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Extended drive: 2006 Mazda6 i 2.3L

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Extended Drive

On Wheels: 2006 Mazda6 i I-4

Proof that bigger isn’t always better

With sales of its midsize Millenia and 626 tanking, Mazda introduced a very important car for itself in 2004-the Mazda6. A brand-new car riding a brand-new platform, the 6 gave Mazda a much more dynamic, appealing entry into a market long-dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. While it hasn’t replaced either as a best-seller, the 6 gives Toyota and Honda a very legitimate reason to be afraid, for them to be very afraid.


While the Millenia was an attractive car in its final years, there is no comparison as to which looks better. The 6, when fully dressed up, is one of the best looking midsize sedans that currently graces the market. Even in base i form, it stands out compared to a Camry or Accord. Narrow-ish, linear headlights are plotted on either side of a 1-bar chromed grille (3-bar body-colored on s models). The lines are clean and extend to a nice rear. Tuner-esque tail lights are noticeable, but these actually look tasteful compared to the decidedly ugly ones implanted on modified Civics. Dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes also lend a rich, sporty feel to the exterior. The door handles fit your hand well and the doors shut with a nice thlunk. And lower-door plastic adornments were kept to a minimum, unlike the aforementioned Civic. My only gripe is the wheel covers. They are multi-spoke, white plastic with a rather ugly black cover in the background. Eww.

Exterior score: 4.5/5

Interior styling/materials

Another part of the 6's equation is the attractive interior. Soft, smooshy, high-quality plastics adorn the upper part of the dash and door panels. It is a very nice change from the ugly plastic in our Venture. And, unlike our Venture, the plastics didn’t all of a sudden turn hard on the sides of the dash-the plastics are a consistent (high) quality everywhere they’re applied. The seats are covered in a very soft material that feels more like microfiber than cloth-yeah, it’s that nice. This material also finds employment on the door panels underneath the squishy plastic, only it has a coffered pattern to it. A clean center stack is finished in piano black with 2 silver rails running up either side and a smaller silver strip underneath the radio controls. A shiny aluminum finish is available on s models, which looks amazing. Ergonomics are excellent, with rotary dials controlling major climate/audio funtions. Large-ish print is used on the other buttons, which helps older eyes (according to my parents). Circular air vents deliver air by twisting them in your direction. It’s odd at first, but it’s something you get used to. However, the interior did have some glitches. The glove compartment door doesn’t line up with the lower dash when shut-the top left corner hangs down a bit. It’s unnoticeable to the average Joe, but I noticed it. Another issue was the driver’s side rear passenger door lock. You couldn’t lock/unlock it from the inside without using the keyless entry or the button up front. I’m sure that was due to the way it makes its living (rental car)...but it needs to be taken care of, regardless. Aside from that, the interior has few quirks. It’s a very attractive, high-quality piece of work.

Interior styling/materials score: 4/5

Interior dimensions/features

My 6 came loaded with some nice features. One-touch up/down windows for both driver and passenger are very nice, especially on a lower-end model. The stereo is great-good sound, very easy to pick up. Other goodies on the car include power locks, power trunk and fuel door release, 60/40 split-folding rear bench, keyless entry, tilt wheel with audio and cruise controls, outside temperature display, interval wipers, and driver’s side manual seat height adjustment. Interestingly though, it didn’t have a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Interior room is good all-around, especially rear seat legroom. Very spacious back there-you wouldn’t think so from looking at it from the outside. Egress from the rear is a bit difficult, though. The roof line and shape of the door make exiting from the rear a somewhat calculated maneuver. I bumped my head a few times trying to get out, so Mazda could have given the 6 a bit more clearance room around the rear doors. Front room is also very good, the seats are nice and supportive, and they held me in place for the mildly aggressive maneuvers I did very well. The power windows, aside from one touch up-down had an interesting feature built into them. If you hold the unlock button on the keyless entry remote down for 4 seconds, the front windows lower themselves all the way down to vent hot air out. Very clever. Another thing I thought was interesting was what the radio did when you turned the key to run-it said hello (or, more specifically, wrote “hello”) on the display screen. It might seem a bit trivial to mention this, but I thought that it was a welcoming gesture, no matter how impersonal. Overall, the 6 is packed with plenty of features and room to boot.

Interior dimensions/features score: 5/5


The 6 i I had was equipped with Ford/Mazda’s 2.3L Duratec 23 16v. DOHC I-4 with VVT that develops 160 hp @ 5750 rpm and 154 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. It was a competent engine, with good grunt for a 4-banger. The buzziness was kept to a minimum, but at rpms north of 2600, it got sorta bad. But when cruising or under light loads, the Duratec 23 was reasonably quiet and engine noise wasn’t extremely noticeable. The engine is very lively throughout the powerband. In automatic mode, the transmission would always upshift at 2500 rpms. But in manual mode, I got to explore the northern extensions of the tachometer, which allowed me to notice many things about the engine. One of them is that at 6500 rpms, the engine is making a searing noise-this is (logically) where the engine is at it’s loudest safe operating range. 6500 rpms also happened to be the redline. At this engine speed, I actually like the noise coming from it. It sounded angry, and not buzzy in the least. I also noted that the engine is happiest (and fastest) when operated south of 4100 rpms. Pass 4100, and the engine comes off boil, noticeably past 4700. Still, it’s a good engine, although I am much more partial to the sounds of 6-cylinders and V8s. The I4 puts its power to the front wheels via a JATCO JA5A-EL 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capabilities. Shifts are smooth and quick, although they are a bit more noticeable than the Hydramatics I’m acquainted to. Switching from automatic to manual mode is easy. Slap the shift lever to the right for manual mode, and then back to the left for automatic. Manual shifting is done by pulling the lever towards you to upshift and pushing it towards the dash to downshift. Handling is great-point, shoot, enjoy. While my truck’s not a bad handler, the quicker reflexes were a nice treat. Toss the 6 into a corner, and it stays flat with minimum body roll. Ride quality was also good. It was a compromise between our daily drivers-not as smooth as our Venture, but not a bumpy as my truck can be at times. Overall, another excellent aspect of the car.

Powertrain/Handling score: 5/5


On the safety front, the 6 comes to battle with an arsenal of 7 airbags (dual front and front side, side curtain-types, and a driver’s-side knee blocker). The 4-channel disc brakes with ABS are very strong and do a good job of erasing speed. All-speed traction control is another plus. The 6 has you covered from brakes to bags.

Safety score: 5/5


The 6 is a fantastic car, even in i 4-cylinder form. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I liked a midsize Japanese car so much. It’s not the most gorgeous wad of steel and glass to grace our roads, but it’s one of the better-looking midsizers out there. If anyone is interested in a midsize sedan that stands out in the crowd and that lets you have some fun with it, I highly recommend the Mazda6. Zoom-zoom indeed.

Overall score: 23.5/25= 94% A

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Guest YellowJacket894

Is it yours or the family sedan?

Many of those comments actually reflect my opinion of a Nissan Altima 2.5 we tested today. I guess if you've gotta go Japanese, it's better (and common sense) to choose a Mazda or Nissan. 8)

Edited by YellowJacket894

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This was actually the rental we got when the Sonoma went into the shop. It was such a nice suprise over the Camry/Corolla/Civic I was sure we'd be getting.

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Get review and I just got a 6 about a month ago and I love it. I wanted a Milan but the 6 was easier to get at a good price. The engine sounds crude when taking off slow but in other cases it hums out a nice note. I am shocked how much I have come to like mine.

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