In my driveway, it’s known as Fujin (Japanese god of the wind), and I LOVE this car. It’s got the perfect blend of practicality, power, safety and luxury that I was looking for, and there are VERY few that meet my stringent criteria. Other models I was considering were the Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT, Audi A4 2.0t, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VII, Subaru STI, and the Infinity G35x, but for some reason I kept coming back to the Mazda for reasons I shall attempt to cover here:
While it’s not the best looking of the bunch the Speed6 offers a fly-under-the-radar muscularity that pleases me on a pretty deep level. Unless you know what you’re looking for it’s easy to dismiss it as a standard Mazda 6, but those in the know recognize the larger wheel arches housing 18″ wheels, the subtle lip spoiler riding razorlike on the trunk and the higher hood complete with hidden air ducting to cool the intercooler. A surprisingly dark window tint is factory, I believe. The front end also receives a re-working with larger openings and black grilles.
Overall, the understated look of the 4-door sedan is perfect for those family-types who would like turbo-AWD goodness, while avoiding the boy-racer stereotype of the (admittedly much higher-performing) STi’s and EVO’s. It’s a bit more menacing than the Legacy, and much more exclusive than the Audis. Standard are HID headlights (not available in the 2006 Legacy, and an upgrade on the Audi).
Upon opening the driver’s door, one is greeted by an interior that, while not graceful, is highly functional, well designed, with nice touches which elevate it from bog-standard. Mine has the black cloth interior which I preferred over the leather. Too much slipping around. A chunky three-spoke wheel tilts and telescopes in front of red-on-black gauges. Audi-style vents control the airflow. The HVAC controls are well thought out, but the automatic mode seems always to turn on the A/C even when in heating mode. Might have to look into that further. Families will love the back seats which fit three across fairly comfortably, with childseat LATCH hooks at all three positions. Plenty of legroom for 6+footers, but you giant people might have to lay off the hair gel a little, as the headroom in the back is less than the Infiniti’s.
Driver’s and passenger’s front, side and curtain airbags, coupled with rear-side and curtains give the driver a little more assurance in the event of the unthinkable.
Seating position is very good, with excellent visibility over the hood, and behind. The overall length of the car requires a look over the shoulder to clear the rear 3/4, and a slight shuffle to gaze past the b-pillar for passing…or you could just downshift and HIT THE GAS…but I’m getting ahead of myself–we’ll talk about performance in a bit.
Interior materials are of a high quality and pleasing to the touch and the eye. The Speed 6 cockpit lacks the simple elegance of the Legacy, or the refined solidity of the Audi, but makes up for it with a certain flair catering towards the fact that this is a driver’s car. Not a yuppie-mobile, not a boy-racer slot car, and certainly not your average grocery-getter. Note the aluminum pedals.
Engine and Drivetrain:
Ah, here’s where it all is, folks. The heart and soul of this car is certainly the growling eager beast below the bonnet, which upon ignition dishes up an understated burbly-rumble that only hints at what you are in for.
Shove the short-travel clutch to the floor and place the leather-wrapped shifter into first and you are rewarded with a reassuring slot-like feel. Solid and predictable. Let out the clutch (which is tricky at first), hit the gas and hang on for dear life as the tach swings past 3000RPM. 280 lb-ft of torque sends all 4 wheels scrabbling for traction and you are launched forward with FAR more tenacity than the numbers would suggest. The 2.3-Liter DISI Turbo Inline-4 generates 270 bhp at 5500 RPM, and all 280 lb-ft at just 3000. Usable torque happens from just 1500RPM or so. But it feels like oh so much MORE. This is a turbo that you feel more than you hear, but oh what a feeling! The fat midrange powerband shoves you back into your seat like a great big hand, and passengers always remark in sentences they never quite finish:
“Jeeeesus, this thing is…”
“Oh I wasn’t expecting…”
“Good lord this is…”
And they always seem to assume it’s a V-6. I actually had to pop the hood and show a fellow gearhead buddy…and he still couldn’t believe it.
Power is abundant until a steep drop off at about 6000RPM. Shifting into second happens with a pleasant notchiness and the whoosh starts all over again. Grab third with a grin and hang on as you rocket towards redline with an inisitent growl…this thing is FUN. In-gear torque is plentiful with surprisingly little lag–a by product of the DISI direct injection. I could go on and on about this powerplant, and apparently the industry agrees, with it winning engine of the year in 2006.
First through 3rd are very short, meaning that you are shifting alot around town, but for gear heads this won’t be a problem, as this is a very well engineered box that is fun to row. My only complaint about the shortness of the gears is that 0-60 time suffers only because of a neccessary upshift to third.
Fuel economy has been much better than expected, with averages better than the EPA estimated 19/25. By my accounts I am averaging 22-24 city and closer to the 28 mark for highway.
Suspension and Braking:
These two things are what really sold me on the car. The suspension is superbly balanced, and very solid. The boffins at Mazda stiffened the chassis by over 50%, which makes sense, as the engineers state that the Speed6 only shares 20% of its parts with the standard 6.
Here’s a few specs from the Mazda site regarding the suspension setup (they say it better than I can!):
The MAZDASPEED6 is designed with a double wishbone geometry, for perfect wheel position control and the ability to isolate the springs and dampers from lateral forces. Always seeking to make the best even better, Mazda has made some important performance changes:
Damping force of the double-wishbone front suspension has been increased by 25% over the MAZDA6, with a 25% higher spring rate for the coil springs, to take feel and response to the next level.
The front stabilizer bar has been increased in diameter from 23mm to 24mm, for ultimate control.
Rear suspension on the MAZDASPEED6 achieves smart performance with these key features:
To help put you right where you need to be, an E-type Multi-link rear suspension eliminates lateral forces on the coil springs and maintains consistent wheel camber.
Specially designed mono-tube dampers deliver a delicious response, with smooth transitions between compression and rebound.
Rear spring weight has been increased by 37%, and the rear stabilizer bar was increased in diameter from 21mm to 23mm. Say good-bye to fishtailing, forever.
The result is staggering. It responds to driver input like a smaller, lighter car. The driver is constantly in communication with the road. This is one of those cars that makes you want to drive like an idiot. However, the real magic of the Speed 6…and this is something I think Mazda does better than most others…is that when you are just toodling around town running errands, the car is easy to drive, and comfortable. But the faster you go and the harder you push it, the taughter and stiffer it feels.
Mazda engineers obviously thought about the fun factor whilst programming the stability control for the Speed6 too. With it turned on, it will actually let the tail get out far enough for fun to be had, but kicks in before things get too out of step. In other words, the system will allow you to make a 2 foot mistake, but not a 6 foot one.
After driving this car, the others felt…soft, with the exception of the Infiniti. The Subie felt wallowy, the Audi felt isolated. The Mazda feels like a naked scalpel compared to the others’ machetes wrapped in cotton.
Brakes are equally impressive for factory equipment with 12.4 inch discs up front and 12.3 in the rear. Braking time from 70 is a very respectable 155 ft. Compare that to the 195 ft on the Subie of the same year and 169 ft of the ’06 350z and you can get an idea of what the binders are like on this thing. Very confidence inspiring with excellent pedal feel and very little fade.
To give you and idea of what this all means in terms of performance, here’s some perspective provided by Car and Driver:
The Mazdaspeed 6 was virtually unchanged between ’06 and ’07 and scored a solid 6th place.
If you are familiar with the show Top Gear on the BBC then you know about the lap times they keep record of on thier test track in the UK. The Speed6 did the test track in 1:32.2. Now the number itself is doesn’t tell the whole story, but the cars on either side of that time do. That’s faster than a Lotus Esprit turbo v-8. Over a second faster than the Noble M12 GTO. The Aston Martin Vanquish’s lap time was 1:36 and some change and the Mazda was 3 seconds faster than the Ferrari 575M. The Euro version of the Speed 6 even made it into Clarkson’s all-time list of top 25 favorite (or favourite for those on the other side of the pond) cars.
On the other side, cars that were barely quicker include:
BMW M3- 1:31.8 (.4 seconds slower)
Porsche 911 Turbo- 1:31.0 (1.2 seconds slower)
Acura NSX Type R- 1:31.6 (.6 seconds slower)
That’s UNBELIEVEABLE performance for the price, with comfort, safety practicality and all-weather goodness thrown into the mix. Mazda’s creation is a classic sleeper equally at home picking the kids up from school as it is surprising folks at a track day. The local Gendarmes look right past it, and fuel consumption is well within bounds, provided you don’t spend all day in boost (which you will…) All for less than you would pay for those stupid mini-SUV’s.
Zoom-Zoom We have a winner.