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2006 Mazdaspeed 6
By James Riswick

Click for detail photo. All-wheel drive, six-speed manual, 18-inch wheels, 274 horsepower and a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.4 seconds. Although these statistics seem in line with some sort of high-performance Audi or Subaru, they in fact belong to the Mazdaspeed 6, a car with enough zoom-zoom to make those other all-wheel drive guys take notice.

This Mazda super sedan is of course based upon the excellent Mazda 6 platform that has garnered much praise from the press and much pilfering from parent company Ford which used the 6’s underbits for the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr and probably eight other soon-to-be-released pieces of badge engineering. As with BMW’s M division and Mercedes’ AMG, Mazdaspeed is the name given to high-performance versions of its already zoom-zoom sporty cars. Although we’re still waiting on other Mazdaspeeds, the 6 is a keen indication of how much Mazda is willing to dial up the fun meter.

In an era when ho-hum family sedans like the Honda Accord are almost making 250 horsepower, the first place an automaker generally looks to up a sedan’s performance ante is under the hood. In this case, Mazda went with a 2.3-liter four featuring 15.6 psi of turbocharged boost good for a very healthy 274 horses and 280 lb-ft of torque. Coupled to a Mazda-typical mechanically direct six-speed manual, the Mazdaspeed 6 overcomes its rather portly mass of 3600 pounds with brisk acceleration that bests everything in its class.

As any maker of front-wheel drive cars knows, when horsepower starts creeping higher in the 200 plus atmosphere, a little thing called torque steer will cause wheels to spin, steering to jerk and bad memories of Saab 900s to re-emerge. As Honda realized with its Acura RL, the best way to overcome this – short of a new rear-wheel platform – is to develop an all-wheel drive system that will even out the power. Whether blasting off from a traffic light or out of a tight turn, the Mazdaspeed’s sophisticated AWD system keeps it bolted to the tarmac. Throw in the fact that the regular old 6 is a superbly fun car to drive with quick steering and solid handling, and the Mazdaspeed version’s primary virtues are obviously those discovered on roads that perilously cut through canyons and coastline.

While the Mazdaspeed 6 meets its task of delivering a lot of fun, it is a little rough around the edges. The controls are well placed, but the interior quality is only so-so with “piano black” plastic on the dash that feels cheap along with a couple of other pieces. The beefed-up exterior also could use a visit to the styling doctor. The added air needed for the turbo’s intercooler created the need to awkwardly raise the hoodline and increase the grille opening. Although the latter looks a little RX-8-like, it just doesn’t work with the rest of the front fascia. Also, am I the only one who prefers the profile of the Mazda 6 five-door to the regular sedan design used for the Mazdaspeed?

Other complaints have been made about the car’s refinement – specifically road and engine noise. Although these are sometimes trade-offs in performance-oriented vehicles, for one that starts at $28,555 (and can go up to $32,485 with leather, sunroof and navigation), it should probably be a little more civilized to live with.

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Pictures of the Mazdaspeed 6
Click pictures to enlarge

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Posted March 31, 2006
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