For 2009, the Mazda Mazda6 i Grand Touring has grown--both literally and figuratively--into a formidable competitor in the midsize sedan market, although its impressive array of cabin tech is marred by a few glaring omissions.
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Muscular front haunches
The Mazda6's front end is reminiscent of the RX-8, with it's low slung nose and bulging fenders.
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The front and rear quarters are probably the best angles from which to view the Mazda6, showcasing its windswept headlamps, chunky fenders, and sweeping roofline.
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The Mazda6's bodylines terminate rather neatly at what we think is a very Toyota Camry-esque rear end.
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In Grand Touring trim, the Mazda6 benefits from brighter, LED-illuminated tail lamps and chrome-tipped tail pipes. What the Mazda6 lacks is a backup camera option, which would be useful when parallel parking the high-rumped sedan.
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Viewed from the side, the Mazda6's slab-sided profile reveals that the midsize sedan has gotten bigger in nearly every dimension for 2009.
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The Mazda6 i Grand Touring's interior is trimmed with a mix of high quality plastics and heated leather seating and is available in one color: black. Fit and finish is on par with the best of this segment.
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Seven-inch touch screen
Located at the center of the dash is the seven-inch touch-screen display. We like the screen's size and brightness, but the orientation angled it up and away from the driver. This created horrible glare in direct sunlight. Climate controls are logically situated, although the HVAC display located all the way at the top of the dash takes some getting used to.
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What is that? Wood?
The center console and parts of the lower dash are trimmed in this black, glossy faux-wood. The Car Tech editors were torn as to whether we actually liked it.
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The Mazda6's red and blue illuminated electroluminescent instrument cluster is good looking and easy to read. However, the redline is not marked on the tachometer, which can be a problem when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission.
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Though a bit thin for sporty driving, the Mazda6's leather wrapped steering wheel feels good in the hand. We like that the buttons for cruise, audio, and voice control are illuminated.
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Six-speed manual transmission
When paired with the six-speed manual transmission, the Mazda6 is a joy to drive. This fantastic shifter is buttery smooth, almost falling into gear with little effort.
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Tucked behind the touch screen is the six-disc changer for the premium Bose audio system.
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Bose premium audio
With 10 speakers and an amplified subwoofer, the Bose audio system sounds fantastic in the Mazda6's relatively quiet cabin.
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The Mazda6's DVD-based GPS navigation is the same system that we've seen time and time again in Mazda vehicles. The learning curve is a bit steep on the interface, which may turn off some users. Once mastered, the system is quick and responsive.
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Standard on the Mazda6 at the Grand Touring trim level, bluetooth hands-free calling is easier to set up and use now, thanks to onscreen controls that let users bypass the finicky voice command system.
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Bluetooth audio streaming
Look closely at the list of available inputs and you'll see something new for Mazda: Bluetooth audio streaming. This new system pairs in the same way as the hands-free and allows wireless audio streaming with limited control from compatible devices.
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Coming up blank
Paired with out T-Mobile Shadow, which doesn't support tag information, the Mazda's audio system can't display artist, song, or album information. A newer device that fully supports the standard should be able to send this information.
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Siruis satellite radio
Sirius satellite radio is also available as an option. We noticed that out test vehicle had a hard time holding onto a signal, even on a clear day with unobstructed skies.
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Users of iPods or other MP3 players are stuck playing their music through this aux-input hidden in the center console. There is no dock connector or USB option available that we could find on Mazda's specification sheets.
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The 170-horsepower inline-four that lives under the Mazda6's hood can best be described as peppy, especially when paired with the six-speed manual gearbox. Configured as such, the Mazda6 manages an almost-thrifty 20 MPG city and 29 MPG highway. Those in need of more power can opt for the thirstier 275-horsepower V-6 in the Mazda6 s model.