Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
Mazda Mazda6 Classic, Luxury and Luxury Sports
Great expectations
December 2005

THE Mazda6 came into a boom market with a stunning good looks and colors that stood out from the crowd and it was declared a winner by scribes and people with cash as well.

This scribe wrote at the time that while it was a good - even great - car, it didn`t really live up to the hype.

The second incarnation was released recently and the kudos this car still receives is quite astounding. Not in a long while have so many people asked me what a car was like to drive, especially considering it`s a second-generation Japanese-brand passenger (family) car. Indeed the Zoom-Zoom revolution has seen Mazda leapfrog many other brands, with 1100 sales a month.

Well, unfortunately, there`s a little deja vu with the answer to that question.

These second generation sedans, hatches and wagons deliver improved fuel economy, better performance, cleaner exhaust emissions, a quieter cabin, sharper dynamics and better occupant protection.

They are competitive performers no doubt, but it is the mistakes they make that see them marked down on points.

The test sedan had a drumming noise around 75km/h and again at 105km/h. It was a noise not unlike that when you leave the rear windows down but the fronts up, albeit only about 10% as bad. Still, a fairly annoying problem to have if you owned it.

There is sound insulation added to 18 locations and additional body reinforcements, such as thicker B pillars and additional front frame reinforcements, which the press kit says significantly lowered cabin noise, but this is a bit like "compared to what?".

We stepped out of the impressive new impressive Hyundai Sonata and the Mazda sounded like the difference between a tiled house roof compared to a tin one. Brutal, but true.

For more than half of all Mazda6 customers, design was the primary driver for purchase, therefore changes to the exterior of the original Mazda6, focus on subtle modifications.

Among these are the grille, which is more deeply recessed and flatter with a honeycomb mesh pattern replacing the diamond mesh of the outgoing model, dark tinted headlight bezels and tail lamp glass, as well as modified front and rear bumpers.

The Luxury Sports models feature more comprehensive changes with a redesigned body kit and new sports grille.

Added to this are new look 16-inch alloy wheels on Classic and 17-inch multi-spoke wheels on Luxury and Luxury Sports models. Taken together, these design enhancements give the Mazda6 a lower, wider, more dynamic appearance.

Two new colors haven been added Phantom Blue mica and Brilliant Carbon Grey mica, taking the Mazda6 colour choice to 12. Mica or metallic paint is a no cost option.

Revisions to the interior are significant. New surface materials and softer upholstery for the door armrests combine with a newly-designed centre instrument panel to deliver a higher quality look and feel.

A darker instrument panel, edged with a chrome-finish, replaces the silver metallic look of the outgoing model. A titanium look facia is used on Luxury and Luxury Sports models. The instrument panel also incorporates piano black audio controls that further underscore the elegance of the cockpit.

To improve owner appeal two distinctive cabin trims are offered on Classic models. A new lighter sand coloured interior is optional with selected exterior colors. A new, higher quality black trim with dark grey weave is available across the Classic range.

More functionality is provided by vertical door grab handles for the front and rear passengers. They make getting in and out of the car easier and give passengers better hold during spirited driving.

Mazda6s traditional interior strengths are retained, including the ingenious Karakuri principle for folding down the split rear seat (Mazda6 hatch and wagon). Named after traditional Japanese folding dolls, you simply pull on a lever on either side of the luggage compartment to fold the rear seatback flat in one single motion, without having to remove the headrests.

All Mazda6s offer as standard six airbags - dual front, front side for driver and passenger and head protecting curtain airbags and ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution.

Standard features on Mazda6 Limited, which is priced from $28,240, includes air- conditioning, a CD player, remote central locking with deadlock function, power windows and mirrors, drivers seat height adjustment and an outside temperature gauge.

Telescopic and height adjustable steering is new to Mazda6, further improving the driving position. Also new is a retractable-type key that enables the key blade to fold out of the way when not in use. The central locking buttons are also contained within the fob.

Classic models, which are priced from $31,935, add climate control air-conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer, six-stack CD, wheel-mounted audio and cruise control switches and more luxurious trim. The sound system now features six speakers with the addition of a tweeter at the base of each A pillar.

The Luxury sedan and hatch, which are priced from $39,900, boast 17-inch alloys, power sunroof, leather seats, Bose sound system with seven speakers and, for the first time, a power-operated drivers seat with three position memory.

The power operated drivers seat position can be programmed into each retractable key allowing "his and hers" settings to be recalled as you open the car door.

At $40,910 for the manual and $42,910 for the Activematic model, the range-topping Luxury Sports hatch features a full body kit, straight-through twin exhaust outlets, and for the first time, alloy pedals.

Higher fuel prices and a general economic no-man`s land across Australia mean a vehicle will have to be a stand-out performer just to get noticed.

This humble scribe might not think that the new Mazda6 has quite that level of star quality, but the kudos it carries with it might do just enough to get by.



ENGINE: 2.3-litre four-cylinder

POWER: 122kW at 6500rpm

TORQUE: 207Nm from 4000rpm

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual or five-speed Activematic automatic transmission with manual gear selection mode

0-100km/h: n/a

FUEL ECONOMY: 8.8l/100km

PROS: Good looks - Joe Public loves it, sales don`t lie; overall a good package

CONS: NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) problems

BOTTOM LINE: From $28,240