Introduction
When searching for a mid-size car, a majority of buyers tend to favor a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. The Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion are the next most popular cars among the 16 or so models in this highly competitive mid-size car segment.

Even though sales of the Mazda6 place it in the bottom half, it has a loyal following among car buffs. Yes, the Mazda6, which is much more popular overseas, is one of the leading choices among mid-size cars for those who enjoy driving. It is not seen as an appliance.

"Zoom-zoom," the catchy slogan used in Mazda's advertising campaign, hits the appropriate tone for the Mazda6 and indeed most other cars in Mazda's lineup.

Overview
The Mazda6 was first introduced in 2003 as a replacement for the Mazda 626 and Millenia. The US versions, except for the MazdaSpeed6, were made in the same factory in Michigan as the iconic Ford Mustang, although neither car shares any parts.

Apart from different packaging and engine tuning, the US edition of the Mazda6 from 2003 until 2008 was almost identical to the model sold elsewhere in the world. It's worth noting that this changed in 2009 model year, as the newest US model is larger than the new Mazda6 sold elsewhere in the world.

The Mazda6 was available in three different body styles, a sedan, hatchback and wagon between 2003 and 2008. The wagon was dropped in 2007, and the high performance all-wheel-drive MazdaSpeed6 was sold only in 2006 and 2007.

Compared to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the Mazda6 is slightly smaller, and it is one of the reasons given for its lower sales volume in the US. However reviewers and owners all seem to be in agreement that the Mazda6 is a much more exciting car to drive, with crisper handling and slightly better performance. Many people also consider it a more attractive-looking car. 

Test Drive
1. 2007 MazdaSpeed6 Sport  
   Manual, 6,500 miles
   Approximate value: $24,000 (Dec 2008)
   Owner: Jeremy, male, age: mid-20s

After his pickup truck was totaled in a wreck, Jeremy decided he wanted something more fun to drive. He chose a 2007 MazdaSpeed6.

"I love its looks and power. It's a real sleeper," says Jeremy. Mazda did not have to modify the external appearance much, as the standard sedan is already sporty-looking. Instead Mazda put its effort under the skin by turbo charging the four-cylinder engine, improving the suspension and equipping it with an all-wheel-drive system to deliver the power efficiently to all four wheels.

It's been a couple of years since I last drove a MazdaSpeed6, but within a few blocks I was reminded how much I enjoyed the car. It can be docile when needed, but put your foot into the gas, and the turbo spools up, and the car shoots off like a rocket. It also grips well, as expected, in corners and the silky-smooth gearshift is a delight to use. This particular car was as good as new with no apparent wear or blemishes.

It's also surprisingly versatile. "It's got plenty of trunk space," Jeremy continues. Enough, in fact, for him to squeeze in his mountain bike. He uses the car regularly for commuting as well as for fun — driving up winding roads looking for trails to go mountain biking.

The only modification Jeremy performed was installation of an aftermarket free-flow air filter, which had the added appeal of increasing the noise of the turbo on boost. His only complaint was that selected Mazda dealers are the only ones allowed to work on the car. This meant he had to make a 70-mile drive to a qualified dealership for service, even though there were two closer.

2. 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon
   Manual, 49,500 miles
   Asking price: $12,500 (Jan. 2009)
   Owner: Heiko, male, age: late-20s

This smart-looking station wagon was parked on a street in a new residential area along with some other vehicles for sale. Heiko, the owner, had parked it there for a few days, hoping it would attract potential buyers. He was having trouble selling the car and was not sure if it was because it was a station wagon or because it had a manual transmission.

"I really like the looks, its performance and its fuel economy plus it has been trouble free," said Heiko. The only reason he was selling was because he had bought his dream car — a BMW 325 convertible.

It seems most people would rather have an SUV than a station wagon, yet few would argue that the Mazda6 Sport Wagon is an extremely attractive-looking vehicle with plenty of interior space for its size. The car had been modified by the owner with lowered suspension, Borbet alloy wheels, 18-inch tires and a free-flow exhaust system. It also had smoked windows and rear reflectors to complete its custom look.

Despite the lowered suspension the car did not give a hard ride. It was fun to drive with V6 engine (the only engine offered with the Sport Wagon) and the slick-shifting manual transmission. It was no surprise to find the car in excellent condition with no signs of any blemishes. It was apparent that Heiko had really looked after the car during his two years of ownership.

Although Heiko had spent more than a couple of grand on modifications, he was unlikely to get much return on that investment. His asking price was fair even though it was $1,000 above the recommended price for a Sport Wagon in good condition. He was hopeful he would find another enthusiast who would enjoy the sporty feel and looks of the car, as well as its versatility.

3. 2006 Mazda6 s Grand Sport
   Automatic, 10,500 miles
   Asking price: $14,700 (Jan. 2009)
   Owner: Brett, male, age: 47

In many ways this V6-powered 2006 Mazda6 demonstrates the economic benefit in purchasing a used car rather than a new one. The three-year-old car, owned by 47-year-old Brett since new, had only 10,500 miles on it when I test drove it. He told me he had hardly driven the vehicle as he drove a work van most of the time in his job as an A/C technician. He had paid over $28,000 for the car and was now selling it for about half the price he paid for it.

There appeared to be absolutely nothing wrong with the car. There were no scratches or signs of wear and tear. He still had the original window sticker that confirmed he had purchased the optional six-speed automatic transmission and sunroof.

"It's an excellent car with snappy performance and I have had no problems, zero, with it," he told us. The only reason he was selling was because a friend had sold him a Lexus RX300 for a bargain price, and he fancied moving up to a more luxurious car.

As with the other two Mazda6 models I drove, the sedan has attractive lines and handles much more sportily than its closest competitors. The six-speed transmission provides smoother shifting and slightly better fuel consumption than the regular five-speed automatic. Despite having a V6, it's fuel consumption is only 3 mpg lower than the four-cylinder model with an automatic. Considering the better performance, it's worth the trade-off. 

According to NADAGuides, the price of this car should be closer to $17,000 due to its low mileage. However Brett had priced it as if it had an average mileage closer to 36,000 miles. Because of this "discount" it made the car a good value. Someone buying it would be getting a car almost as good as new with a few months left on the bumper-to-bumper warranty and two years and/or 50,000 miles on the powertrain warranty. It would be an excellent way to save close to $14,000.

Market Overview
According to Mazda, the Mazda6 received almost 100 awards globally, during the year after introduction, confirming its excellent standing among consumers and pundits.

Despite a supposed lack of interest among American buyers for station wagons, the Mazda6 sport wagon accounted for 40% of sales between 2003 and 2006. A handful were sold in 2007, and it was then taken off the US market. The hatchback version was far less popular accounting for only 15% of sales, but it remained in the lineup during all five years of production.

V-6 powered Mazda6 "s" models accounted for about one-third of sales during the period. MazdaSpeed6 models totaled around 20% in volume during the two years it was available. Approximately 15% of regular Mazda6 models were fitted with a manual transmission. The MazdaSpeed6 was only offered with a six-speed manual transmission.

The base "i" model was powered by a 160-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine while the "s" 3.0-liter V-6 delivered 215 horsepower. The "s" also had an optional six-speed automatic transmission, the only car in its segment with this offering at the time. Meanwhile, the turbocharger in the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine in the MazdaSpeed6 boosted the output to 274 horsepower.

Conclusion
If you enjoy driving and want a mid-size car that is different from your neighbor's all-too-common Camry or Accord, the Mazda6 should be high on your shopping list. In return for slightly less interior space you can enjoy a more exciting car with crisper handling. 

If you need even more cargo-carrying capacity, check out the wagon, which has to be viewed as one of the most attractive wagons on the market.

After all is said and done, the Mazda6 is somewhat of a sleeper in the US. It appeals to a smaller number of people than cars from mainstream manufacturers like Toyota and Honda. Naturally, Mazda would like to sell more cars, but if they became too common, they would be less appealing to those who like to be seen in something different!

 

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