With models such as Camry, Accord, and Altima, the midsize sedan market is at once the most practical and most boring in the U.S. The 2010 Mazda6 is yet another entrant among a class that appeals to comfort, reliability, and economy, yet Mazda tries to differentiate itself by giving its cars a slightly more sporting character. We set out to see if Zoom Zoom is part of the Mazda6's DNA.
But we weren't off to an auspicious start, as our 2010 Mazda6 was in i Touring Plus trim, which means a four-cylinder engine under the hood and a five-speed automatic transmission. There are seven trim levels for the Mazda6, a slightly bewildering array, and each one comes with a specific transmission and engine. Want the six-speed manual? Then you're stuck with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with no navigation option. To get the more powerful 3.7-liter V-6, you have to choose from the two top trim levels, and settle for a six-speed automatic.
Five of the Mazda6's seven trim levels come with this 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
The i Touring Plus trim lives in the middle of this lineup, neither loaded nor stripped, although real cabin tech only starts at the top of the line. The interior features a quality look, but so do the cabins of most competing midsize sedans. Gone are the days when Honda ruled cabin fit and finish--other companies upped their game in this area.
As for Zoom Zoom, the Mazda6's moderate 170 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque sounded more appropriate for mileage over speed. And mileage is good, with an EPA rated 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. We turned in an average of 25.2 mpg, which isn't bad for us heavy-footed drivers who will always take the scenic route over the straight and broad.
In practice, that torque was delivered more punctually than in some competitors' cars. The Mazda6 stepped off quickly enough, even teasing us with a little traction control warning flickering on the instrument cluster as the front wheels fought to maintain grip. However, we found similar performance out of the Nissan Altima Coupe we tested recently.
After the initial thrust, the power from the Mazda6's engine starts to feel like a light wind at your back. Far from overwhelming, the car gains speed at a moderate rate, and even using the automatic's manual mode can't wring much more from it. Definitely more Zoom, than Zoom Zoom, but pretty typical behavior for the class of car coupled with this type of engine.
The manual mode on the automatic transmission produced reasonably quick shifts.
Technically, the engine is pretty average: four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing on the intake stroke. No turbo, no direct injection. Topping out at five gears, the automatic transmission is a little primitive, lacking a tall gear to maximize economy at freeway speeds. The tach needle hovered around 3,000rpm at 75 mph. But the automatic was happy to step down a gear or two when we gave it heavy throttle, and in manual mode, the shifters were a little more immediate than in other automatics we've used.
As the car didn't rise above its midsize sedan average character in power train performance, we subjected it to a good mountain course, with tight turns that would put some stress on the car. Again, the Mazda6 performed very similarly to the Altima Coupe. There was obvious lean and body roll, although not as bad as you generally find amongst its competitors. Understeer also reared its head, and we had the joy of seeing the orange traction control warning light up again and again. Again, we give it one Zoom--it didn't quite make it to two.
Our Mazda6 also had warning lights in its sideview mirrors, as part of the blind-spot detection system. As one of our favorite driver aid features, we were pleased to see blind spot detection in a car that's far from a tech powerhouse. These warning lights turn on when a car is riding in the Mazda6's blind spot, off either rear quarter. The system seems about 90 to 95 percent effective--we saw a few glitches, such as the light remaining on as we drove on a bridge, with the superstructure next to the car. But that wasn't typical behavior.
Warning lights alert you to cars in your blind spot.
The only other tech feature we didn't expect to see in the Mazda6 was Bluetooth streaming to the stereo. As you would expect, the car also had a Bluetooth phone system for hands-free calling. This system relies on voice command for number input, and although it has an onboard phonebook, you can't transfer contacts from your phone to the car. After we paired an iPhone to the system to check the hands-free calling capabilities, Bluetooth streaming was also ready, without any additional setup. As typical with current Bluetooth streaming technology, you can merely pause or play the music using the car's stereo, and there is no artist or song display.
Other audio sources included an MP3 compatible six-CD changer and satellite radio. The satellite radio installation looked a little slapdash, with an exposed wire leading out to the antenna, which was stuck to the trunk lid. True iPod integration isn't available in the Mazda6.
This satellite radio antenna installation looks very aftermarket.
After listening to the stereo, we were surprised to see it only uses six speakers. Audio output is very crisp, and sounds well-amplified. Bass is also very strong for a system lacking a subwoofer.
Although a little short on Zoom, the 2010 Mazda6 delivers decent fuel economy and the kind of comfortable, practical interior space one would expect from a midsize sedan. The exterior styling stands out a little, with pronounced front fenders. But as for tech, the Mazda6 is largely average to mediocre. The lack of a navigation option in all but the V-6 trims is particularly troubling. And while Bluetooth streaming is useful, it doesn't beat full iPod integration, which generally offers a usable interface through the stereo. Blind-spot detection is the most useful tech feature in the Mazda6, but nothing else is notable. Tech-wise, the engine and transmission don't stand out, either, delivering the kind of power and economy we would expect from the spec sheet.
|Model||2010 Mazda Mazda6|
|Power train||2.5-liter inline four|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/30 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||25.2 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible six CD changer|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||6 speaker|
|Driver aids||Blind-spot detection|
|Price as tested||$25,030|