Full Disclosure: Mazda wanted me to drive this thing so badly that they made it an attractive enough FWD mid-size car that my brother chose one as his first vehicle.
So, the 2008 Mazda 6. It’s a Ford Fusion (or rather, a Ford Fusion is it). It has a 2.3L I4 with variable-valve timing. It has 3 pedals and 5 forward gears. This is a ‘base-model’ 6i, but is well equipped with power windows, locks, mirrors, keyless entry, and air conditioning. Here’s what I think about it.
The looks of the Mazda 6 are not bad. The facelift it received mid-model helped make the face a little less ugly. The shape is fairly nice, the car looks (and slightly is) low-slung. This one features the spoiler option, which doesn’t sit too high and actually settles the rear of the car up nicely, especially after having seen one without it. The Altezza-style taillights make it stand out a little bit more than other mid-sizers, and are easy to see and discern. Farther down the rear, there’s a style line cut into the bottom of the rear bumper just above the exhaust outlets, with long, slim reflectors on both ends of it. It comes equipped with a dual exhaust (splits into a y underneath the rear seat), and the symmetrical double polished tips fit the vehicle’s styling.
It has 17” 5-spoke swept-style rims, which contrary to the image are not actually chrome, but a very bright alloy. They make the ride a little harsh but fit the space they’re in quite well. The mirrors are actually quite large, but more long and narrow than short and tall. The low-beam headlights are projector-beam, but are not HIDs. However, they make the front look a little more upscale than it actually is. There is also, for some reason, a ‘fake bezel’ in the headlight clusters. In between the low-beam and turn signal is a lens-shaped piece of plasti-chromed nothingness. There’s no light or anything behind it. It’s just made to look like there is. I found this confusing. Lastly are the lower front bumper pieces, which are a plastic mesh which is vaguely chintzy but all-together non-offensive. Overall the car is just a slightly-sporty looking mid-sizer.
The interior is a two-tone affair, with black soft-touch material on the dash and upper door panels. Trim panels are covered in a dark metallic gray hard-plastic, which looks and feels cheap. Thankfully it’s metallic shine is not enough that it draws attention to itself. The door handles are light silver metallic plastic, and are easy to find and reach. Air vents (of which there are 5) are an omni-directional affair, in that you may twist and turn each of them in whatever direction your heart desires. They also feel no where near as cheap and fragile as the ones in my NA Miata.
The steering wheel is covered in a ruggedized version of the material that covers the dashboard, and it actually feels okay. It’s ever-so-slightly pliable and comfy in your hands. It has three spokes, and small bolstering around the 2:30 and 9:30 positions, directly above the top spokes. It has steering wheel mounted buttons for radio volume, presets/cd-track, mode/source, and a mute button. The cruise-control is also wheel-mounted, with on/off, cancel, and resume/accel | set/coast. It’s very easy and comfortable to use.
Gauges are a mixed bag. They are easily read, with large white font and lots of space between the numbers. They also (along with everything else in the cabin) light up red at night (with the interior illumination on), which I discovered is much less tiring on the eyes when reading at night. However, the two center gauges (rev-counter and speedometer, respectively) are surrounded by large chrome rings. When driving with your back towards the sun, light reflects off of these (in particular the rev-counter) and makes it almost look like a warning light is popping up on the dash without a second glance. It’s marginally irritating.
Also a mixed bag are the seats. As the picture shows (unless Nibbles eats it), they have moderate bolstering and do hold you in place well (that, and the grippy cloth). The cushion has a good amount of support in it and for being only a six-way adjustable manual seat, the angle on the cushion is just right for me. It has no adjustable lumber, the problem not being a lack of lumbar support but incorrect and un-adjustable positioning. Otherwise the seats are, as you’ve already guessed, mid-size-FWD-tastic, i.e. forgettable. Rear seats are slightly more comfortable than a comparable-age Camry, with marginally less legroom. Armrest and arm-positioning are good, but the back window and C-pillar are less than optimal for road-trip naps.
As equipped with the 2.3L I4 L3-VE (which Ford markets as the Duratec), it’s rated at 156hp @ 6500rpm (redline) and 154lb-ft @ 4000rpm. It’s DOHC, lower compression (only 9.7:1). Mazda equipped this one with a dual-muffler setup, with a single (but decent-sized) pipe going into a y underneath the rear seats into two mufflers. When really giving it the go it sounds much better (and much more powerful) than the beigemobile powerplant that it is. The gearing is fairly close, ratios being (1->5) 3.31, 1.84, 1.23, 0.97, & 0.76. In order to make it feel peppy, Mazda outfitted it with (and I can’t believe this myself) a 4.39 axle ratio. This means that it pulls very hard through the first 2.5 gears, easily chirping tires in 2nd on the way through. This also means that 70mph = 3000rpm. Ouch. Gas mileage follows this form, at an EPA estimated 21 city/29 highway. I averaged just a hair into 30mpg bringing it home from Tulsa, doing 75mph at most (and averaging 70mph). Official 0-60 time is 6.9s, Realistically it’s around 7.4. Not too bad.
It has 4-wheel discs and ABS, both of which means that it stops the roughly 3100lb car adequately. Pedal feel is decent, if a bit long on travel (you go an inch or so in before it gets down to business). Worthy of note, however, is the handbrake. In my infinite wisdom, I dropped the clutch in first while it was parked, thinking it was in neutral. The car moved less than a foot (with much noise and tire squeal) and thankfully didn’t charge headfirst into the Eldorado we’re trying to sell. +1 for good parking brake.
The ride is just cushy enough that you don’t mind taking a few-hundred mile trip in it (I didn’t mind). The larger diameter wheels and ‘sporty’ suspension mean that every expansion joint, every rock, every tiny, squishy worm you run over, you feel. It’s not necessarily harsh, but it is thoroughly communicative. There is no excess movement upon contact with larger bumps; it just seems to soak up just enough of the impact without feeling flobbery.
For something that is wrong-wheel-drive, the handling is actually really good for this vehicle, especially in it’s segment. There’s little body roll, no discernible (as-of-yet) understeer, and very little plow. The steering is very communicative and direct, with a shorter-ratio rack that equates to just a hair more lock-to-lock than my Miata, and it’s very stable on-center. Overall, it’s not too far off-base to say it acts like a bigger, heavier, FWD Miata. So if the Miata is roughly a 9/10 or 10/10, then this is 6.5. Good but just not good enough to be a 7.
This is, however, good enough to warrant a 7/10. The clutch is actually just slightly heavier than my Miata, if a little less communicative. It strikes the (almost) perfect balance between light for stop-and-go and heavy for hooning duties. It’s also very forgiving, and very smooth. The gearbox has relatively short throws, and the lever itself is positioned well to make it feel like it belongs there. The factory shift knob is made of the same material as the dash and steering wheel, and is topped with a chrome bezel denoting shift pattern. It feels good in the hand. The gearbox is very crisp and precise, something that pleasantly surprised me. I would almost say it would give my Miata a run for its money (if you haven’t gathered by now, my NA is my benchmark for all things sporty/fun/manual).
It is not amazingly equipped, being the base model and all. As stated previously, it has power locks, windows (front windows are auto up/down), mirrors, keyless entry, and cruise control. It has a manually adjustable driver’s seat. It does have a radio, and the radio’s screen is separate from it’s control panel. I like this. It makes it very easy to read while driving down the road, because you merely have to glance down at the dash-top and see song, source, time, and outside temp. Oh yeah, it reads outside temperature. Oooh, I know of a toy it has: switchblade key. But..., it’s a Mazda switchblade key, which means it’s only 7 years old and falling apart. It is still cool, and fun to play with.
Again, the exhaust is dual muffler (but not proper dual exhaust) and makes a lovely noise for a very beige four-cylinder. It palls in comparison to the audio system it’s equipped with. For the fact that its the standard audio, it’s amazing. Bass punch is crisp and easily felt, and highs are done with minimal distortion. Mids are forgettable, but this is a stereo that’s designed for the youths and their ‘pop’ ‘music’, so they’ll never notice. It’s an AM/FM/CD head unit, with no AUX port (at least, not yet). It plays CDs well. Radio signal is static-y and gets quite poor reception (I blame that on the half-mast-like antenna mounted to the back of the roof). The Mazda-designed head unit supposedly supports upgrades to the stock unit (like adding AUX, CD-Changer, Satelite Radio...), but I haven’t really investigated the options yet.
We paid a fair KBB retail for it, from a large pre-owned dealer. We had shopped for similarly-equipped Camrys, but for the same price range we were looking at worse-condition, many more miles, etc. To get a similar equipment/condition/mileage Camry, we would have easily paid $1500-2000 more than we gave for this. That, in my mind, makes this a good value. We’re getting a Camry-like (Japan-based, USA-built, mixed-parts) vehicle that’s slightly more sporty and is proving to be no-less reliable for 20-25% discount.
Engine: 2.3L L3-VE Inline-4 with VVT
Power: 156 hp/ 154 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed manual (Mazda G5M)
0-60 Time: 6.9s official/ 7.4 estimated
Top Speed: It’s done 90 so far. Probably tops out around 125 or so.
Curb Weight: Roughly 3,100 pounds (numbers vary from 3,091 - 3,121)
MPG: 21 city/ 29 highway
MSRP: $20,000 when new