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2006 Mazda 6

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San Francisco: An athletic, feline body makes the Mazda 6 sedan look sporty without being outrageously styled. Its precise, balanced, sports-car-like handling makes it drive even sportier than its body suggests.

Just like on the outside, the Mazda 6's interior is conservatively styled but still interesting. Gauges are easy to read and controls are intuitive, so it's comparable to a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord from a usability standpoint.

Call me a cynic, but I believe the majority of today's cars are designed and built for people who hate cars. Think about it. One of the world's top selling sedans, the Toyota Camry, is the automotive equivalent of a kitchen appliance. People who shop for a Camry go about the process exactly as if they were looking for a Sunbeam toaster or Whirlpool refrigerator, seeking longevity, efficiency, a good brand name and - above all - the simple ability to get people from place to place without a fuss.

I'm convinced that people buy Camry’s not because they're particularly passionate about the car, but because they merely view cars as tools to accomplish a task. They want their kitchen blender to work when they press a button, and they want their car to work when they turn the key - simple as that.

That's all well and good, but it ignores the fact that there's a large group of drivers who understand that cars are the closest thing man has created to a living organism. Some cars like to be stroked and coddled like a newborn baby, while others aren't happy unless they're being thrashed about on a country road, tires squealing and engine screaming for more. Cars have a soul.

Few manufacturers understand this concept as thoroughly as Mazda, a company that builds cars for people who love to drive. Mazda doesn't build cars to be automotive appliances that drive you around the block, but as a person's soul mate created out of steel - the kind of car that creates a real, honest-to-goodness emotional attachment when you get behind the wheel.

Such is the case with the Mazda 6, a sporty four-door car that competes, at least in theory, with the Camry and all its dull copycats. It can certainly get you around the block in relative comfort, and it's got a trustworthy reputation for reliability. But it's so much more than a transportation appliance.

Everything about this car is designed to make a driving enthusiast happy, albeit one who has to settle for the utility of a sedan over the sheer thrills of a two-seat sports car. It's as fun as cars get without being impractical.

Handling is sharp as a cat's claw. The car instantly responds to every command you give it through the steering wheel and pedals, and it gives the driver lots of feedback through the whole process. You feel the texture of the road and how firmly each wheel is planted as you sweep through a corner, but it's never too harsh to be uncomfortable. It's just firm enough to keep it out of the "you've gotta be crazy to drive this car every day" category.

Two engines are offered in the Mazda 6, both of which are a thrill to drive. A 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine offers lots of fun for the money, making 160 horsepower and sounding fantastic at high RPMs. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the four-banger to people who like the way small Japanese cars drive - zippy and responsive. For more low-end grunt, opt for the 215-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6. Like the four-cylinder version, it sounds fantastic and offers impressive acceleration.

Outside, the Mazda 6 isn't quite as aggressive as it is under the skin. It has a fairly subdued, feline stance that looks athletic but not outlandish, and the only hints to its performance aspirations are a big air intake on the front end and thick fender bulges that arch over the wheels.

Inside, it's more of the same, with a look that's fairly conservative for a car with such outstanding handling. You won't find crazy neon colors or other boy-racer gimmicks, but you will find easy-to-read gauges and intuitive controls that feel nice.

Pricing ranges from the basic Mazda 6i ($19,110) up the near-luxury Mazda 6s Grand Touring ($27,160), which drives like a low-end version of the BMW 5-series. The MazdaSpeed6 ($27,995) is a special high-performance version of the Mazda 6 with a turbocharged engine that makes nearly 275 horsepower.

Options for all models include a $500 in-dash, six-disc CD changer, a $200 cassette player and a $2,000 navigation system. No matter which version you pick, it'll have the same soul - and nothing in common with a kitchen toaster.

Why buy it? It feels like a grown-up go-kart. It handles beautifully, with very little body lean in corners, and it's a lot more fun than a typical four-door sedan.  By Derek Price   © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
Column Name: 
 The Mazda 6 a driving enthusiast's soul mate
 The 2006 Mazda 6
Word Count:  
Photo Caption: 
 The 2006 Mazda 6
Photo Credits:  
Mazda Internet Media
Series #:   2006 - 18

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