2003 Mazda 6 Four Seasons Test

Joe Vaughn

On a more troubling note, in what appears to have become standard operating procedure for first-year products from Ford Motor Company (Ford currently owns 33.4 percent of Mazda), the Mazda 6 was twice subjected to the recall wrench (our Ford Focus and Ford Escape Four Seasons vehicles both suffered from numerous initial quality problems). The first recall required the service technician to check the fluid level sensor in the brake reservoir, whose possible malfunction could result in a problem with the parking brake indicator light. We had that item inspected, but no repairs were necessary. The second recall required the fuel tank to be replaced because the fuel sender unit had been improperly installed, which could have resulted in an inadequate seal and a fuel leak. That last item would have cost $473.38 to repair, but it was covered under warranty. It should be noted that in both circumstances, we didn't notice any trouble with our vehicle prior to the recall notification, and other than the two recalls, the only service items required were regularly scheduled maintenance and a new tire.

What originally attracted us to the Mazda 6, of course, was its driving dynamics. Not simply content to build a mid-size family sedan, Mazda touted the 6 as a sport sedan, a car that the enthusiast driver would be just as happy to take out on a country two-lane as to drive to the shopping mall. And in that respect, even after 30,053 miles, the Mazda 6 never disappointed. Just about everyone found the balance between ride and handling to be just right. There was a minor disagreement over the steering, with one writer saying that "the finely tuned steering is the best feature-always a delight" and another feeling that "on the highway, the light steering feels a bit nervous." In general, though, while the steering may not have been as intuitive as that of, say, a Honda Accord, it did the job quite well.

Driver Side Front View

We opted for the five-speed manual transmission in our car and were generally happy with it, although it did exhibit an odd quirk, described by executive editor Mark Gillies as follows: "I love everything about our 6 except the goofy emissions-mandated V-6 behavior when shifting. I always thought revs went down rather than up when you lifted off the gas." It took a little getting used to, but few complaints were registered. There were also a few drivers who longed for a shorter-throw shifter, similar to those found in the Miata and the RX-8, and others who complained about the long clutch takeup, but in general, we found-as we usually do-that the manual tranny enhanced the driving experience instead of detracting from it. The Mazda 6 exhibits a bit more body roll during fast driving than a true sports car, and if you press a little too hard, the chassis loses some of its composure, but compared with a Camry, the 6 delivers a far more exhilarating driving experience.

During the twelve months the Mazda 6 was in our possession, we tested it on the race-track on our annual driving day at Waterford Hills, flogged it during a multicar sport-sedan comparison test, and loaded it up with groceries and kids. It endured the year no worse for the wear: "Anyone who has doubts about the Mazda 6 should drive this Four Seasons car," said West Coast editor Michael Jordan. "It's been driven at full throttle every step of the way, and it seems to have stood up to the abuse pretty well." Sure, the interior may not have the top-of-the-line quality found in Volkswagens, and it doesn't have the faultless reliability of the Toyota Camry, but as an all-around mid-size car that's fun to drive yet functional, the Mazda 6 is hard to beat. And to top it off, two new body styles were added for 2004. Now available not only as a sedan but also as a four-door hatchback and a sport wagon, the 6 has versatility unmatched in the segment.

Mazda long has been known as a builder of charismatic niche products, but somehow that charisma never translated into the company's mainstream vehicles. With the 6, however, Mazda finally has produced a class-leading car in a volume market segment. And it appears the 6 was just the beginning, because the compact Mazda 3, which debuted in 2004, is selling well and getting very good reviews. As of June, Mazda had posted nine consecutive months of sales increases. Perhaps that "zoom-zoom" marketing campaign wasn't overly optimistic after all.

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