Thursday, May 13, 2004

For 2004, Mazda stretches the interior of its popular “6” to form the Sport Wagon. The thought here is to expand the customer base by applying wagon functionality to an already existing sporty sedan. Even further, the assault is double-barreled, as Mazda will also introduce the five-door hatchback version later this year. Three body styles of one model indicate this Japanese automaker’s confidence in and apparent success with the recently introduced 6.

To assure that the “Sport” part of the name is fulfilled, Mazda will offer only one engine in the wagon — a 3.0-liter V-6. Output is 220 horsepower at 6,300 rpm, and 192 foot-pounds of torque also come with the choice of a base 2.3-liter inline-four (160 horsepower) and consequently are badged 6i. However, only a 6s label (indicating the larger powerplant) will dress the new wagon. That V-6 is engineered with continuously variable intake valve timing, known as VVT, that provides both smooth running at low rpm and higher output at greater revolution. Between the minimum and maximum levels of adjustment, the timing is infinitely variable, providing enhanced performance at any engine speed.

A five-speed manual transmission is included in the standard equipment package, although a five-speed automatic with Sport Shift is also offered. The four-speed automatic transmission used behind the four-cylinder engine will not be seen in Sport Wagons.

In naming the new wagon, Mazda clearly hopes to represent the wagon’s behavior as nimble and athletic. However, we might assume this, even without the “Sport” appellation.

Why? Because Mazda emphasizes the racy attributes of every 6 that leaves the factory, and vows to make every model in its lineup have “the soul of a sports car.” Fully independent suspension uses a double-wishbone setup up front and a multilink unit in the back to provide, in this carmaker’s words, “sharp reflexes and maximum road holding.” A standard front stabilizer bar and low-profile rear coil springs with angled shocks keep the vehicle flat and smooth.

Mazda uses a power rack-and-pinion steering system that reduces assistance at high speeds, to improve handling qualities by making the driver more sensitive to the wheel’s actual input. Large 11-inch disc brake rotors, both front and rear, provide plenty of surface to grab, and Sport Wagons come standard with ABS. Mazda 6i sedans and hatchbacks offer this electronic support, but do not include it normally.

Electronic brakeforce distribution sends the appropriate amount of bite to each corner and responds, for example, to more weight in the back seat by increasing power in the rear brakes. Traction control is also included with ABS, and it cuts torque when wheel slippage is sensed. For 2004, 17-inch wheels and tires are standard on all 6s versions, including the Sport Wagon.

The chassis of the 6 is inherently rigid, again to provide athleticism to every 6 version. All critical spots — the floor, body sides, and roof — are reinforced with H-shaped buttresses, meant to improve collision protection and stiffen the general ride. Mazda also says that the sides of this vehicle were stamped as one piece, assuring a precise fit and optimal aerodynamics.

Standard equipment in the Mazda is plentiful — air conditioning, a tilt/telescoping wheel, cruise control, power windows/locks/doors, a split folding rear seat, keyless entry, a CD player, automatic climate control, a cargo cover and an intermittent rear wiper are all included in the Sport Wagon. However, a couple of additional packages provide even more amenities.

A Luxury Package includes leather seating surfaces, an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated door mirrors, and electroluminescent gauges that glow red at night. The Bose Audio Package adds a six-disc CD changer and a subwoofer. A power sunroof and rear spoiler can also be included. Additionally, exterior chrome accents (grille, body side moldings) can be added in the same way titanium finish may be applied within the interior.

Dual front air bags with “smart” technology sense both occupants’ seating position and evaluate accident intensity to determine the level of deployment. Seat-mounted air bags are also standard on Sport Wagons, and buffer the head, neck, and chest during impact. Curtain air bags are offered and provide lateral protection to passengers, both front and back.

In developing the Sport Wagon, Mazda had an advantage in having tooled “Sport” when engineers developed the 6 sedan. This wagon variation is meant to maintain all the handling and performance characteristics of the Saloon body style while adding the space and convenience of an Estate.

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