- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

No matter how much performance you like under your right foot, sometimes you need four doors. That’s where the Mazdaspeed 6 comes in. The hot-shoe version of the Mazda 6, it delivers that extra zip. Throw a couple of child seats in back, hop in the driver’s seat, slide the slippery shifter into first and you’re off. An occasional glance in the rearview mirror at your backseat cargo reminds you to rein yourself and the car in, but otherwise, it’s “bring on the twisties.” If you are from the driving-should-be-fun school of thought, the Mazdaspeed 6 is that ideal blend of utility and performance.

No slouch itself, the Mazda 6 delivers satisfying performance. It has an OK four or a peppy six under the hood; either provides enough power to accomplish those daily chores — and in the case of the V-6 even generate a little fun in the process. But slap a turbocharger on the somewhat-timid 2.3-liter inline four and suddenly the sedate Dr. Jekyll transforms into the bully Mr. Hyde. Punching out 274 horsepower (75 more than the V-6), the turbocharged four turns Mazda’s flagship sedan into a pulse-accelerating hard charger. At 280 foot-pounds, peak torque is also drastically boosted over the V-6’s output. And the best part is, it posts these numbers for as little as $28,555 in the Sport version and a still respectable $30,485 in Grand Touring trim.

There are drivers out there who want their family hauler to have some personality. If all you care about is getting from point A to point B, there are other midsize sedans that fill the bill. However, drivers who find themselves going a little out of their way to enjoy a few additional bends in the road will embrace the Mazdaspeed 6.

A reservoir of power combined with a performance-A reservoir of power combined with a performance-tuned suspension and all-wheel drive elevate this sedan above those that simply “get you there.”

At first blush, there’s not much in the appearance of the Mazdaspeed 6 that differentiates it from a normal version. Special 18-inch aluminum wheels, a deck lid lip spoiler and a grille configured to suck in extra air for the turbo are the major exterior styling cues. A bit more stylish than many midsize entries, the Mazda 6 has the basic lines needed to look the performance role that the Mazdaspeed 6 fulfills.

Building on the Mazda 6’s already competent suspension, the performance version beefs things up a bit with a stiffer chassis and tighter suspension tuning. A limited-slip rear differential is standard. Also included in the base sticker are disc brakes on all four wheels monitored by an antilock system that includes traction control.

A six-speed manual transmission funnels power to the front wheels until they begin to slip. At that point the Active Torque-Split all-wheel-drive system can transfer up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. Fuel economy isn’t overwhelming, but for an AWD performance sedan, it’s acceptable, earning it an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

Driving the Speed 6 is big fun. It can be thrown into the corners without creating gobs of drama. Its sticky rubber and firm suspension do their job. If a driver does get in over his head, a stability-control system kicks in to help get things back on course. It accelerates with gusto, brakes with authority and handles brilliantly. It’s the whole package.

A couple of Speed 6-unique styling cues, such as aluminum pedals and highly sculpted front seats, are found inside. Adults may feel a little confined in the back seat, but it’s just fine for the youngsters. Both front and rear seats are leather trimmed and the front buckets are heated in the Grand Touring edition. Sporting seven speakers and a six-disc in-dash CD changer, the Bose-inspired audio system delivers outstanding sound.

The usual array of power accessories makes life easier in this sedan. Large, clear gauges keep the driver up to date and glow an eerie red at night when the headlamps are switched on. A keyless start-up system is standard on Grand Touring.

Thanks to its family-sedan roots, the Mazdaspeed 6 has side-impact air bags, as well as side curtain air bags that protect the front and rear-seat areas. Three-point seat belts with pretensioners are located at all five seating positions.

Ready, willing and able, the Mazdaspeed 6 makes good on its performance promise. Quick and agile, it is also remarkably comfortable. Right out of the box, it’s a lot of car. Plus with a warranty that runs for 48 months or 50,000 miles and a loaner car program tossed in for some additional peace of mind, this Mazda isn’t just a lot of zoom, zoom. It makes sense.

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