Marc Stengel, Wed, 3 Aug 2005 08:00:00 PDT
Some folks dare to be different out of sheer contrariness. Other folks justcan't help themselves. They were born different; they are different; they'llalways be different. To them, the very condition of being out of theordinary is sheer ordinariness itself.
The designers and engineers for Mazda inhabit the latter camp. The mid-year introduction of the Mazda6 S 5-door hatchback is a case in point. Based on the Mazda6 sedan platform that critics generally praise yet customers generally overlook, the Mazda 5-door boasts a hatchback design meant to camouflage interior versatility within a sports sedan's persona.
Mazda's 5-door certainly looks the part of a jaunty, racy runabout. If the term "hatchback" conjures images of squarish, box-tail bodywork, Mazda6's latest incarnation dashes this prejudice. Its lines are sinuous andserpentine; its stance is rakish, almost combative. For onlookers who mightyet miss the point, a basket-handle wing-spoiler festoons the trailing edgeof the hatch.
Moreover, this new 5-door embodies all that Mazda's design philosophy stands for. Astride sport-tuned four-wheel independent suspension, the Mazda6 loves the road. Yes, the apostrophizing is both intentional and appropriate. There is something about a Mazda witness the Miata and Protge5, in particular that suggests it is actually conscious of its own sporting potential and yearns for an unbridled romp.
In the case of the Mazda6 5-door, sporting potential is expressed through a fast-revving 3.0-liter twin-cam V6 mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. A five-speed auto is available for the clutch-averse.) Toss in a quartet ofanti-lock disc brakes, and the formula is complete: This is a sport-sedan with a yen for bends. It likes to brake deep into turns, corner at the limits of its 50-profile, 17-in. tires, then accelerate smartly through the gears on its way to a 6,500 rpm redline.
About that redline, by the way: Although not unusually high by sportingstandards, 6,500 rpm is nevertheless almost coincident with the productionof 220 maximum horsepower (at 6,300 rpm) by the Mazda's V6. This motor's a"revver," in other words its 192 ft.-lbs. of maximum torque at 5,000 rpmmerely confirms the fact.
This power-profile goes a long way, I think, in explaining Mazda's niche-appeal among the common run of car buyers. In a nation spoiled by abundant, bottom-end torque, a lofty powerband feels like waiting for a delayed punchline. Aficionados know almost instinctively that "revs are your friend"; but too many commuter-minded folk are put off if not downright embarrassed by soaring rpms and the concomitant exhibitionism of a lusty exhaust note in full song.
For this reason, the Mazda6 may not quite win the broad appeal that itsunique (and well timed) 5-door design deserves. At a moment when the bloomis fading off the rose where sport/utility vehicles are concerned, Mazda'snew hatchback offers a most unexpected alternative. It is nothing if notsporty, for example. And with a well designed cargo hatch that expands from22 cu. ft. with rear seats in use to 59 cu. ft. with rear seatbacks folded,this Mazda 5-door is utilitarian beyond all expectation.
A five-seater with that kind of cargo capacity, in fact, rivals many compactSUVs, most of which boast maximum cargo space in the mid 60-cu.-ft. range.Suzuki's Vitara compact SUV, in fact, features a cargo range of just 23 cu.ft. to 50 cu. ft. And you can be certain that no SUV will match thecorner-craving handling personality of a zesty Mazda6.
Unfortunately for Mazda, however, it's not quite so simple a matter ascounting seats and measuring cargo space. Granted, the Mazda6 5-door isversatile with people and things; but "things" may get the better of thisdeal. The rear bench is a very tight squeeze for its maximum of threepassengers none of whom, I can assure you, will tolerate for long anenthusiastic cornering blitz through the twisties.
Personally, I find the Mazda6 cockpit well configured for a driver and frontpassenger, and tag-alongs are something of an afterthought. This owes muchto the car's trim, athletic dimensions, of course. It is, therefore, a cardedicated to the driving enthusiast. In its new 5-door hatchback iteration,it is dedicated, furthermore, to the driving enthusiast and his or herstuff.
The Mazda6 5-door is a car with great potential appeal to a select cadre ofsport drivers six appeal, if you will. As for broadening that appeal to themasses seeking rational alternatives to spendthrift SUVs, however, that's abigger load than this hatchback can be expected to tote.
5-pass., 4-door w/ hatch; FWD, 3.0-liter DOHC V6, 220hp/192 ft.-lbs.; 5-sp. manual; 19 mpg/City, 26 mpg/Highway w/ regular;cargo: 22-59 cu. ft.; base price: $22,895; as-tested, incl. 4-wheel ind.suspension & ABS disc brakes, traction control, 17-in. wheels, BoseAM/FM/in-dash 6-CD audio, moonroof, leather, fog lamps: $26,840