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Mazda6 Sport Wagon Lags a Little in Zoom Category

While there are wagons aplenty in the luxury automotive segment from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo and now Jaguar, they are few and far between in the automotive mainstream from such manufacturers as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and Chrysler.

Now Mazda has entered this market with a worthy wagon appropriately called the Mazda6 Sport Wagon. Apparently the word “sport” needs to be affixed to everything in the car biz. But to be fair, the Mazda6 wagon does have a sporty quotient, particularly in terms of its handling.

The Mazda6 wagon and related sedan models compete in the hugely crowded midsize sedan market. The thrust in this segment has been to offer versatile vehicles that appear to offer something for everyone at a very reasonable price.

Rather than competing in the mainstream against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, Mazda has narrowed its focus to target the buyer on a budget who is looking for a more sporting experience, particularly in terms of handling and vehicle dynamics. Everybody think zoom, zoom, zoom.

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Although the name may imply that a six-cylinder engine exclusively powers the car, the Mazda6 is available with either an in-line four or a V-6. This is one instance where we’d advise going with the six-cylinder model. It would be hard to accept any less power, particularly if the owner intended to carry passengers or load it up with cargo.

The Mazda6 offers a pretty fair return on investment. Our V-6 model with the manual transmission had a base price of $24,025 and is well equipped.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels and tires, automatic climate control, tilt and telescope steering wheel, as well as side-impact air bags and side-curtain air bags. The only options on our vehicle were the leather package, a power moonroof, and high-end Bose audio system.

But the real value for the driver is delivered on a twisty country road. In this context, the double-wishbone front suspension and a wide stance deliver excellent responsiveness and handling finesse. The car is very sensitive to steering input with instant reflexes that can tame most any country road.

The ride quality is very acceptable, particularly for a sports wagon, which requires some compromise in terms of suspension tuning.

The Mazda6 wagon displayed a stout structure. There was no suggestion of body deformation, rattles or squeaks , even over railroad crossings and broken pavement. This particular automotive platform is slated to be the foundation for a number of new vehicles within the greater Ford Motor Co., and it should serve that purpose well.

Although the 220-horsepower engine gets the job done, it certainly doesn’t add a lot of excitement. The engine revs quickly and seems very tractable.

But I was surprised about the amount of wheel spin I encountered when starting on rain-slicked streets. Traction control would be a welcome addition to the onboard technology.

I would rate the exterior styling of the Mazda6 above average in class. Most of its competitors are going for a kind of porky look. Short front and rear overhangs and a long wheelbase give the wagon a purposeful appearance. The Mazda’s lines are crisp and unencumbered with any excessive ornament.

Mazda designers have also done a good job of integrating all of the important components, including head and tail lights, grille, as well as front and rear treatment.

The Mazda6 is blessed with a clean, rather elegant interior. The steering column tilts and telescopes to provide excellent ergonomics.

On the other hand, I was not impressed with the main driving gauges , speedometer and tachometer , which are illuminated with red lighting and are hard to read during sunlight hours. The center console has a titanium-silver finish that looks fresh.

Controls are designed for easy access and use. On the other hand, the back seat is not comfortable for an adult on an extended journey. Seat padding is minimal, perhaps due to the necessity for slim seats that flip and fold to create cargo space.

Buyers of midsize wagons by definition are after some degree of utility.

The Mazda6 wagon offers 132 cubic feet of interior volume. With the rear seat folded, it could easily challenge midsize sport utility vehicles in terms of cargo capacity.


Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at cordellkoland@mac.com.


Mazda6 Sport Wagon

Price as tested: $27,245.

Engine:

Type: 3.0-liter V-6.

Horsepower: 220 @ 6,300 rpm.

Torque: 192 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm.

Fuel economy, manual transmission:

City: 19 mpg.

Highway: & #173; 26 mpg.

Curb weight: 3,389 pounds.

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