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2009 Mazda 6 i Grand Touring: Value without a V-6

Posted by Bill Griffith  July 3, 2009 02:47 PM

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LED taillamps and adjustable-level xenon headlamps spice up Mazda's new 6. (All photos: Bill Griffith/Boston.com)

It was one of those temporarily embarrassing moments at the wheel. I'd driven today's test car, the Mazda 6, across New Hampshire's Rte. 101 from Manchester Airport to the Hampton tollbooth. Cruising up to the tollbooth, the car lurched twice and stalled.

The toll-taker, after collecting the state's tribute, asked, "Is everything OK?"

"Oh yes, I just forgot this car has a clutch."

Oops.

The Mazda 6, redesigned for 2009, is a player in the crowded mid-sized sedan segment. And our tested version, the i Grand Touring edition, certainly qualifies as a near-luxury vehicle. On the highway, it ran as though it had a six-cylinder engine.

However, it was a 2.5 liter four-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission powertrain. It's a configuration I prefer with the caveat that most days I'm not committed to spending time in rush-hour traffic.

This Mazda was designed and built for the United States market. The company added 4.5 inches of wheelbase from the previous model (to 109.8 inches) and put that space to great use. There's more-than-ample legroom in the rear seat and a huge trunk. In addition, the rear seats fold down to allow for even more temporary carrying capacity.

One of the nicest things you can say about any car is that "It's a lot of value for the dollar or bang for the buck." The Mazda 6 delivers.

The base models start at $18,550 and have the same engine-transmission combination as our test car. The tested i Grand Touring version starts at $25,110 and the sticker on ours hit $29,620 with the addition of navigation ($2,000) and a moonroof/Bose package ($1,760). For the record, the s Grand Touring version (the "s" signifies the six-cylinder engine) with a six-speed automatic would have priced out at $32,975.

We drove the 6 last month, which this year in New England had lots of off-and-on rain and corresponding tough visibility on the highways.

Two features on our Mazda 6 stood out in these conditions: the blind-spot warning feature (with audio alert) in the side mirrors and the rain-sensing wipers. Once we realized the wipers were automatic and were indeed operating with a mind of their own, we left them on that setting.

It's always advisable to spend some time getting all your mirrors adjusted correctly, especially if your car has a memory setting to return them to your preferences. However, even with properly set mirrors, the blind-spot warning adds a big feeling of security to the interstate driving experience.

Style-wise, mid-sized sedans pretty much look alike, though the Mazda 6's squared front fenders are a styling queue right off the sporty RX-8. Some of the "Zoom-Zoom" DNA has been refined out of the Mazda 6, but enough remains in the solid handling and responsive engines (even the four-banger) to make the connection with the original Mazda 6 sports sedan. Sadly, a V-6 with manual transmission isn't among the eight available configurations.

2009-Mazda-6-interior.jpg

Features we liked included the lighting — LED taillights, xenon headlights, welcoming exterior and interior lights, and the orange dashboard display. The engine was so quiet we often checked the tachometer just to make sure it was running. Ride quality was a tad on the stiff (our preferred) side, and the cabin was quiet at highway speeds. The heated leather seats were large, supportive, and comfortable on longer trips. We liked the gauge layout, and controls were conveniently placed and for the most part intuitive.

Dashboard design has become a point of pride in the design studios. We hardly claim to be cabin connoisseurs; however, the Mazda 6 folks did a nice job overall. We could have stood for a bit more storage space but liked the way the climate/computer display matched the orange coloring used for the rest of the instrumentation.

On the debit side:

  • The Mazda 6 is EPA-rated between 20-29 m.p.g. (manual). We came in at 24.3 m.p.g. in mixed driving that included one brutal night in rainy bumper-to-bumper Boston commuting.
  • The on-board computer display is a bit cramped to read, and the clock is one of the choices. A clock also appears on the nav system when the map is displayed. Speaking of the nav system, it worked fine, and we found the map display particularly bright and crisp.
  • The computer display button (to change the readout) and trunk release button were hidden behind the steering wheel.
  • Using cruise control with the four-banger meant being alert to downshift when the engine started to labor in sixth gear on big hills on the highway. Otherwise, the transmission had notably wide and forgiving gearing.

Except when the driver forgot to engage the clutch.

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24 comments so far...
  1. Sharp looking vehicle. My '97 626 bought new in '96 is still going strong at 153,000.

    Someday, I'll step up . . .

    Posted by Harrybosch July 3, 09 03:59 PM
  1. I've had a Mazda 6 Sedan Touring for about 3 months and its been great! Smooth and powerful ride, nice handling and very comfortable on the inside. I never had a Mazda before but I'm glad I did. Only small complaint is to have more storage space in the front, but that is small potatoes next to my overall satisfaction. The blind-spot alert system has made me a better driver!

    Posted by Andy July 4, 09 08:51 AM
  1. I'd go with the 6 in the Accord/Camry/Altima crowd. Sportier, a little better-looking (the 6 looks best in dark colors), nice interior.

    Posted by mikeybigboy July 4, 09 09:05 AM
  1. We own two Mazdas, a 2001 626 still running well at little maintenance cost, nd a 2003 Mazda Protege Es still fun car to drive.

    Posted by Jerry Eisenhaur July 4, 09 09:42 AM
  1. Great car. The Mazda3 is a fine alternative as well for those looking in the sport compact segment. Mazda is far and away the best alternative to Honda if AWD isn't a serious concern.

    Posted by Anonymous July 4, 09 04:59 PM
  1. I owned two 626s ('85 and '89). Great cars. At 189,000 Boston-area miles. the '89 would was easily on-track to top 200K, but for an unfortunate mis-hap no fault of its own. My friend's 1991 MX-6 is still humming along. These are good cars.

    Posted by j0646 July 4, 09 05:14 PM
  1. Yeah, so let me know when they make it AWD. It's the only thing I'll drive now. And as for the tranny, engine combo, looks like Mazda took a cue from Ford because the Merc Milan has a manual, but it's not available with the six cylinder. I mean, who would want to combine those two anyway, certainly not the idiots running these car companies. Although you could get the Milan with AWD, just not the first year it came out. Idiots, I tell ya.

    Posted by Slack July 5, 09 08:03 AM
  1. Why are they always making them bigger?
    The new Honda Civic is the same size as my old Accord.

    Posted by Finkelstein Frank July 5, 09 09:15 AM
  1. Good information; thanks Bill. It looks like the price went way up. I have an '05 six-speed automatic V6 with the Bose and the moonroof and I paid just over 21k and the comparable trim described in the article here seems like it would be in the high 20's. Great car, though, and it seems like they've added some significant improvements. Can't afford the gas for the V6 anymore, however, as you've pointed out is an issue, and I'll be downsizing to either the Mazda 5 or the Toyota Corolla "S" fairly soon.

    Posted by Zoom Zoom July 5, 09 10:50 PM
  1. I would take the Subaru Legacy (both GT or not) anyday over the Mazda 6...

    AWD, Boxer torquey engine and Subaru reliability nobody can beat...

    Posted by Flavio Zanetti July 5, 09 11:22 PM
  1. The new Mazda 6 is great looking. It appears more of a luxury car than it's predecessor but still looks sporty. It's got that great Bengal Tiger look to it.

    Mazda should have kept this model unique by not sharing the appearance with other models in it's lineup. The new Mazda 3 looks overly stylized by trying to adopt the new design language of the company.

    Posted by Andy July 6, 09 10:29 AM
  1. Nothing against Mazda or this car it is just the current example of pricing. I couldn't help but note that you get a whole car, with the tested engine and 6-speed for less than $19,000, but to get to the car you really want requires you to spend $25,000+, and if you want the test car, almost $30,000! The difference is the price of another whole car (albeit not a Mazda 6, but maybe a 3). That is more than $10,000 more for than the same body, engine and transmission. I wonder A) how bad is that base car that you have to spend at least $6K more to get a "good" car, and B) how much profit is there in the "added value" between $19K and $30?

    How much does the "extra" cost you and much does it cost them?

    Mazda certainly isn't alone in this. Mercedes has specialized in taking a really nice car, whether a C class at $33K or an SL at $100K+, and coming up with highend models of the same car that DOUBLE the price and shaves a second or less off the 0-60 times. It seems all the makers do this same kind of thing.

    Back when you could buy options you could add the V8 to your sedan for $N and maybe a trim package for $Y and be happy. Now you want the V6 instead of the 4? You have to get the V6 model for another $3000 - $4000. You want the V8, you have to get the next model and abother $8000.

    They tell us this is what we want, but I wish I had the choice to have what I want.

    Posted by Marie July 6, 09 02:29 PM
  1. I'm the proud owner of an 05' Mazda6 and its gorgeous. This 09 thing?
    Looks like every other car on the road. Sad.

    Posted by Loba July 6, 09 03:12 PM
  1. I really can't see spending $2000 on a nav system (that you use 2x per month) when you can buy a decent one for $300.

    That $1700 could buy a lot of beer.

    Posted by Beer Here July 6, 09 03:54 PM
  1. Since when is a 4 cyclinder car that is over $30K a value?

    Posted by Dan of Boston July 6, 09 04:14 PM
  1. proud owner of a 2005 mazda6i. i pack on about 25,000+ a year commuting to cambridge from NH...all ive ever needed was new tires and oil.
    i do like what they did in '09, but really, for 30k, my options would be endless.

    Posted by SkullShank July 6, 09 05:44 PM
  1. Best designed Mazda in recent years was the station wagon they dumped for the CX-7 and CX-9. Big mistake. Like Honda's similar move to make way for the ugly CRV, a great small wagon was abandoned. Just what America wanted - bigger crossovers with worse gas mileage costing thousands more. Jeez.

    Posted by Michael July 6, 09 06:49 PM
  1. Loba.. I too owned the 05, LOVED it... so different from all the other cars. I bought the 09, because I love Mazda, I love the way it handles, and I love the speed and power for such a little engine. However, I do miss the character. It looks just like the camery, which is a bit dissapointing. Oh well, it still suits me and hey just slap a good looking person behind the wheel and its still unique :)

    Posted by Jillian July 6, 09 06:54 PM
  1. I have an 07 Mazdaspeed6 that has AWD, 6 Speed, every option and 270 HP from a 4 Cyl!!! All for 26 Grand. Sadly they only made them for 2 years, luckily I have one. Its my first Mazda and I am really satisfied. The new body style is nice, hopefully they will bring back the Speed series with its unique engine, drivetrain and suspension.

    Posted by mazdaspeed6 July 7, 09 04:46 AM
  1. That's a great point Loba.

    The BEST cars are the ones people can be happy with in their most simplest forms. Everything else is frills and cosmetics.

    You would be surprised at how little features these car companies can get away with. With the Chevy Aveo, I believe, they 'created' an even more basic trim level than the base model. It was some sort of value package. This was so that they could boast the Aveo as the most affordable car in the US at around $10k.

    I also think Chevy/Geo did this with their Metro model years ago. Called the XFi package.

    I am curious though what a base model would be like. You are hard pressed to find one sitting on the lots. They are not where the money is.

    As for the Mazda 6, I'm guessing fabric seatting and a basic stereo. Not bad but would get old quick.

    Posted by Archer July 7, 09 09:33 AM
  1. #12
    "I couldn't help but note that you get a whole car, with the tested engine and 6-speed for less than $19,000, but to get to the car you really want requires you to spend $25,000+..."

    This seems to be an industrywide pricing strategy. Waay back, mid-70s + earlier, and to a lesser extent with Detroit models later on, you could order a la carte. CAFE changed that - they have to pump out an econobox for every mid-higher level mode, so they're not letting their allocation of those go easily. You want a V6? That's $500 for driveline and $4500 to make up for selling an econobox at a loss. Same for midsize and up vehicles in general.

    I think it also h is a strategy for i) moving enough volume on each model to spread out the huge engineering and tooling costs while ii) making a profit. So there's a cruddy mizer model that, by itself, would drive the company broke. They sell that for more than its production cost, but not enough to cover all the other costs. Those go to misers, rental companies and people who hate cars. They also allow a low advertised price to get people to at least look. Then there's the versions people who notice cars actually want, with more automatic stuff or better performance. Because it's now something desirable rather than a generic appliance, people will pay up. As an example, GM charges much more for the L99 and LS3 V8 compared to their 3.6 DI V6 in a Camaro or G8 -- even though the V6 was developed as a Cadillac engine and costs considerably more to produce than the V8. It NOT simply adding a % to manufacturing costs -- that would be "reasonable" --- I'd certainly like it much better than the actual system -- but reasonable doesn't make money.

    It's worth test driving both the base and top trim lines. Personally after having a couple decades of junkers I like the climate control, awd, V-rated tires, huge brakes, self dimming mirrors and radio key on my current car. But if I wasn't erasing the memory of that wretched collection of rust on wheels I might look at the K-mart version.

    But I wouldn't buy it ;-)


    Posted by Chatter July 13, 09 12:19 AM
  1. I traded my '08 Accord for an '09 Mazda 6 i Touring sedan. The Mazda is so much better than the Accord. It also makes the Accord look like a dowdy Buick. The 6 drives wonderfully and the power seats - well with my 6+ foot inch frame, I am now able to have the most comfortable driving position since I drove my '78 Cutlass Supreme.

    Posted by Michael July 29, 09 12:33 PM
  1. I have a 6i with an accessory package bringing it almost up to the Touring level, it has the Bose, bluetooth, rain-sensing wipers, xexons. Its missing the Nav, the seat heaters and the mirror heaters. About $26800 list, but with today's market I got it for 22k. Drives pretty well with the 6 speed manual, although the lack of low rpm torque compared to my traded Subaru means I have to pay more attention to what gear I'm in. Gas mileage is about 26 combined. Weighs only about 400 more lbs than my Impreza.

    I bought it largely because has a huge back seat and trunk, which my family of 5 needs. Mazda nailed it with the size on this new model, at least for me. My Impreza was just too small, got it before I started having kids. I liked the old 6, too, but it was too small. This one handles very well for such a long wheelbase (great turning radius too) and looks a big more unique than the dozens of Camrys and Accords I see every day.

    Better gas mileage was the 2nd reason I got it; a juiced up 4 (like the speed6) or 6 cylinder just isn't worth it to me anymore, I expect to still be driving this car when gas hits $4 to $5 per gallon again.

    Posted by Tim August 13, 09 01:52 PM
  1. I just bought a 09 mazda 6s grand touring with the 1K loyality rebate for 24K what a great car. Way better than the Accord,or Camry. I love the bluetooth,Bose,rain sensing wipers, sirius satellite. Mazda you out did yourself all other midsize sedans suck compared to this car. I also love the 272 hp v6 I will pay extra for the gas but well worth it over the 4I.

    Posted by Ronald Majka September 29, 09 07:40 AM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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