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Mazda6 gets a performance treatment

November 18, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

The Mazda6 morphs from competent family car to fast and frenzied grand-touring machine now that it has been given the full-on turbocharged and all-wheel-drive Mazdaspeed treatment.

For the uninitiated, the Mazdaspeed sobriquet is applied to those normally benign vehicles that have received an upgrade in power, handling and general appearance. The resulting turnkey "tuner" model allows buyers to forgo the trouble and expense of selecting and installing their own aftermarket accessories at the risk of voiding the factory warranty.

Two years ago, the first such Mazda to be tweaked was the limited-edition (and turbocharged) Proteg, which was followed by the turbo Miata roadster. Now it's the Mazda6's turn to benefit from the Mazdaspeed touch.

As the folks at Mazda are careful to point out, Mazdaspeed models aren't just about speed. Upgrades in suspension, brakes, interior hardware and outward appearance also receive close attention to differentiate these vehicles from the tamer members of the pack. In the case of the Mazda6, all the aforementioned areas have been thoroughly revised to create a significantly different automobile.

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The Mazdaspeed6 sports a much more aggressive look, the result of a revised front and rear fascia accentuated by a set of fender-filling 18-inch alloy wheels, a unique power-bulge hood, flared side skirts and a rear spoiler.

On the inside, special trim, shift knob, gauges and more deeply sculpted front seats amplify the Mazdaspeed6's sportier intentions.

All of these adjustments to the Mazda6's physical shape serve as the backdrop for what lies beneath. The car's basic structure has been considerably stiffened while stronger coil springs and thicker front and rear anti-sway bars have been added to provide optimum cornering agility. For added stopping prowess, larger-diameter front and rear disc brakes with anti-lock have been added along with standard stability control.

At the heart of the Mazdaspeed6 is a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that spools out 274 horsepower. By comparison, a standard-issue 2.3-liter Mazda6 puts out 160 horsepower while V-6 versions are worth 215. The turbo motor stokes enough fire in the belly to produce a Mazda-recorded zero-to-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds, a respectable number that's comparable to other high-output machinery with considerably more engine displacement.

Connected to this heady powerplant is an all-new six-speed manual transmission. There is no automatic option, which could conceivably cut into sales, but underscores Mazda's uncompromising attitude when it comes to the Mazdaspeed6's performance.

To make optimum use of the Mazdaspeed6's prodigious output, all-wheel drive is a standard part of the package. The system directs 100 percent of the power to the front wheels under normal cruising, but the on-board computer automatically splits the torque between the front and rear wheels depending on road conditions and driver input.

The first of two Mazdaspeed6 models is the Sport, which includes a healthy array of goodies such as climate control, tilt/telescopic steering column, 200-watt Bose-brand audio system with CD changer, and a full complement of front, side-impact and side-curtain air bags.

The Grand Touring edition ratchets up the luxury quotient with leather seats (heated in front) including an eight-way power driver's chair and heated outside mirrors.

A navigation system is on the options sheet along with a power moonroof and several dealer-installed accessories.

The fast-company Mazdaspeed6 with its seating for five, decent-sized trunk and all-weather capability should appeal to drivers wanting some serious sports-car fun at a competitive price. It's not for everyone, but it will certainly catch the attention of everyone, which is the point, after all.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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