Review: 2006 Mazda 6

Mazda offers more body styles for the "6" than are available from any other midsize car, each engineered for the driving enthusiast. Delivering the sportiest driving experience in the category, the Mazda 6 is available as a conventional four-door sedan, a "five-door" hatchback, and as a station wagon. There are two series: the four-cylinder "i" version and the V-6-powered "s." Within each series are base, Sport, and Grand Sport trim levels. And new for 2006, a top-of-the-line Mazdaspeed 6 sedan has joined the lineup, with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive.

With its pointed nose, angular headlights, and standard 16-inch wheels, the Mazda 6 strikes a more aggressive pose than its midsize brethren. And that's just the base car. Variants other than the base-trim, four-cylinder sedan come with standard 17-inch wheels; 18-inch wheels are optional. With the Sport trim level comes deeper front and rear bumpers, side sill extensions, a body-colored grille, and a rear spoiler (even on the wagon, where it sits at the top of the tailgate).

These appearance items are also available for the more luxury-oriented Grand Sport, and even for the base-trim cars. As expected, the Mazdaspeed 6 is decked out even more conspicuously in high-profile plumage. Overall, the Mazda 6 range adopts the aggressive look of a hot-rodded import tuner car, helping distinguish it from the virtuous but staid competition.

The inside of the Mazda 6 isn't quite as extroverted as the outside, but you'll find a few sporty touches: red dash lighting, the three-spoke steering wheel, and brushed-metal-look trim. There's a bit more hard plastic here than in a Honda Accord or a Subaru Legacy, but the trade-off is that there's also a bit more style. Passenger accommodations are a bit tighter than in the class-leading Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry, but the hatchback and wagon body styles--which are not offered by Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan, or Toyota--do add a great deal of cargo-carrying versatility. Like the sedan, both the hatch and the wagon have folding rear seats that conveniently can be flopped down via release handles in the cargo area. Loading bulky cargo is a snap with the wide-opening hatchback, or the wagon, both of which can carry far more cargo than their trunk-back rivals.

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