- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

Midsize sedans are no longer blandly styled, boring boxes for driving to work. Today we are seeing emotionally provocative and exciting designs on the common, everyday four-door sedan.

The Chevrolet Malibu didn’t become the 2008 North American Car of the Year by accident. Interior comfort and fine handling led by a compelling exterior design caught the attention of critics. So who should lead the pack of contenders for the title 2009 Car of the Year? I’d be willing to put money on the 2009 Mazda6. The emotional design cues that are so essential to attracting buyers to toy cars, such as roadsters and convertibles, are finding their way to the meat-and-potatoes of the car market, the conservative five-passenger everyday driver - the midsize sedan.

With a starting price of $18,550, the glamorous Mazda6 looks like it’s worth twice that amount. There’s a silky sheen that floats over the velvet sheet metal. And the exterior look is distinctly Japanese. I’m so glad to see a Japanese automaker define its own look as being of its native heritage. For too long Japanese makers have chased “European styling” in pitching their vehicles to buyers and the media.

The Mazda team says the all-new Mazda6 is infused with Japanese values. The exterior glow, as on my dark blue test car, does reflect a harmony with nature, which is so intrinsic to the Japanese culture.

The instrumentation gauges were brilliant in the colors of reds, purples, blues, whites and blacks without being blinding.

The Mazda6 has a low, flat, planted stance, reflecting the powerful strength of a sumo wrestler. And if you can imagine delicate ivory inlays in wood and furniture then you will understand the attention to craftsmanship designers say they applied to the details of the new Mazda6.

If you were going to consider the Mazda6, then you would want to test-drive both engine options offered on the 2009 sedan. Available in four trims (SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring), the base model is standard with the 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine coupled to a six-speed manual transmission.

The top-of-the-line model I drove was equipped with the 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This powerful engine developed 272 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 269 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. The EPA figures are estimated at 17 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway. The vehicle’s as-tested price was more consistent with its pricey looks at $32,790.

All 2009 Mazda6 sedans come standard with dynamic stability control, side curtain airbags, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, plus power windows, mirrors and door locks.

The 2009 Mazda6 is built with a stiffer body structure compared to the previous model. The overall goal with the body of the new Mazda6 was to build a front-wheel sedan that would be more exciting to drive and to own.

The 2009 sedan is more responsive to smaller steering inputs and delivers a stable, precise, linear response. This is the kind of feel you get in a European sports sedan.

The flat and stable ride qualities on the test car come, not only from the improved torsional rigidity, but also from the standard 18-inch alloy wheels and tires.

The Mazda6 has a nice range in the price points to accommodate the tastes and demands of a variety of buyers. It very well could become the new Car of the Year.

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