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Motoring: Mazda6 offers good bang for your buck

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 26th, 2009

With the economy being in the sorry state it is in at the moment, more and more people are shying away from luxury cars. So what would you buy if you can't or don't want to buy a Lexus, Infiniti, Acura or BMW?

Mazda might have the answer with the arrival of their 2009 Mazda6.

The Mazda6 was first introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model, and it replaced the aging, yet still quite pleasant 626. The original Mazda6 was sleek, responsive and comfortable to drive.

Sadly the North American market with their fat-behinds felt the car was too small and not comfortable enough, so it never got the sales success enjoyed by the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry.

The new 2009 Mazda6 fixes those issues. It is much bigger than the previous model and the interior can accommodate any sized derriere. However, will the car still appeal to me, a person who liked the original.

From a styling point of view, it has gotten better. The Mazda6 was always a good looking car, but this new one is jaw-dropping pretty. Many people actually uttered the word “wow” when they saw my test car. I love the new headlights and front fenders, which reminds me of the RX8 (one of my all-time fave cars), the side profile is sleek, and at the back, you get a much more up-market looking rear-end treatment finished off with classy exhaust finishers (like the ones found on the new Lexus LS460).

So good news then on the styling front, but the interior could have been better. At first glance, it looks nice, but on closer inspection you'll find that the plastics used to make the interior are cheap, trim pieces like the fake wood look tacky, and I hate the design of the dashboard on the passenger side, it looks like skin wrinkling over itself.

However, the new interior is spacious, is packed with great new technology, like now you can opt to have a blindspot detection system, keyless entry and start, and all the connectivity you'll need for your iPod.

The seating is fine, although I wish it had better thigh support. While on the subject of seats, Mazda has forgotten about the easy fold down seat feature of the old car, where at the pull of a lever it folds the seats down automatically, instead the new one has the very old, and very cheap, pull the string and then go into the cabin to lower the rear seats down. That is inconvenient, but on the plus side, the trunk is now big enough that you will hardly ever need to fold down your seats.

So far the new Mazda6 is a good car, not a great one. But what about the driving experience, after all this was the older models main attraction.

Again it's good news and bad news. First the bad news, it has lost its sharp responses and is no longer the ideal family sedan to go Zoom Zoom through the twisties with (even the slower power-steering lets it down here), but in my opinion it still handles better than the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and possibly the Accord.

The good news is, when you are driving around casually, the new model is much more relaxing. It is the sort of vehicle that would be ideal for a travelling salesman.

No matter what engine you'd choose, the fuel economy is not bad either. I first had the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine equipped car, mated to the new five-speed automatic gearbox (base transmission is a six-speed manual). This engine is fine for this vehicle, and I averaged 9.2litres/100km. The four-cylinder produces 170hp and 167lb/ft of torque.

For real excitement you'll need to opt for the new 3.7-litre, V6. This is an absolute powerhouse of an engine, producing 272hp and 269lb/ft of torque. That is a huge gain over the four-cylinder motor and it feels like it, this is a properly fast machine. This engine is mated only to a six-speed automatic gearbox, but like all Mazda automatic gearboxes these days, it is a semi-automatic, so you can play with the gears yourself, and that makes this a real treat to drive. Fuel consumption is not as good as the four-cylinder unit, I averaged 12-litres/100km with the V6, but I was probably enjoying myself a bit too much.

Price you ask, the base four-cylinder starts at $22,495 (which is really affordable if you ask me), while the V6 version is still only $27,495.

So, would I recommend the new Mazda6 for anyone looking for a mid-size sedan (yes, there is only the sedan model on offer now, no more sports hatch and wagon variants). Given the choice between the Camry, Altima and Accord, it is a simple case of no to the Camry, no to the Altima, can make do with the Accord, and an absolute yes to the new Mazda6. Sure it might have lost the soul of the original, but it's still better than what the others have on offer.
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