- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Mazda's all-new flagship sedan, the Mazda6, offers independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, 160 horsepower and a new answer to the age-old automotive question: how to make an everyday car seem extraordinary.
Positioned against a formidable competitor lineup that includes the VW Passat, BMW 3-series, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, the Mazda6 is built on a brand-new platform that replaces both the 626 and the Millenia models.
Offered over the course of the next year in three models sedan, hatchback and wagon the new '6' follows on the heels of its successful Protege5 cousin, which was introduced as a 2002 model last year. So far, the '6' seems to be an appropriate encore to the Protege5's performance on the sales charts. More than 1,500 units of the Mazda6 wagon versions were sold within two weeks of the vehicle's introduction in Japan on June 24, and European and Japanese orders for sedan and hatchback models were six times higher than Mazda expected within the first month or the vehicle's appearance on the market.
On the heels of this success, Mazda hopes to double its share in the U.S. and European markets, and the '6' is seen as one of the ways this Asian manufacturer will get there. Having shifted from its strategy of tailgating Toyota and Honda in every vehicle segment, this automaker now is focusing on its core strengths, including the ever-popular Miata and the best-selling MPV minivan. Since 1996, Mazda has cut jobs, tightened its belt and pinned its hopes on these superstars.
Now, the '6' is taking center stage. A clean, modern exterior seems inspired by European design, with sleek cat's-eye headlamps, five-spoke wheels with 16-inch tires and a narrow, chrome-accented grille. A rising beltline and wide windshield give the car a crouching, starting-line-ready stance. The wagon model's snipped rear end and angled rear windows echo the lines of the BMW 5-series sport wagon, and the hatchback recalls elements of the 'new' Mustang, with a low air dam and hatch-mounted spoiler.
Sport Package versions get 17-inch five-spoke cast-aluminum wheels with 215/50VR-17 all season radials, halogen fog lamps integrated into the headlamp clusters, a front air dam, side sill extensions along with a rear apron and rear spoiler with an integrated center high-mount brake lamp. Not just for show, the Sport Package has improved road handling and steering response.
Two available powertrains give this lineup its "zoom-zoom." The standard engine is a 2.3-liter four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower and 155 foot-pounds of torque; drivers can also choose an optional 3.0-liter V-6 that puts out 218 horsepower and 192 foot-pounds of torque. Both are available with five-speed manual or automatic transmissions; four-cylinder engines can be matched to a four-speed automatic, while the V-6 gets a five-speed automatic. Each powertrain meets ULEV emissions ratings.
The cabin is spacious, comfortable and thoughtfully designed. The titanium-finish dash features round gauges and chrome accents, and controls are easy to find and operate. Commonly used radio controls are mounted high within the driver's line of sight, and radio and cruise control switches also are mounted on the steering wheel.
Seating includes two front buckets and a rear bench that seats three (it's a much more comfortable ride for two) and splits 60/40 for extra stowage space. Seats boast class-leading roominess, and a standard telescoping steering wheel is unique to the class. Another unique interior feature is the fold-down rear seat, a design was inspired by a "karakuri," a traditional Japanese wind-up doll. A single touch on a handle in the luggage area lowers the rear seat cushions into the floor while the seat backs fold forward to create an entirely flat load floor.
Driving the new model recently in southern California, I was impressed by the fact that wrapped within its "newness" is a return to its roots. An attractive, but demure package on the outside, its heart lies in its soul what Mazda calls "the soul of a sports car" tucked within the sheet metal of a sedan with tuned aerodynamics.
Built on an all-new platform that is based on a wide track and low center of gravity, Mazda's newest star features a newly developed front double-wishbone/rear E-type multilink suspension and a high-rigidity body with "Triple H" construction. In the front, long suspension travel is offset between the virtual kingpin axis and the wheel center, and lengthened suspension arms increase tire-to-road contact which translates to better road feel. In the rear, the multilink suspension delivers excellent handling and a very comfortable ride thanks to a long suspension travel, as well (which, conveniently, also helps increase cargo space).
As important as going fast is, transitioning from fast to slow and coming to an emergency stop are even more important. The new model's four-wheel disc brakes (11.1-inch ventilated front; 11-inch solid rear) are matched with four-sensor, three-channel ABS and available Electronic Brake Distribution systems, as well as traction control standard on the 3.0-liter V-6, which is an option on the 2.3-liter I-4.
The newest addition to the Mazda cast offers drivers fun with its powertrains with its standard safety features. Up to six dual-stage air bags are available front driver and passenger "smart" bags are standard, while front seat-mounted side-impact air bags along with optional dual front and rear side air curtains are available. Seats are anti-whiplash, with pyrotechnic front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters. Of note is a new crashable pedal assembly design, which helps protect the foot and leg from injury in frontal collisions.
As the star of the Mazda revival show, the new Mazda6 is taking on a tough role. The competition is strong, and veteran models such as the Camry will be hard to replace by an upstart. However, the great looks, modest price tag and solid performance of this upstart give it a fighting chance in the midsized sedan market.

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