By on February 22, 2010

The Mazda 6 is an enigma. It’s a fine automobile, at least the equal of any car in its segment, as close to a driver’s car as you’ll find in a midsize family sedan. Comfortable, not bad looking, nicely appointed, good fit and finish, great performance, decent economy. There is no question that the Mazda 6 stacks up well in phylum Camcordata yet it sits no higher than 10th place in the family sedan sales race, averaging about 2,400 units a month in the US since the all new 2010 model got up to speed last summer. The midsize segment in North America is the automotive big leagues. The 6 should be fighting for first place, not mired deep in the second division. Product may be everything, but sometimes it’s not enough.
As part of Bridgestone’s corporate sponsorship of the Chicago Auto Show, Mazda made a Blizzak equipped Mazda 6 S Grand Touring available to me for travel to and from the show. Conditions were a 6-10 inch snowstorm on the way to Chicago and 95% dry on the way home. After I got back I had the car for a few days in suburban Detroit, where roads were intermittently snow covered.

The S Grand Touring trim package is the top of the Mazda 6 lineup and this one came equipped with the only available options, the technology and navigation packages. That makes it as fully kitted as a 6 can get with an MSRP right around $33,000. The car had Mazda’s 3.7 liter 272 HP DOHC 24 valve V6 with variable valve timing mated to a 6 speed automatic with available tap shifting. Equipment included power and heated leather seats, dual zone automatic climate control, glass sunroof, high end Bose audio system with six-disc changer, 10 speakers, sat radio, a nav system, auto dimming mirrors, rain and snow sensing wipers, stability control, blind spot warning, xenon headlamps with leveling controls (more on that later), smart key fob system, sills that light up with the Mazda 6 logo and more. Personal settings for you and your significant other are stored in memory. On the outside were 18″ aluminum rims with wide 235/45 tires.

I’m not partial to the Mazda grin (though it’s not as bad as the menacing face on Acuras). The rest of the car is handsome, with an attractive wedge profile and an aggressive stance, partially due to the flared fenders and fat 45 series tires. It’s got a high rear deck like most sedans these days, and I’m only 5’6″, but rear visibility wasn’t a problem. The front end does drop away quickly but I didn’t find positioning the front end on the road to be a problem. One nice thing about the high rear deck is a spacious trunk, which Mazda claims to be a class leading 16.6 cubic feet. All in all I’d say it’s about the best looking car in the class. The Malibu is inoffensive but narrow, the Camry has a proboscis and a Bangle butt, and the Accord is bloated. Though I like some of what’s come out of Nissan under Shiro Nakamura the Nissan sedans don’t do it for me. The Sonata’s not bad, and represents what the Accord probably should have been. I don’t think anyone would be embarrassed by the looks of the 6. If anything, it stands out in a nondescript segment.

Fit and finish was good. Paint quality on the dark blue car was first rate as was panel fit. Interior quality was nice as well. The interior is gray and black, with black wood (or fake wood, if it’s a fake, it’s a good fake – one reviewer has called it Mazda6ium) [ED: it is fake] trim on the dash and the console, an elegant and original touch. The only thing that looked cheap was the storage bin / cup holder in the door, which had some visible molding lines in the hard plastic. Textures looked and felt good and the switchwork, particularly the steering column stalks, had great tactile feel. There’s a 12v outlet on the center stack, with an additional power tap in the console bin, where the jack and cable for connecting an mp3 player is also located – a nice idea that keeps clutter off the console.

As I said, the 6 GT comes with all the latest high tech features one could find in a family sedan. With concerns over drive-by-wire arising from the Toyota situation I wonder, though, if we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns with technology on cars. I can remember that the only thing you needed to learn was that Saab’s had the ignition key on the floor between the seats and Porsches’ were over on the left side of the dashboard. Now, you can unlock and start your car without ever handling something that looks like a key and you really have to read the manual before you drive a car that’s new to you.

Not that I have anything against reading the manual. I’m the original RTFM guy. Before getting behind the wheel I took the time to read the quick start guide to learn how to start (and stop) the car, operate the basic controls, figure how to get sounds on the stereo, and in general drive the car safely. On the road to Chicago, though, I discovered that I had not RTFM’d carefully enough.

I left at mid-afternoon and between the weather and the traffic, I don’t think that I exceeded 50 mph until I was approaching Indiana on I-94. Though the road was not snow covered, it was just barely so. Between the snow tires, the stability control and the 6’s road handling abilities I had plenty of confidence and when things finally cleared up during a lull in the storm I tried to make up some time. By then it was fully dark out and I realized that I was seriously overdriving my headlights. The low beams were very bright but there was a visible cutoff about a semi tractor trailer’s length in front of my car. When I got to the show and spoke to the Mazda rep, he asked me if there were xenon headlamps and I said, yeah, I think so. Then he showed me the headlamp leveling control over on the auxiliary IP.

Ahah! So that’s what that cryptic icon means. On the way back to Detroit, once in their high position, the headlamps worked fine, though I think that headlamp leveling is a case of selling a bug fix as a feature. The new high intensity lamps are indeed very bright and very precisely aimed. The light pattern is very, very directional, with sharp cutoffs between the dark and illuminated areas. The beam is also narrow vertically to keep it out of the eyes of opposing traffic. When aimed on the road they work great, but the end result is that the headlamps are sensitive to the car’s pitch. When the back seat and trunk are full the leveling control is needed to lower the lights and keep them aimed on the road, instead of pointing into the sky. More expensive cars make the systems automatic. Mazda gives you a thumbwheel with an icon that looks like a Volvo fog lamp switch (the actual fog lamps are actuated by a band on the headlamp/turn signal stalk. Even with the lamps in the highest position, the road’s grade could pitch the lamps down well below the horizon. Old fashioned sealed beam units may not have been as bright, but they were not nearly so pitch sensitive. Still, headlamp leveling is kind of cool. When I showed it to my friends, they all went, “wow”, but as I said, I think it’s more of fix than a feature.

Other than my brain fade with the lights, all the gizmos worked well. The smart key system quickly stops being a novelty and starts being a convenience, particularly in operating the door and trunk locks. The blind spot warning indicators were unobtrusive, the automatic wipers worked about 95% as well as I would have done myself – I think I only used the washers about a half a dozen times in about 7 hours – in a snow storm with plenty of salt on the road.

As an audiophile I guess I’m supposed to dismiss Bose, but the audio system sounded good, with tight bass and accurate highs. Sat radio is nice but I discovered that I can actually get bored of the Grateful Dead, though they did play some deep Pigpen cuts I’d never heard before. The self-dimming mirrors were nice to have since most of the driving was at night on the interstates. In addition to the dimming feature and power adjustment, the side mirrors were also heated and light the ground when you open the door. The self-dimming works nicely but there’s a band about 1/4″ around the perimeter of the mirror that doesn’t dim. As headlamps move from the dimmed area across that undimmed 1/4″ it can be distracting as they suddenly get brighter in your peripheral vision. More important is the fact that the mirror units are huge. I guess all that adjusting and dimming and lighting and heating takes up space because the housings are very large, and with the mirrors set off from the body, at least on the driver’s side the mirror obscures a good deal of your vision out of the side window.

The climate control works perfectly. The ACC has a nice feature where the fan blows hard for a few seconds after you get back into the car and start it after a short stop. That quickly gets things to temperature and is welcome in cold weather. After cold starts, while you’re waiting for the engine to warm up and the ACC to kick in, the seats have two heat settings that quickly make your tush and thighs toasty.

Those seats deserve special mention. I have a bad back. Scratch that, I have a terrible back. Breakfast is three aspirin and so is my bedtime snack. I first hurt my back as a teen, and have messed it up a few times since including falling down a 35-foot river bed in the Upper Peninsula. Most recently I had a bad head-on bicycle to bicycle wreck on a blind curve a couple of years ago. It hurts to roll over in bed. Though I love long distance driving, I haven’t been able to drive more than 150-200 miles at a stretch without my back starting to ache in a long, long time. The eight way power seats (w/ memory) in the Mazda 6 Grand Touring are damn near perfect, at least for my back.

The lumbar adjustment was ideal and I didn’t have to even rub my back, squirm or stretch once in over 600 miles of driving. Ergonomics were superb in terms of driving position and working the wheel and pedals. The gear shift, too, falls readily to hand (I always wanted to write that). Beyond the driving position, ergonomics were only okay. Controls on the steering wheel are nice but when they end up making the wheel too thick to grip, it doesn’t thrill me. Also not thrilling are symmetrical center stack controls, a problem not restricted to Mazda. The buttons and knob on the passenger side of the touch screen are a reach for the driver or at least this driver who has a long torso and arms. I understand the appeal of symmetry in design, since my day job involves some design work, but function should come first. There are attractive center stack designs that put all controls within reach of the driver.

Dynamics were great and the car is quiet. The car handled nicely both in the snow and on dry pavement. I didn’t do many full throttle accelerations but I didn’t notice any significant torque steer. Like all front wheel drive cars, the Mazda 6 is ultimately understeer-prone, but the car had a lot of grip, the steering was precise and the understeer was minor enough that I bet if you really pushed it you might be able to hang out the rear end. The car did feel very balanced.

The toll road through Gary is a two lane highway with virtually no shoulders and concrete barriers on both sides. Under the best of conditions it makes me nervous. It’s currently undergoing construction and there are a number of lane shifts that made it an even more nervous experience, particularly in snow, at night, in a borrowed $33,000 car. While not quite the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring, it required some attention and it was nice to have a car that felt competent. The power steering unit is hydraulically assisted, without being overassisted, but considering the level of grip and steering precision it could have had a bit more feel for my tastes. The first car that I bought was a Lotus so I may have unusual standards in that regard. As I said, the car was equipped with snow tires, and that might have compromised steering feel. The suspension in the Grand Touring package is tuned for firmness and control, but the ride on Michigan’s heaved and potholed roads was still comfortable.

The V6 had more than adequate power. Passing on the interstate was effortless, driving around town was fun, and it’s too bad that spot on the Southfield freeway north of the city and south of where the Southfield cops and MSP troopers patrol is barely a mile long. The six-speed transmission, an Aisin design, rather than a Ford unit as some believe, was very smooth, with almost imperceptible shifts and no apparent hunting. One quibble about the transmission is probably due to shift patterns programmed for fuel mileage.  I averaged 21.9 mpg over 750 miles of less than ideal conditions, which isn’t bad, but the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts come a bit too early for me in light throttle driving. The car doesn’t quite bog down, but it’s out of character with what is generally a car with a sporting nature. Of course if you don’t like the way the automatic is programmed, you can use the tap shifter and row your own, or just keep your foot down.

So if the Mazda 6 is such a good car, why doesn’t it do better in its segment? Part of the problem is the car’s name. If you asked people what a Camry, Accord or Malibu is, they’ll tell you a Toyota, Honda or Chevy. If you asked people what a 6 is, they’ll say it’s a number. Alphanumerics might work with luxury cars, but every other car in the 6’s segment has a name. The Accord and Civic brands help the overall Honda brand. Do 2 (late 2010 in the USA), 3, 5, and 6 help Mazda? If you surveyed 100 people, the only Mazda most people could identify has a name, the Miata (yeah, I know about Eunos in the JDM and the whole MX-5 thing but I’m talking about the domestic US market).

Remember how product may not be enough? Good products, Sony Betamax comes to mind, from good companies, are sometimes not marketed as well as they could be and may never achieve the success they could have had. Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” marketing campaign has been very successful in establishing a brand identity. The Spec Miata class is the most popular racing class in the United States.

Ironically, maybe that sporting image, and Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” ad campaign is why the Mazda 6 is not considered by more families. This sounds like heresy from an enthusiast, but lets face it, the average car buyer is not an enthusiast. Toyota has made a virtue out of being boring and everyone else is trying to compete with Toyota because they think that’s what consumers want. Obviously many millions of consumers do want exactly that, a boring reliable appliance, or Toyota wouldn’t have sold so many Camrys. So zoom-zoom may accurately characterize the brand and Mazda’s cars but it may also scare off some folks looking for an automotive Maytag. That’s unfortunate because if more people shopped the Mazda 6, they’d realize that it’s a very nice car and competitive pressures might make the Camcordatas more fun to drive.

Note: I was loaned the car by the Chicago Auto Show’s Drive-In program. The media preview at Chicago is sponsored by Bridgestone. I believe that the car and insurance  was made available by Mazda and my lodging was paid for by Bridgestone. I’m not sure exactly who paid for the gasoline but it wasn’t me. I paid for the tolls, a 3/4 baked deep dish kosher pizza to bring home to my daughter from A Slice Of Life, and a Burger Buddy from Ken’s down the street in Skokie since I’d hardly eaten anything both days at the show’s media preview. I keep asking the show organizers to try to get at least one car company to hire a kosher caterer so I’m not reduced to scrounging for chips that have an OU symbol. Of course the first thing I was offered at the media party in Buddy Guy’s club was a barbecued pork sandwich.  In the meantime if you stop at Ken’s or Slice of Life, tell them that I gave them a plug and maybe I’ll get a deal next February.

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72 Comments on “Review: Mazda 6 S Grand Touring...”

  • avatar

    I had a friend who just test drove this and not only hated the driving experience, but also hated the interior. He ended up with a 2010 sonata…..he did test out the base model though as that was more his budget.

  • avatar

    Is it just me or does that dour black interior bring up thoughts of self-immolation?

    • 0 avatar

      I must say that in spite of the darkness I would prefer a black interior to the ubiquitous gray. In fact, I’d prefer almost any other color except s–t brindle. Probably comes from too many years working for the Navy.

    • 0 avatar

      fincar: I can only assume you mean speckled brown? :)

      Even though I’m dreaming in technicolor (literally and figuratively) I’d like more interior colour options to make a comeback. Like this one, for instance:

      P.S. While I (obviously) prefer a lighter colour for an airy feel, some of the grays used (fabric or leather) have been abysmal.

  • avatar

    The key problem here is, as you say, branding.

    People might also suspect, and rightly so, that reliability is spottier with a Mazda than with a Toyota or a Honda. My Protege5 has generally been very reliable, but with one notable exception. Like all of the others around here, and some Mazda3s and Mazda5s already as well, it’s rusting around the rear wheel openings. Mazda refuses to take responsibility for this widespread problem beyond the five year rust warranty. The Mazda6 doesn’t appear to share this problem, though. Assembled in North America, it might be engineered differently and have better rustproofing.

    Based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, the 2009 Mazda6 has been average, but not far from “worse than average,” so far. It’s over 50 percent more likely to require a repair than a Camry, Accord, Sonata, Altima, or Fusion.

    • 0 avatar

      The killer is what a model line’s reliability is doing to the whole brand. We’re out of Mazda’s due to the 5’s issues, and won’t consider them in a long while. My neighbour’s Mazda experiences with a 3 Sport have left a similar poor taste for them in his household.

  • avatar

    Looks OK to me, but I’d put in another $3k and go with a Hyundai Genesis.


  • avatar

    I have tested this car in three of the levels available. I always come away with a negative feeling despite the power of the V-6.
    I then drive home in my 11 year old C-43, and wonder why I bothered again. There is just something odd about it.

    • 0 avatar

       I get the same feeling after test driving just about everything out there and getting back in my 01 camry (J vin #).  I’m not sure what’s up with the electronic gizmo arms race currently underway. But I don’t ‘live’ in my car. I use it as simple, reliable transportation.  Adding more junk to a car just ups the chances you’ll have to chase some more repairs down the road.

  • avatar

    Jeez, last car I drove with a headlight aiming wheel on the dash was an ’85 grey market Mercedes W123. It didn’t work — so there you are, one more thing to go wrong. It’s something I would expect to see on a 1920’s or 1930’s car along with driver adjustable spark advance and choke.

    Interesting observation that the midsize, high volume sedan market has largely been immune from the fad of using numbers or acronyms for model names.

    • 0 avatar

      With HID headlights, some aiming mechanism is a requirement. I expect that a manual adjustment is less likely to die than an auto one – so Mazda may have done long term owners a favour here. As long as they RTFM.

    • 0 avatar

      Headligh aiming (auto or manual) is a requirement on the other side of the pond, and with blinding HID headlights a darned good thing to have. I for one would prefer a manual setup, at least it is simpler than the auto-magical version that most HID-equipped cars have.

  • avatar

    I have own the last gen of this car (2008 GT) and have never truly warmed up to the car. Which is personally puzzling since the car has sporty handling, reasonably quick and stone reliable (so far). The best answer for my diffidence is that the car is not quiet enough or quite refined enough to truly compete with the Camcords. And the 6 is not sporty enough for me not to care that it lacks the refinement of a camcord.

    This car tends to remind you why pergatory is not a good place to be. The Mazda6 either makes you wish you were in the Camry/Accord cocoon or that you spent a little more money to get a truly sporting machine (say BMW 128i) instead of a sporty appliance. Not quite cocoon and not quite a sports sedan just isn’t quite enough.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe this is it. I’m with you and william442. As much as I’ve wanted to love the Mazda6, I’ve found myself struggling to like it. Even in MS6 form it simply wan’t fun enough to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I 100% agree with you and Michael on this. I currently drive an 07 speed6 and am looking to move on to something else. It’s just not that much fun to drive, even though it really should be.
      It is funny that this review came up today; I was considering looking at the new 6 as a replacement for the speed 6, and came to TTAC this morning and read the older reviews for this car. And now…here is this review!

    • 0 avatar


      It’s nice to know that the time put into writing the review is of some benefit. Well, besides getting a check from the corporate overlords.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting point. A car the hasn’t deceided what it wants to be.. Maybe that’s why a lot  buyers don’t decide to buy it.

  • avatar

    This thing ought to sell like ice cream on the fourth of July, but then again as the B&B often say, enthusiasts are a minority.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    That’s the most through review I have read in a long time. Thanks.

    I have found Mazdas to be generally attractive but could not be persuaded to buy one out of misgivings for quality and customer care. Michael Karesh’s comment regarding Mazda stonewalling owners with premature rust issues validates my concerns.

    It’s hard to believe automakers still think they can mistreat customers with impunity in the Internet age, when bad news travels fast and far and stays in Google’s cache forever.

  • avatar

    It’s too bad that Mazda doesn’t sell more of the 6’s. They do well with the 3. I test drove and placed an order for a 2004 6 V6 sedan. I didn’t end up getting it because the dealer was such a prick and lied when he said he ordered it. I wanted the station wagon, but was made fun of by everyone, so decided against it. Too bad.

    I ended up getting a V6 Accord instead and regretted it. The Mazda was much more fun.

  • avatar

    I hate the alpha numeric names as much as anyone (even in the luxury class) but I doubt it has anything to do with the 6’s sluggish sales. Alas, look at how many 3’s are flooding the streets. I think they have sort of wedged themselves into a sort of “no-sales” land between enthusiast drivers and boring people. I, who would place myself in the former category, would not consider the 6 as it lacks a manual transmission or a coupe body style. A person of the latter quality would be put off by the 6’s expensive looks and sporty/harsh ride (so I hear). That, and I see about zero advertising about the car, hence many people have never heard of it.

    Also, out of curiosity, I wonder why the wagon never made the redesign. They seemed to sell a ton of the first generation, at least in Canada.

  • avatar

    I wonder if sales would do better if the 6 was the Atenza, or the 3 Axela, the upcoming 2 the Demio, or the 5 the Premacy. Those are all pretty forgettable names, but only because they have never been used in the states. Any name at all should be better than a number.

    It’s ironic that this newest 6 grew quite a bit to lure more Camccord shoppers (with the side effect of enthusiasts or older 6 owners dropping the new, big 6 from their radars), but remains firmly lodged in the second string of family sedans.

    • 0 avatar

      You can count me in that crowd. I bought an ’04 Mazda6 with the V6 back in December 2004, and I still like it. However, the size of the new 6 combined with the lack of a manual transmission sealed its fate as a car my wife and I wouldn’t even consider. The Mazda3 is still in the hunt though.

      Regarding Mazda’s customer service, the dealer, Marin Mazda, that I purchased mine from seemed to be very honest and fair. However, the salesman that I dealt with at the Mazda dealer in Santa Rosa was every bit the slimy car salesman. I can only hope for their sake that he was asked to move on. There is one well known problem among owners of the first gen Mazda6, a problem with dust build-up in the starter motor. The result is a screech at start up due to the starter not fully disengaging quickly enough. This usually starts as an intermittent problem with 15k to 30k miles on the odometer, as it did with me. However, try getting any manufacturer to repair an intermittent problem (I sure couldn’t with the Sturn that I owned before the Mazda, which had an intermittent problem with the fuel pump, which was also a well known problem). As the car ages, the problem becomes more pronounced and frequent. I’ve been told by my mechanic that he wouldn’t bother with it until it truly becomes a problem. That it is really just an annoyance at this time, and may never become a real problem. I found this was the general position of the owners posting on the Mazda sites as well.

      Other than that the car has remained a fun four door sedan with better handling than any car I have owned except for an RX7 that I had several years ago and better reliability than most cars as well. I’ve never worried about it breaking down like my Saturn, that’s for sure.

  • avatar

    The only real problem I have with this car is option packaging.

    At least in Canada, if you want stability control (or any one of a number of packages), you’re saddled with the sunroof, which robs you of some (much needed) headroom, especially in the rear. Mazda isn’t uniquely guilty of this, but they’re one of the worst offenders when it comes to bundling safety features with discretionary options.

    • 0 avatar

      Consumers rise up!

      Enough of making stability control part of a luxury package. If the law didn’t mandate seat belts, would they be part of an expensive option package too?

      Here’s an example. I thinking or replacing my Focus SVT. To do so, I want a car that is more fuel efficient and safer – ie. ESP and curtain airbags. Otherwise I’ll just keep my Focus because it’s working fine. If I look at the Mazda 3 (which I often do since it’s the driver’s car of the compact category), I can choose the base hatchback that comes with a relatively efficient 2L – but no ESP option available. Next up is the GS model with the 2.5L not so efficient motor AND the ESP only comes if I buy the comfort package which includes a moon roof and other shit.

      I don’t know how many other buyers care, but I’m not buying any vehicle for myself or my wife that doesn’t come with ESP, so Mazda’s pissing me off.

      Rant over.

    • 0 avatar

      There was a time when you could actually order a car exactly how you wanted it. How do you think those rare option combination muscle cars that fetch top dollar got to be? There was an option sheet and you could check off whatever equipment you wanted as well as delete options. And if you were a dealer with enough juice with someone in Detroit, Dearborn or Highland Park, you could have some pretty special cars made – hence the Yenkos and COPO cars.

      Yeah, there were trim levels and packages, but ultimately if you were willing to wait a few weeks for your car, you got your car. Nowadays, even if you have to wait for your car, unless you’re buying a megabuck car from a company with a personalization program, you’re maybe going to be able to pick the color and have some limited options about options, which today are always packaged.

      The whole culture of buying a new car has changed so much since the 1960s. While it’s always cool to buy and drive a new car, when you order a car, the process is a little different. Most people go to a dealer, haggle over the price and buy or not buy. When you order a car, you go to a dealer, pick out the options and colors, and then wait. Anticipation always heightens an experience. Then you get the call, the car is in. It’s like your birthday.

      I think the things that changed that were the excess inventory situations after the 1970s oil embargoes (’73 and ’79), and the influx of imports. Honda had a lot to do with it. The first gen Accords came pretty much loaded by family sedan standards back then. Air, stereo, power steering, cloth seats (not vinyl). Honda figured out that putting a stereo in every car dropped the price to about $5 per unit.

    • 0 avatar

      I had this problem with my ’04 6. Had to get the sport package to be able to have the side-curtain airbags.

      Safety features should NEVER have to be part of a bloated options package. At worst, they should be stand-alone options.

    • 0 avatar

      IMO this takes away the best reason for buying a new car, getting exactly what you want. If you must compromise on the features, why not simply buy a relatively new used car? I bought a 68 Mustang Coupe as a project car for me and my wife over a year ago now (don’t ask). While tearing it apart, I found the list of options that the original owner had requested. It was pretty cool seeing each individual option like AC, Power Steering, etc. checked off (or not) showing that the original owner got exactly what they wanted.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the real reason for the difference in how cars were sold in the Good Old Days (before ’74 or thereabouts) and now is quite simple:

      We’re not viewed as customers any more. We’re consumers. Customers should be treated with respect; the merchant trying to sell something to them recognizes that customers have options. Consumers, on the other hand, in the immortal words of Jerry Michalski, “are gullets who live only to gulp products and crap cash.” The quality, utility or desirability of those “products” is, in this situation, completely irrelevant.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    @Jason Easton — the reason the wagon didn’t make it was twofold. First, this car is unique to North America; second the prior version wagon (and hatch) sold absolutely abysmally. This sedan is larger, deliverately so to compete with the Accord and Camry, both of which have grown, and to eliminate the major complain about the last generation 6– that it was too small for family hauling duties. The Euro and JDM versions are slightly smaller and come in a full range of sedan, 5-door hatchback and wagon, as befitting the markets for smaller more versatile cars. here in the US, given poor crummy sales of the wagon and hatch, Mazda did not see fit to tool and design correspondingly larger versions of those variants.

  • avatar

    My wife and I testdrove a Mazda6 when this generation first came out. Actually, before we even got in the car, the car was eliminated from consideration. The Mazda 6 doesn’t have folding side mirrors. In our two-car garage, with two cars in it, the cars must have folding side mirrors to enter and leave the cars. The Mazda 3 has folding mirrors. Even the Pontiac G6 had folding mirrors!

    I did actually drive the 6, and I thought it was the most unrefined car that I’d driven since a quick jaunt in the Chrysler Sebring. (Okay, the Sebring was much worse.) The materials quality of the Mazda6 was noticably worse than the Mazda3.

  • avatar

    This is really an excellent and thorough review — thanks.

    As for the question of whether the new 6 is too in-between to be liked as either a comfortable appliance or a driver’s car, that’s what drove me to the Mazdaspeed6 in ’06. It’s a car that tips firmly over into driving machine territory, but still has the room and comfort for me to haul my family in it.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    As a Mazda fan , I find the latest 6 just too big. The old 6 was just about OK , but now it has grown again , and the roads and parking spots haven’t. Also Mazda are now using cables for the manual gearchange. I prefer cables for the throttle , not for the gearchange.

    • 0 avatar

      They used cables for the manual gear change in my 04 Mazda6 as well; so, I don’t think this is anything new. It’s a front wheel drive, front engine car; you’re not going to have a direct linkage like with a front engine, rear wheel drive car where the transmission is underneath the hump between the driver and passenger.

  • avatar

    $33,000! Seriously? I would point out to the B&B that one can buy a brandy-new BMW 328i for that particular chunk of change. Not as many toys, but a much better piece of machinery.

    • 0 avatar

      No question that $33K is significantly higher than the avg transaction price in that market segment. I think the base 6 is just under $20K. This model was hardly representative of how cars in that segment are usually equipped. On the other hand, I don’t think that we’d find that the BMW or other cars in the $30K-$35K range is going to be significantly better equipped. Frankly the level of features formerly only (or never even) available on luxury cars found in a family sedan like the 6 is somewhat mind boggling. The car was loaded.

    • 0 avatar

      The price points out the absurdity of the “loaded” cheap car. This still seems to fly in America where toys tend to impress and few care about dynamics. But what you have here is a $20K car with $13K of tinsel ladled on top of it, whereas the basic 328i is $33K worth of car. A base 328i is not particularly fancy, and not at all luxurious, but it is one heck of a car to drive. And will hold it’s value far better than the loaded Mazda.

      I will agree though, based on several rentals, that the Mazda6 is the best of a pretty boring lot of cheapish mid-size sedans. Infinitely nicer to drive than a Camry, not as dull and bloated as an Accord. More fun than a Sonata or Malibu.

  • avatar
    George B

    I want to like the Mazda6, but the proportions just don’t look right. The similar Ford Fusion looks less weird. Another problem is the 6 makes you choose between an underpowered 2.5L 4 cylinder engine or a big and thirsty 3.7L V6. Wish Mazda could give Ford improved power steering in exchange Ford giving Mazda the 6 speed automatic and intermediate size 3.0L V6.

  • avatar

    The Mazda 6 is built in Mazda’s Flat Rock, MI assembly plant which also builds the Mustang. Last week they announced the lay off of the second shift due to poor Mazda 6 sales so whatever Mazda is doing wrong with this model is resulting in very poor sales.

    • 0 avatar

      As I read the spin, Ford figured out that they could be more productive with Mustang assembly by consolidating things into a single shift and speeding up the line by about 33%. Oddly, they hope that speeding up the line will yield quality improvements, with workers supposedly becoming more adept at their jobs. Most of the 900 layoffs will be offered work at another Ford facility, though some will get buyouts.

  • avatar

    We bought the Mazda6i GT and have enjoyed it. It looks sharp and far more expensive than it is (@22k) and have received numerous compliments on both the outside and inside appearance. It could use about 5 more hp, but I am not really an enthusiast. However, I’m not boring either (let’s avoid the false choice) so couldn’t go with an accord/camry. I’ve been participating in Michael’s True Delta too, and we’ve only had one minor occurrence thus far.

    I do think it’s a marketing failure here. It’s a pretty fun car with lots of toys at a cheaper price than some of the other biggies. Some of the enthusiasts here should consider the goal here- if inbetween cars such as the 6 can’t find a market, we’re doomed to all sports car vs all plain car markets. That would be unfortunate.

  • avatar

    Congratulations, Ronnie, your essay sets a new standard for TTAC car reviews.

    Diminishing returns from technology, indeed! They should be reported to NHTSA for such a non-intuitive, user-unfriendly headlamp leveling control.

    I really want to like Mazdas–for a tiime I was buying a new one every two or three years–but they lost their way and keep falling short. In general,the shortcomings are:
    –unimpressive gas mileage
    –poor NVH control for a family sedan (they should benchmark Camry)
    –mediocre reliability (people who buy Japanese sedans read Consumer Reports, and so should Mazda)
    –an almost obsessive attachment to black interiors
    –too small for a family (Mazda3) or too long (new Mazda6)
    –quirky if not bizarre styling details (Mazda3 goofy grill; Mazda5 taillights; Mazda6 tawdry front fender flares)
    –too expensive due to forcing buyers to upgrade to a higher trim level or to buy a manipulative option package to get commonplace features such as power windows or cruise control (Mazda should benchmark Hyundai).
    –rather stingy with incentives
    –overemphasis on form over function (Mazda6 fastback styling; CX-7 trying to be more like a four door coupe than a crossover)

    Unless Mazda dumps some hapless managers/designers and gets some grownups in charge, I’m afraid it will follow the well-trod path of AMC, Studebaker and many others that couldn’t sell to a mass market.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’d imagine insurance is an issue as well.

    When I was shopping for my ’07 Sonata V6 I was cross shopping a previous gen Mazda6. I had driven the 4-pot Mazda previous to shopping and really liked it. The manual mode was laid out correctly, on the driver’s side in -/+ fashion. Cornered as flat as I could expect a car in its class. Gripped really well, too. I was in San Jose (for work) at the time and I took it to wine country to check out some of the backroads. Good times. Could have used a bit more punch, but that’s why you get the V6. I was sold.

    Then I shopped for insurance. Now, at the time, I had a couple of…velocity related indiscretions so I expected to pay a little more. But this more?? The quote for full coverage on the 4-pot Mazda6 was some 1 to 2 bills more than full coverage on a V6 Sonata depending on who you went to. I guess someone also told the Gecko that the Mazda6 was a driver’s car. Go figure.

    I decided to get the V6 Sonata instead and compensate for the cornering deficiency with some sticky Kumhos. The Hyundai doesn’t corner as flat, but it grips almost as well.

  • avatar

    Wife and I test drove the Mazda 6 when looking to replace our Maxima, I had high hopes for the Mazda 6 but was left with an extreme poor impression of Mazda. We actaully test drove at 2 dealers, would not go back to either. On the car front, that cheap grey plastic plug covering the former ignition key slot looks terrible, stands out like a sore thumb and give an immediate poor impression about the car. My wife upon see it, commented was this car broken into already, she thought it was a half assed dealer fix. When I told her it came from the factory like that she shuttered and said this car is a waste of money. Her thought was based on the price tag $30s on the window which I also thought was way too high for a Mazda that terrible cheap grey cover gives an indication of poor build quality. She also got the impression it was easier to break into this car based on that grey cover and it left her feeling the car was “less secure”, and security is a selling point to women. The car handled well but had too much road noise and the all red dash lighting looked low class. She referred to is as that terrible Pontaic red lighting. Finally the dealer experience at both locations left a lot to be desired. Getting a test drive shouldn’t be like pulling teeth. One dealer asked if we were really expected to test drive ‘today’ because evidently 2pm on a Saturday when no other customers were present would be too much work. Mazda was advertising money off, and I had the ad directly from the company’s website, the dealer told us they were not giving the rebates due such high demand the car was selling above sticker, if we were lucky, he might be able to work a deal to sticker. We left, test drove a Hyundia, and purchased it that day. Very doubtful we will ever shop Mazda based on the dealer experience, the Hyundia dealership was miles ahead of them in customer service and attention to detail.

  • avatar

    In my limited experience, I have never seen a car in Europe that did not have a headlight level control and sharp upper cutoff on the beam. They take night time glare for oncoming traffic far more seriously than we do in the USA. I wish we would.

  • avatar

    I’d like to consider myself an enthusiast and presently owning the ‘s’ version of this car (a 2006 V6/manual equipped model) I’m thoroughly impressed and satisfied with it.

    Yes, it won’t appeal to the consumer who values comfort over sportiness but for all the car’s shortcomings in terms of comfort, refinement and quality (compared to the Camccordatalibus on the road) it stacks up quite well for what it is. My 6 has seen 500 mile road trips and interior noise was never really an issue (matter of fact, it’s actually quieter than my parents’ 2003 Camry V6).

    I’d think the car that comes closest to the 6’s sporting nature while being more comfortable on a day to day basis is the Accord. The 6 was never designed to fit EVERYONE as the totally dull Camibunata competitors were, but after driving the present version, it still satisfies the enthusiast while upping the refinement/comfort/quality meter to comparable levels with the competition.

  • avatar

    There is likely a lot of self-selection bias here, but the populace weighs in here:

    91 really happy reviews.

    Compare to the 2009 camry:

    96 mediocre reviews.

    The difference in sales is marketing.

    • 0 avatar

      I was just reading some of those reviews, and I have to know who writes these things? I’m a little frightened that people who can’t string a sentence together, and don’t understand basic vehicular concepts, are driving.

      With that said the Camry’s reviews are telling indeed.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Excellent review Ronnie. I could easily have seen this one inside a C/D mag back in the early 90’s. Nestled between the Eclipse and the SC400…

    • 0 avatar


      Thanks. That’s a heady compliment and without being immodest, it makes sense. I used to read Car & Driver religiously Back in the 1970s, I lived in Ann Arbor and there were a couple of great magazine stores, including the famed Blue Front. In addition to C&D and Road & Track, which I’d buy the day they’d drop, I’d also pick up copies of the UK’s Car, where I became acquainted with LJK Setright, the best automotive writer ever. In the 80s I had a subscription to Autoweek which had some talented writers. It’s too bad Satch Carlson decided to take a high mileage and completely consenting 17 year old girl around the block for a spin. She was over the age of consent, but the girl was a student at the high school where Carlson taught. A local prosecutor trying to make headlines filed charges based on laws intended to prosecute incest and molestation by foster parents. The charges were eventually dismissed but it killed Carlson’s career at Autoweek. He now edits Roundel, the BMW club’s magazine.

      Hunter Thompson has to be an influence as well.

      The Coupe de Ville is not your ideal
      machine for high speed cornering in residential neighborhoods. The handling is very
      mushy…unlike the Red Shark, which had responded very nicely to situations requiring the
      quick four-wheel drift. But the Whale Bad of cutting loose at the critical moment-had a
      tendency to dig in, which accounted for that sickening “here we go’ sensation.
      At first I thought it was only because the tires were soft, so I took it into the
      Texaco station next to the Flamingo and had the tires pumped up to fifty pounds
      each-which alarmed the attendant, until I explained that these were “experimental” tires.
      But fifty pounds each didn’t help the cornering, so I swent back a few hours later
      and told him I wanted to try seventy five. He shook his head nervously. “Not me,” he
      said, handing me the air hgose. “Here. They’re your tires. You do it.”
      “What’s wrong?” I asked. “You think they can’t take seventy-five?” He nodded, moving
      away as I stooped to deal with the left front. “You’re damn right,” he said. “Those tires
      want twenty eight in the front and thirty two in the rear. Hell, fifty’s dangerous, but
      seventy five is crazy. They’ll explode!” I shook my head and kept filling the left front.
      “I told you,” I said, “Sandoz laboratories designed these tires. They’re special. I could
      load them up to a hundred.
      “God almighty!” he groaned. “Don’t do that here.”
      “Not today,” I replied. “I want to see how they corner with seventy-five.” He
      chuckled. “You won’t even get to the corner, Mister.”
      “We’ll see,” I said, moving around to the rear with the air- hose. In truth, I was
      nervous. The two front ones were tighter than snare drums; they felt like teak wood when
      I tapped on them with the rod. But what the hell? I thought. If they ex plode, so what?
      It’s not often that a man gets a chance to run terminal experiments on a virgin Cadillac
      and four brand- new $80 tires. For all I knew, the thing might start cornering like a
      Lotus Elan. If not, all I had to do was call the VIP agency and have another one
      delivered…maybe threaten them with a lawsuit because all four tires had exploded on me,
      while driving in heavy traffic. Demand an Eldorado, next time, with four Michelin Xs. And
      put it all on the card…charge it to the St Louis Browns.
      As it turned out, the Whale behaved very nicely with the altered tire pressures. The
      ride was a trifle rough; I could feel every pebble on the highway, like being on roller
      skates in a gravel pit.., but the thing began cornering in a very stylish manner, very
      much like driving a motorcycle at top speed in a hard rain: one slip and ZANG, over the
      high side, cartwheel ing across the landscape with your head in your hands.

    • 0 avatar

      ahh fear and loathing, I loved that book. Johnny Depp nails it in the movie too.

  • avatar

    Good Review – I like the new longer reviews. I think that most car reviews dont provide enough info on the car.

  • avatar

    “As I said, the car was equipped with snow tires, and that might have compromised steering feel.”

    I’m a Blizzak man through and through – I had 14s on my ’93 Escort, 15s on my ’95 Mystique, and I have 16s on my ’05 9-5. The things have downright paranormal levels of grip; generally they seem to drive right through snow until the car is settled more than an inch down in it and has to plow it to move. I’ve driven right up 10 degree slopes covered in wet ice as if they were dry gravel. Truly stunning.

    But… on bare pavement, it feels like you’re driving around on four big blocks of jell-o. I don’t notice it affecting steering feel per se, but that could be because the whole damn car is wobbling around like a frat boy wandering out of a collegetown bar.

    The actual handling isn’t too horribly compromised, as it turns out – as long as you don’t panic and thing that the wobble you feel is REAL, and try to correct it, things stay together nicely, and the absurdly soft compound means you stay stuck down pretty well, wobbling or not.

    The 16s I have on my Saab aren’t as bad – or as good. They don’t use the uber-compound that the WS-60s do, for some reason, and so their ice traction isn’t quite as stunning, but on dry roads, while not exactly precise, they don’t make you feel like you’ve got a half-full 55 gallon drum nailed to the roof.

    They’re still so much better than “all season” tires it’s not even funny, though. The other day, I approached the end of the aforementioned 10-degree-tilted driveway and stopped short, in about 2 feet from 15mph. I went to get out of the car, and upon alighting I spun my legs wildly like a cartoon character and nearly fell flat on my ass – on the same packed, sun-polished snow on which my 3400lb car confidently snicked to a halt.

    The Dunlops on my mom’s 9-3 are pretty good, but they can’t touch even the ‘performance’ Blizzaks, so I think that while the field has tightened a bit, if you want a no-compromise snow tire… well, it’s Bridgestone or nothing, I guess. :)

    I could be dead-ass broke and I’d still find a way to buy spanking new Blizzaks for the car that carries me, my wife, and my son. It’s the best 400 bucks you can spend – even ignoring safety, avoiding one visit to a snowy ditch will pay for a good few years of expensive tires.

  • avatar

    Sounds like it’s a few ticks more sporting than an Accord and a few less than a Maxima. And save for the thick front overhang and truckish wheel arches, it’s nicely proportioned. It’d be interesting to hear how it compares with a V6 Malibu.

  • avatar

    I don’t regret getting the last gen 6, as uninspiring as it may be. The reason is simple: I waited until Mazda was offering $5k rebates and got the 6 pot GT for $23k and change. At that price, nothing new could really touch it.

    Now fast forward to today. At $33k, I would not give this gen 6 a look. The price is simply too close to cars I would much prefer owning like the G37 sedan or Bimmer (128i or 328i). Even a loaded Genesis Coupe would be less money.

  • avatar

    This still seems to fly in America where toys tend to impress and few care about dynamics.

    Huh? Have you seen how you can option out a Golf in Europe? All wheel drive, adaptive suspension, headlight washers, navigation, radar cruise control, etc. etc. etc.

    You can buy a loaded Golf and a stripped E200 Mercedes for almost the same price in Germany.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Ronnie, all the compliments are well deserved. You put a huge amount of effort into this and it shows. No flash, just clearly expressed thoughts with a welcome absence of cliches. I think your piece could serve as an excellent template for future car reviews at TTAC.

  • avatar

    I have an ’09 (this-gen) 6i GT, with the stick, which has the distinction of being quite possibly the only mid-size car you can get with a manual transmission AND heated leather seats for under $30K. I used to have an 06 Miata that I adored, but when my job situation changed and my commute doubled in seat-time (but not distance), I decided I wanted a vehicle that was well-suited to the drive.

    The 6’s control surfaces – steering wheel, brake feel, throttle feel, clutch, shifter – are more engaging and satisfying than any other car I’ve driven in this price-class. At the low-speeds that I’m stuck in, I still get to rev the guts out of it and appreciate the feel of a well-executed shift. And when I’m sitting at a stoplight, it’s way more refined than the Miata was. I’d rather drive it than my friend’s early-2000s Camry, or my brother’s Scion tC, or my father’s Acura TL.

    The ideal car for my commute would probably actually be a current-gen C-Class. But that would have cost almost twice as much…

  • avatar

    “as close to a driver’s car as you’ll find in a midsize family sedan.”

    Forgetting the Legacy GT, are we? It’s ok. LGT owners want you to forget about us, it makes your face that much better when we smoke you.

  • avatar

    I actually thought this a wonderful review.
    I have had my 2010 6S now for almost a year.

    It seems to get to be more fun each drive.
    I don’t know why, but I have begun to enjoy its power and handling more and more.
    The roominess has become something we count on and the trunk makes it almost the go to car for shopping.

    I don’t know why, but Mazda seems to give up trying to give false MPG and just list it as real world.
    And we easily beat the governments posted MPG.

    Who the heck above said they would pay a few grand more and get the Genesis is nuts. There is no way the Genesis gets this much car for 31K.
    If you are lucky, you end up around 38K, that’s more than a few grand.

    • 0 avatar

      What you could get, however, is a Subaru Legacy GT (I’m going to pretend the 2010 didn’t happen, as it’s hideous and too big) and 10k in mods, which would take it to a reliable 400WHP.

      Then you could blow the doors off M3s and even some supercars, while still having a drivable, reliable and practical car.

      For 10K in my GT, I could build a Cosworth motor, upgrade the turbo, fuel and exhaust, run STI diffs, build the trans and have 3 different tunes for different situations.

      N/A is great for some things, but when it comes to HP/dollar, you want forced induction.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure about the Genesis sedan, but I can get a Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track for around $31-32K and that would be a FAR more entertaining ride.

  • avatar

    “Funny you don’t look like a 33k mid size sedan”. The dour all black lung interior is nothing remarkable and the exterior suffers the same fate as the Accord and Camry. It’s hard to tell a base model with optional alloy wheels for 22K versus a loaded example like this for 33K unless you can find and figure out all the extra technology gadgets crammed inside waiting to fail when the warranty runs out! At least with a Malibu you can instantly tell a base model LS vs a loaded LTZ by it’s extra chrome and exterior trim, larger chrome wheels and exhaust and unique taillights. The Fusion upper end Sport models have rocker flares, larger more impressive looking wheels, a rear spoiler, dual bright exhaust etc. The Asian offerings look too similar when comparing a base to higher level trim. And I agree about the meaningless letter name, very forgettable.

  • avatar

    I’m curious about the issues with the Mazda5 that Riz mentioned. I am on my second (they had some killer lease programs) and haven’t had a single problem with either one of them. My only issue, really, is that they stopped offering the car above the base equipment level with a manual transmission so we got an automatic on the second one… it’s a good transmission, just not exactly what I wanted. The car seems to be completely unknown in the U.S., but it suits our needs perfectly and I think I’ve sold 4 of them for Mazda after acquaintances saw ours and liked it. My only real issue with the car is that it’s pretty noisy on the freeway thanks to those low-profile tires, I believe. That said, it does handle much better than any family-style mini-mini-van has a right to.

    I test drove a base Mazda6i with a manual transmission last week and really liked it. Then again, with rebates and discounts it came to a hair over $18k… a much different position than trying to justify spending $33k on one of these.

    Regarding the “poor sales” of manual tranmissions and mid-size wagons, I believe that the sales are more due to a lack of cojones by the dealers when it comes time to order the cars from the factory than actual buyer demand. Granted, if 70% of Americans don’t even know how to operate a clutch, demand will be lower than for an automatic, but not as low as the OEMs are often led to believe. About 5 years ago when we were shopping for our first Mazda5, I actually started by looking for a Mazda6 wagon… but Mazda decided not to offer a 4-cylinder model of the car. Additionally, finding any wagon was difficult as few of the dealers around me had ordered any and a wagon with the manual transmission was akin to a unicorn… you read about them but nobody has ever seen one in the flesh. The Mazda5 caught my eye, but there was only one manual transmission in the entire San Francisco Bay area (among about 12 dealers, I think).

    Similarly, I wanted to check out a Jetta TDi wagon with a manual transmission. The dealer, upon hearing my inquiry, said “oh, you’re one of THOSE people…” I asked him what he meant. “I get about 5 or 6 of you guys in here every week wanting a wagon with a stick, but I can’t order any because the market is too small and I’d never be able to sell them.” I tried to point out the illogic of his statement but just gave up and test drove a DSG.

  • avatar

    The wife and I spent a week with the older edition of the 6 as a rental and really liked it. My wife never considered owning a Mazda till she drove the 6, it impressed her that much. The only downside it got crappy gas mileage. Normally with a rental you don’t notice or care since its such a short term relationship, but I was shocked when I had to fill the tank after only a few days of mostly local driving. Mazda really is a Japanese Ford: its not as smooth as Honda but not as rough as a Chevy. Its not going to impress the neighbors, but its also not going to bore you to death either.

    The ’06-07 Speed version of this car is a true sleeper: AWD + Turbo = win.

  • avatar

    Nice review, Ronnie…

    I drove a four-cylinder version of this car, and while it was definitely sporty (or at least as sporty as this kind of car can be), it was also unnecessarily harsh over bumps. The seat was also somewhat wobbly; I sat in another car and it had the same problem, so this wasn’t isolated to the test car.

    I think the main problem the Mazda comes up against in this segment is simple: the Honda and Toyota are no-shit great cars. Without the kind of dealer network Ford and Chevy have to push Fusions and Malibus, the 6 ends up sucking hind teat.

  • avatar

    After much shopping in the midsize segment, my mother got this car the first month this gen came out (same trim package, also). She got a red exterior with a camel and black interior, which I find to be a big improvement over the interior color reviewed.

    Except for being a little large, it’s a typical Mazda (our family has had 3.75 if you include a Ford Probe GT)- well built, more driver oriented than the competition, but they sell just a fraction of what Toyota and Honda does.

    By the way – hers was $29k, discounted even though people were waiting for them.

    I’ll second the review on the front seats. I also have a bad back (and a large and lanky frame), and I find the seats very comfortable.

    I knew about the headlight leveling because it’s a fairly common thing on Mazda’s, I think. Not as cool as the self leveling and swiveling on the wife’s RX, but I’ll take manual adjustment over none any day, especially if the suspension is not self leveling. The Nav system is okay – but could use a firmware upgrade or two (which I hope are coming). The Bluetooth audio works seamlessly, and we all enjoy music and phone calls over the audio system from the various smart phones in the family, especially the grandchildren.

    Is this the best car ever? Nope. But it’s a very good car, not nearly as bland as the Camcords. And my mother’s only regret – no proper manual transmission option. She’s a young 72…

  • avatar

    What is the real truth about 87 octane vs 93? I just purchased a 2003 Acura TL, Type S and the manual recommends “premium” fuel. Premuium was $.36 more per gal. on last fill up. I would like to use 87 octane if it won’t damage the engine. Can anyone give me the real “low-down” on octane?


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