The Mazda 6 stands out in the faceless sea of midsize sedans, with its dramatic styling hinting at the car's involving, fun-to-drive character. Also drawing attention are the alternative body styles--the versatile hatchback and the practical wagon. For buyers seeking to minimize boredom in their midsize sedan, the Mazda 6 belongs at the top of their shopping list, along with the Nissan Altima and the Subaru Legacy. The Altima offers more interior space, but its chassis isn't as well sorted. The Legacy is a compelling alternative (and, like the Mazda, comes also in a station wagon), but its standard all-wheel drive can make the four-cylinder iteration rather pricey in comparison.
Buyers whose priorities are comfort and smoothness should look instead at a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord. The Mazdaspeed 6 is a different animal than its siblings, with its high-strung turbocharged four and extra-stiff chassis. Unfortunately this version comes off as lacking the polish of its stablemates. The "6" range is protected by a four-year/50,000-mile warranty, augmented by a four-year roadside assistance program.
The driver's midsize hatchback, sedan, and wagon.
Mechanically, the biggest news is the new five-speed automatic transmission for the four-cylinder engine. Cosmetically, the Mazda 6 gets a bit of a makeover for 2006. The front and rear ends are restyled, and the headlamps, taillamps, and grille are new. Eighteen-inch wheels are a new option. The cabin undergoes a minor touch-up as well, with new door panels and the center portion of the dash picking up the flashier trim of the Mazdaspeed 6.
The side and curtain airbags are important safety features; buyers of the base car shouldn't pass them up. Mazda offers a vast array of sporty appearance options and accessories for the Mazda 6--far more than typically available for a midsize car--so buyers who are deep into the tuner-car look can really go to town.