Mazda6 line gains hatchback, wagon
Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away
GLENEDEN BEACH, ORE. – The Mazda6 sedan has won a boatload of awards in its first year of existence, including the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's Best New Family Vehicle for 2004.
So how much worse could it be if there were two more model choices, both even more useful than the sedan? That's what's happening, almost as we speak, as four-door hatchback (Mazda6 Sport) and wagon (Mazda6 Sport Wagon) body styles are starting to arrive in Mazda showrooms.
"Hatchback" and "station wagon" have been pejorative phrases in automotive marketing circles in recent years. But various sources – including me – believe both body styles are poised for a comeback, given that they combine additional cargo-carrying capacity within the footprint of a conventional sedan.
At least for the moment, Mazda6 has the jump on its major competitors: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima don't offer anything comparable; only Chevrolet Malibu Maxx comes close on the hatchback front.
One advantage the Mazda6 Sport has over most hatchbacks – assuming you share the common prejudice against the genre – is that you'd be hard-pressed to tell it's a hatch until you open the rear compartment lid.
There's a distinct "notch" shape to the profile; it is different looking from the sedan, but not by much.
Just as well, since the sedan is a handsome piece. The rear window wiper may be your best clue.
The Sport Wagon is also very pretty, with a distinctive and dynamic profile. Even if you're a box-o-phobe when it comes to car styling, this wagon will still appeal.
Mechanically, the Sport (hatchback) lineup is almost identical to the sedan. Engine choices include Mazda's own 160-hp, 2.4 L four-cylinder, or Ford's Duratec 220-horse, 3.0 L V6. Both are twin-cam, four-valve designs.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard with both engines.
A four-speed automatic is available with the four, a five-speed auto with the V6.
Suspension is MacStrut at the front, multi-link independent at the rear.
Engine-speed-sensitive power steering and anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution are standard across the board. Traction control is standard on all models.
Since even the sedan has a split-folding rear seat back, the main functional plus of the hatch is the wide-opening rear deck lid – it's just easier to get stuff in there.
The main disadvantage? The Sport is from $200 to $2,500 more expensive, depending on engine and trim level.
Starting prices: $25,495 (for a well-equipped GS four-cylinder), $28,495 (GS V6), $30,795 (better-equipped GT four) and $32,995 (GT V6). Add $1,200 for the autobox on the four; $1,300 on the V6.
Is the hatchback worth the extra bucks? It would be to me.
On the assumption that the Sport Wagon will likely carry more stuff and need more juice, Mazda Canada has decided to offer the 6 Sport Wagon only with the Duratec V6.
The fact that most prospects are expected to be coming out of SUVs, which are largely V6-equipped, leads to this conclusion as well.
The GS wagon is $26,995, the GT $31,495. Again, the five-speed auto is an extra $1,300.
A day spent cruising up the California Coastal Highway from San Francisco to Eureka, Ore., in a loaded Mazda6 Sport Wagon reminded me of why the 6 has been so successful.
The V6 may get a shade rough when revved hard, the five-speed automatic occasionally shifts a bit harshly and there's some road noise from the aggressive tires. But, overall, it's a handsome, nicely appointed, comfortable car.
Where the 6 really shines is when you decide to pick up the pace a little. It isn't the most powerful car in its class, but it may be the best-handling. The steering is liquid, smooth, precise; the cornering is flat and stable.
(There's an owner of a late-model Camaro Z28 who is still probably trying to figure out how that red station wagon could be pushing on him so hard on that tight twisty road through the Redwood National Forest.) Only the Accord, I think, could match the 6 on this criterion – and, of course, you can't get a wagon Accord any more.
Mazda Canada estimates it will sell about 6,500 Mazda 6 hatchbacks, 6,000 sedans and some 2,500 wagons over the next 12 months. That said, dealer reaction to the wagon has been strong; it may do a bit better than that.
No matter the model split, the 6 is already doing vastly better than its predecessor, the 626, ever did. Style, performance, handling and now added practicality: that's a recipe for success.
Jim Kenzie, a freelance journalist (jim @ jimkenzie.com), prepared this report based on travel provided by the automaker.