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2006 MazdaSpeed6

Serious Zoom-Zoom

    There are other turbocharged performance sedans on the market but the two we think of first, the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX, are considerably more manic than the thoroughly upgraded MazdaSpeed 6 we had the pleasure of driving a few weeks ago. We recently tested the Evo and were—not surprisingly—impressed by the sheer power of the tiny 2-liter and the fierce acceleration it provides. But the Evo is tuned heavily toward hardcore and not everyone wants to sacrifice a decent ride, sound insulation, and luxurious interior accommodations in the name of horsepower. Some will willingly trade a few tenths of a second in the 0-60 mph dash for something that can serve family sedan duty at the drop of a hat. Those people will find such a ride at their Mazda dealer.
     We’ve driven about every version of the 6 Mazda makes and we’ve liked every one of them. Considering the MazdaSpeed 6 is a better looking, more powerful version of the sedan we already liked, odds were good that the MazdaSpeed version would win us over. And from the moment we slid into the well-bolstered sport seat and gripped the Miata-sourced shifter, it did.
     Mazda understands clean styling and the simple truth that tacking things onto your sport models does not make them any faster or any better looking. For evidence, just consider this car. There is a powerful look to the front end where Mazda designers made their biggest alterations but the smoked headlights, large air dam, modified Mazda grille and noticeably bulging hood look purposeful and natural. Designers then added some side sill extensions and the oval dual exhaust that will let cars in the right lane know they were passed by something special. Yes, there is a wing, but it doesn’t look like it was ordered from an aviation parts catalog and it doesn’t block every trailing cop in the county like the Evo’s does. The exterior modifications work beautifully and succeed at giving a vehicle that was starting to blend in among its fresh-faced competitors a new lease on life. We think the car looks particularly stealthy in our version’s Titanium Gray.
     Thanks to some new finishes on the center stack and a set of aluminum pedals the MazdaSpeed’s cabin is appropriately differentiated from lesser models. Considering the vehicles’s $29,925 base price things look pretty good but we’d pass on at least one of our vehicle’s options. The $2,000 navigation system, for example, is not a touch screen unit so you must use a little remote that is cradled in the center console to the left of the shifter. Mazda lets you remove the remote so passengers can help but changing settings and toggling through the menus with nothing but a few buttons on a tiny remote is not the way to go. A well-placed touch screen unit is definitely in order. We did like the Berber-type carpeting and no-cost white leather seats and door trim. The variety of colors and textures throughout the interior are to thank for making the MazdaSpeed 6’s insides look as good as the outside. And standard luxury features like leather trimmed and heated front seats, Bose audio system, 6-cd changer and keyless entry and ignition are the reason the Mazda is more comfortable to live with than an Evo or STi ever will be.
     Despite those positives a car with the word “speed” in its name will need more than pleasing aesthetics and comfortable seats to be considered a success. It all comes down to the hardware under the hood and the gearheads at MazdaSpeed don’t disappoint. Like its more hardcore competition the highest performance 6 uses a small 4-cylinder, 2.3-liters to be exact, and a single-scroll turbocharger to put up the big numbers it does. It can’t quite match the power of the Subie or the Mitsu but 274 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, at only 3,000 rpm, is enough to provide some excitement when the right pedal is pressed. With that kind of torque in the middle of the powerband and a smooth but mechanical 6-speed manual to make staying near the power an easy task, passing on the highway is the MazdaSpeed’s forte. Mazda’s first application of direct injection, called Direct Injection Spark Ignition, pays dividends by providing more power and fuel economy of 19 city and 25 highway. A limited-slip rear differential works with the Active Torque Split all-wheel drive system to put power through the 18” wheels. The rest of the mechanical package is also tuned to perfection. The clutch and brake feel are both typical Mazda—which is to say among the best. The steering, too, is sharp, even with our car’s winter tires.
     The MazdaSpeed6 is a great car even at $33,325 for our fully loaded example. The magic is MazdaSpeed knows how to tune a car so it not only becomes faster, but all-around better. That’s a philosophy some others would do well to follow.

The Good:
Muscular but not over done styling, slick 6-speed, strong mid-range power.
The Bad:
Weird wheel design, Bose stereo is nothing to write home about.
The Verdict:
A great sports sedan that’s actually affordable.


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