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2010 Mazda 6: More to life than Zoom Zoom?

There IS more to life than Mazda's slogan "Zoom-Zoom". The newly designed 2010 Mazda 6 displays this in all aspects. The previous-generation Mazda 6 had plenty of it, yet Mazda had a hard time getting the average consumer to notice. That's because American drivers typically don't care so much about how their family sedans behave on winding country roads. What they want is space, safety, reliability, power and style While the old 6 looked nice enough, its tight dimensions and lackluster acceleration prevented it from succeeding in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Behold the four-door RX-8, says the new Mazda 6 with its styling. Either way you call it, the new Mazda 6 continues to be the rowdy, spirited stud of the mid-size pack.

Redesigned for 2010

For all its rousing spirit, the previous Mazda 6 lagged in sales a bit, primarily because it was perceived to be a little small by mid-size-sedan standards. Mazda addressed that perception with its 2010 redesign, which is bigger in every dimension. (The Accord is still bigger, though just barely.) The key question here is whether that size increase has diluted the esprit that made the previous car an enthusiast favorite.

The Mazda 6 has similar styling to the RX-8. This car definitely stands out from the rest in terms of its beauty. It is a beauty contest winner in all aspects. Mazda 6 takes some of its style sense from RX-8 in the front fenders. The fast rear roofline and backlight suggests speed, and the sheet metal is wrapped tightly around the 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The previous Mazda 6 was a wallflower. This new one is a rose. 

It's What's on the Inside that Counts

Beauty doesn't stop at the door. The Mazda's all new interior design is clean and elegantly simple, enhanced by quality materials, although the flimsy inside rearview mirror is out of step on this score. We enjoy the look of the major gauges, with their pulsing blue halos, and we were pleasantly surprised that the bolstering on the front seats was slightly aggressive, differing from the sporty message conveyed by the exterior.

Engine Power

The Mazda's standard transmission is a six-speed manual which is a satisfying piece of equipment with short throws and positive engagements. The Mazda's four-cylinder is up from 2.3 liters and 156 horsepower to 2.5 liters and 170 horses168 in PZEV (Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle) California editions such as our test car. Although the Mazda's power plant comes up seven horses short of the Fusion's, it registered identical times in the benchmark sprints: 0 to 60 in 8.0 seconds, the quarter-mile in 16.1 at 88 mph.

Fuel-economy estimates stand at 20 mpg city/29 highway and 23 combined for four-cylinder models with the manual transmission, while the five-speed auto improves the four's numbers to 21 mpg city/30 highway and 24 combined. These are class-competitive numbers. However, if you opt for the V6, estimates drop to 17 mpg city/25 highway and 20 combined, which is about as bad as it gets in this segment. 

Testers found that the all new 6 showed that the handling and aggressiveness hasn't been diminished by the increase in size over the previous model. There are subtle distinctions over its predecessor, and they are all good. Brake pedal feel was impressive in comparison to its competitors. The Mazda turned readily, with responsive handling. 

Ride and Handling

The Mazda's freeway ride was good. Pavement imperfections barely ruffle the 6's composure even when it's equipped with the optional 18-inch wheels. Its suspension tuning was more overtly sporty than the competition. A notable amount of road noise filters into the 6's cabin at high speeds. The base 2.5-liter engine produces wheezy noises and tepid acceleration, though the slick-shifting six-speed manual shifter livens things up a bit. The five-speed automatic is less engaging but provides remarkably refined shifts. The big 3.7-liter V6 feels and sounds muscular, yet it's a smooth operator, even at higher engine speeds. Sadly, the six-speed automatic isn't tuned for enthusiastic driving, downshifts are delayed, even in manual mode. Handling is impressive for a big family sedan, but the 6 doesn't feel as tossable in corners as the Altima, and its steering is lighter and looser than the nimble Nissan's.

There's probably enough zoom in this chassis to placate those who like to drive, while the average shopper will appreciate the 6's reasonably compliant ride. If styling is a high priority, the Mazda 6 for 2010 looks like a winner. And we don't think there's much chance that it would disappoint its owners in matters of fun.

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