This car is for a person who wants a sports car, but needs a station wagon.
Comparable cars in this class:
Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat
With hundreds of models on sale at any given time, its not surprising that even an excellent car might occasionally slip under the radar of an automotive journalist.
In my case, the most recent example is the Mazda 6 Sport Wagon. Sure, Ive driven and enjoyed the Mazda 6 sedan, which has been touted since its 2004 introduction as a more exciting alternative to cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
And, yes, I have been aware that Mazda includes a five-door hatchback and station wagon in its 6 collection. But, the latter two cars have sat idling in the background of my mind much as they often do in the Mazda commercials.
That is, until a few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to try out a Mazda 6 Grand Sport Wagon for a week.
This Mazda 6 got my attention right from the start. I was taken by the graceful, integrated lines; the 18-inch alloy wheels, the sporty accents which take it a giant step beyond its utilitarian roots. If there is a better looking mid-size wagon, I have yet to see it.
Inside, the gray leather seats and titanium-look trim, combined with easy-to-read gauges and intuitive switchgear, continue the cars sporty theme in an understated way. But, frankly, the interior does not quite live up to the excitement promised by the exterior.
Also, the electroluminescent red lighting on the speedometer and tachometer look cool most of the time, but are hard to read when the driver is wearing sunglasses on a bright, cloudless day. The same thing was true of the optional navigation system. No matter how I tilted its little screen, I had trouble following the route.
But the small complaints started to disappear as car and driver got underway. The front bucket seats combined comfort and support as well as just about any. (Of course, I can only speak for my average-size frame. Others, whose bodies reside in the more extreme dimensions of the human skeletal system, may not have quite the same reaction.)
The three-liter V-6 engine, which puts out 215 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, isnt exactly a raging bull. But, even combined with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, it has enough snort to keep the driver entertained under all conditions. Equally important, the engine never loses its composure. The power flow is always smooth, and the response under heavy acceleration is never more than a muted, but authoritative growl.
That said, the enthusiast buyer can save $950 and extract even more pleasure from the wagon simply by ordering the standard five-speed manual transmission.
Oddly, that choice wont necessarily pay off at the pump, where only regular gasoline is required. The EPA lists average fuel consumption at 20 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway for a wagon with automatic transmission, and 19 mpg city/27 highway for one with the manual shifter. My calculations with the six-speed automatic no doubt a bit more realistic than those obtained by the EPA - put consumption at 16 mpg around town and 23 mpg on the open road.
The Mazda 6 wagons independent suspension manages to accomplish what many others with sporty pretensions cannot. It provides competent handling and a comfortable ride. There is no crashing across potholes or rumbling over tar strips. In addition, it manages in large part to overcome the tendency to resist turning that is inherent in all front-wheel-drive cars.
Combine all that with speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and traction control, and the result is a wagon that not only handles like a sedan, it drives like a true sports sedan.
Obviously, a buyer opting for a station wagon has more than fun in mind. A satisfactory supply of practicality is required. The Mazda 6 wagon does not disappoint. The rear seats, also surprisingly comfortable, are plenty roomy for two adults and can accommodate three on short excursions.
Behind the rear seats, the cargo compartment offers 33.7 cubic feet of space. Put the 60/40 split rear seatbacks down and available room swells to 60.4 cubic feet.
Conveniently, those seatbacks can be lowered simply by pulling levers located inside the liftgate. There is no need to operate the seats from the rear doors, and removal of the headrests is not required.
Safety does not take a back seat in this wagon. In addition to the antilock brakes and traction control, it comes with dual front airbags, side airbags and side curtain airbags, head rests with whiplash protection and front and rear side-impact beams.
Base price of the Mazda 6 Grand Sport Wagon, with delivery charge, is $28,470. That includes automatic climate control, premium sound system, leather upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control, power sunroof, eight-way power drivers seat and heated, remote power mirrors.
Options on the car I drove automatic transmission with manual override ($950) and voice-activated navigation system ($2,000) raised the bottom line to $31,420. California and New York residents will need to cough up another $100 for emissions equipment.
Drivers who want an enjoyable driving experience but cannot abandon their more important responsibilities may find that this Mazda 6 makes all the right moves.