may look Lexusy but it doesn't drive that way: road noise and impact harshness are surprisingly prominent. And yet: not a hoot to drive. For one thing, like the new Accord, it is so physically BIG that us small-car guys don't feel comfortable placing it. For another, the steering is overboosted, and the 6-speed autobox is dedicated to the doomed mission of wringing some economy out of the exuberantly profligate powerplant, meaning slow downshifts and eager upshifts. One hopes it's an intelligent auto that learns your driving style over time, but the salesman didn't know. Like all Mazdas, the illusion it gives of driving a much more expensive car will inevitably be shattered at some point by some detail: a hard armrest, an underwhelming stereo, a rattle from the steering column, the bizarro cloth-and-leather seats. Then they offered to sell it to me at an enormous discount. Like, down to what I paid for my Mazda3 4 years ago. I'm not sure I need a sedan the size of Kansas that drinks like an SUV and STILL doesn't have a proper dog-compartment like a wagon. But I'm as intoxicated by gross excesses of horsepower as the next dude. And as the ladies say about that Coach bag on sale for half price, "how can I afford NOT to buy it?"

  • Cprescott I tend to use SiriusXm most of the time now but do use AM for traffic status reports in the tunnels and bridges that are around here - I don't have to take my eyes off of the road. Nice big navigation buttons on my radio head to move from XM to AM and back.
  • Jpolicke Manufacturers put such little effort into making AM reception sound like anything tolerable to listen to, they may as well drop the pretense and eliminate it altogether. Maybe it's not coincidental that my last car that had decent reception also had a traditional metal stick for its antenna.
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  • Irvingklaws Still listen to AM from time to time. Mostly just to find what's out there, often just after something has cleared all my presets. Lots of christian and rightwing politic talk shows, but there's still music, local news, traffic, and weather. I've found lots of non-English (as a primary language) stations as well. Kind of like local access cable. You can find more local content that can't get air time on the big stations. It can be fun to explore on trips just seek/scanning up and down the dial.
  • Oberkanone AM is choice for traffic reports, local news, and sports. FM is choice for music. I don't own a cell phone. How often is AM radio accessed? Over 90% of drives I use AM at some point.