Mazda, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2011 Mazda6 GT – Road Test

It’s been a number of years since I last drove a Mazda6 – well when I say the 6, I really mean the awesome MazdaSpeed6. For the 2010 model year Mazda re-designed the 6, making it bigger in every dimension and I have to say it’s better looking too. Unfortunately, after spending a week with the Mazda6, it left this writer indifferent.

The mid-sized sedan segment of the automotive landscape is the toughest area to do battle, so a car has to not only look good, but it has to excel in order to get noticed. I was really looking forward to driving the Mazda6 GT, but perhaps because it was in non-descript Silver, I never really felt myself looking forward to driving it or excited about having it sitting in the driveway.

The Mazda6 GT doesn’t look very special when you compare to something like the Camry SE which looks the part – sporty, and other than minor interior bits it looks like a base model. When you look at the $23,000 price of the base model it’s perfectly reasonable, but at over $33,000 for the GT as kitted out, it’s a bit much for what you get, and I’m not sure HID lights, keyless entry, moonroof and leather interior are worth that much money. When dropping an extra $9,000 I’d expect my car to stand out just a bit more thank you very much.

First Impressions
Getting behind the wheel, the first thing you notice is that the top of the windshield feels very close to your head. It is an odd feeling – obviously because of the 6’s aerodynamic shape in order to cheat the wind, but because of that the top ends at your forehead. That in turn brings the rear-view mirror very close and the sun visors too. It’s a large piece of glass that offers excellent forward visibility; in fact one thing the Mazda6 excels at is the visibility from a driver’s perspective. Throw in the outstanding Blind Spot Monitoring System (BSM) and the 6 is a great car – well sort of.

I go to start the car and as per usual in 2010, it starts with a button instead of a key.. only I don’t see the button. Hmm.. There’s a spot there for the key on the steering column and a round piece of plastic on the steering column where the key would go in lesser models – couldn’t they have done something better with that arrangement? It’s kind of like putting a band-aid on it!  So, I look to the left by the door – nothing.. then around the centre area of the dash and that’s where I spot it… down by the shifter.   It sounds like an odd place for the start button to be, but it’s actually very logically placed – even if it is a little unconventional. Once I’d found it, the first thing I thought was why doesn’t everybody put it there? It’s so logical -you press the start button and then grab on to the shifter right away.

Setting off, I notice how quiet the 6 is and immediately sense how quickly the automatic transmission shifted through the gears – obviously more for fuel economy than fun. First gear is very short, and when using the Sport Shift too often even at low speeds, gearing down to first gear was just too low. Most of the time unless a car has paddle-shifters, I  just leave the automatic transmission in the “D” position, but with the Mazda6 I had to use sport shift all the time to get the car motivated. On many occasions, such as taking off from a set of traffic lights, it just would not respond to my right foot unless I used the shifter myself. When left in full automatic mode, the shifts were extremely smooth, if somewhat unexciting. The 4-cylinder is not underpowered – it’s plenty powerful enough, just not very GT. I would highly recommend skipping the automatic transmission and keep the 6-speed manual.

Out on the highway, the 6 excelled in keeping wind and road noise to a minimum. The seats are quite comfortable, offering plenty of support in all the key areas. The driver gets an 8-way power seat with lumbar adjustment while the passenger gets a power 4-way seat. My wife felt she was sitting on the seat instead of in it, but I didn’t find that. It’s a wonderful car to drive in the traffic-choked areas around Toronto where you spend more times stopped than actually moving.

For those tedious journeys it’s important to have a good stereo system, and the Mazda6 GT 6 provides you with a Bose system that is very good, but not outstanding. It’s a BOSE® AM/FM audio system with 6-disc in-dash CD/MP3 changer, auxiliary input, 10 speakers and steering wheel mounted controls that comes with Bluetooth® with Audio Profile, but oddly enough it doesn’t have a USB input.

We have a number of steep hills in our area and because I used the Sport shift mode all the time it wasn’t an issue with the Mazda6. Leaving it in full automatic mode produced the usual sluggish behaviour that auto transmissions have become notorious for on these hills, and the Mazda was no different. We had an opportunity to test the car in some of our favourite twisty roads and although my wife felt more confident throwing the Toyota Sienna SE minivan through those bends, I have to disagree with her, and felt when you really pushed the car hard, it came alive and proved at least through the suspension, that it was indeed sporty. That’s probably the only feature I was thoroughly impressed with in the Mazda6 GT all week!

The rack and pinion steering has engine speed power assist that is meant to provide precise steering and feedback, but it was a tad light for my liking – I prefer a heavier feel. I didn’t find it quite as responsive as I’d expect it to be and that may be down to the fact that it is adjustable according to the engine speed.

Rear passengers are treated to plenty of legroom, and knee room thanks to the larger dimensions of the new model.  When it was redesigned, the Mazda6 seating and interior space was increased considerably over the outgoing model. Legroom has been increased by 46 mm and knee clearance was also improved by 20 mm. Even with the front seat slid to their rearmost position, there’s still 13 mm more legroom for the rear passengers. Headroom has also increased by 28 mm in front and 6 mm in back, while shoulder room for front passengers has been stretched 41 mm, and 38 mm for rear-seat passengers. The rear seat folds 60/40 for increased storage over the huge trunk/boot. At 469 litres, Mazda claim there’s room for 4 sets of golf clubs (I wouldn’t disagree with that).

Standard features on the Mazda6 GT I4 include:18″ alloy wheels with Tire Pressure Monitor Sensor (TPMS); Fog lights and LED taillights; Homelink system; Auto headlights; Rain-sensing wipers; Leather shift knob; Leather steering wheel; Power adjustable 8-way driver seat with Lumbar support; Power adjustable 4-way passenger seat; Leather interior; Heated seats; Automatic Climate control and micron air filter; Moonroof; AM/FM/6-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 capability and 10 speakers, Auxiliary audio input; Bluetooth® with Audio Profile; Steering wheel audio and cruise controls; External temperature; Tilt and telescopic steering wheel; Height adjustable rear headrest; Trip computer; Power windows, door locks and heated mirrors; Keyless entry system; 60/40-split folding rear seats and Xenon (HID) headlights

Safety features include:4-wheel disc brakes; ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBFD) and traction control system (TCS); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC); Front and side airbags along with side curtain airbags; Advanced dual front airbags with dual-stage activation, side-impact seat-mounted airbags and side-impact overhead curtain airbags; Anti-theft alarm system and Engine immobilizer.

Also included as standard in the GT version is the Blind Spot Monitoring System (BSM), which is designed to help prevent accidents by alerting drivers when a vehicle is in their blind spot. Radar sensors located inside the bumper on each side, monitor rear zones and when a vehicle enters a blind spot, a warning lamp is illuminated in the outside mirror. If the driver doesn’t see the warning lamp and activates the turn signal to turn on the side the lamp has been illuminated, a buzzer will sound. I found it worked unobtrusive (unlike just about every other similar system) and the signal part worked a treat.

The Conclusion
The Mazda6 GT is a perfect motorway and about-town cruiser, but certainly not very exciting I’m really sad to say …because I really wanted to love this car as much as I adored the MazdaSpeed6 from 2008. Mazda has made the perfect car for people that don’t really love cars, but use them for transportation. It is the perfect car to go up against the likes of the Camry, Altima, Accord and Fusion. If that was the plan then they’ve succeeded, but from a car-nut and a driver’s perspective – I really expected more fun and excitement from a Zoom-Zoom Mazda. I expected it to stand out and excel. What I got was a blah American car with a Mazda badge. It’s a whopping $3,500 more than the equivalent Fusion and the fantastic Suzuki Kizashi with AWD (my favourite Mid-sized sedan by a huge margin). I’m guessing you’d get the 6-cylinder version of any of the others and still have change left over at the mid-30’s level.

Best blind spot monitoring system I’ve encountered to date
Mazda quality and reliability
Good looking, but still somewhat generic in the landscape of uninspiring 4 door sedans from the competition.

Where’d the Zoom-Zoom go?!
Way too expensive when compared to the competition
The others are using 6-speed automatics now

Immediate Competition:
Chrysler 200, DodgeAvenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mitsubishi Gallant, Nissan Altima/Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Suzuki Kizashi, Toyota Camry

By The Numbers…
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.
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Powertrain:           2.5L 16-valve, Inline4; 5-speed Automatic with Sport Mode; FWD
Horsepower:         170 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque lb-ft:         167 @ 4,000 rpm
0-100 kph:            N/A
Wheelbase:           2,790 mm
Cargo Capacity:   469 litres (16.5 cu.ft)

Fuel Consumption:
City: 9.7 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 6.7L/100 kms
I averaged 10.0 L/100 kms during mostly highway driving (the onboard computer said I was using 10.1/100 kms).

Pricing for the 2011 Mazda6 GT I4
Base Price: $28,695
As Tested: $32,390
(Options: 5-speed Sport mode Automatic Transmission ($1,200) & Luxury Package ($2,495): Smart keyless entry, Push button ignition, BOSE audio system, HID headlights, Power 4-way passenger seat, Blind Spot Monitoring System)
Destination & Delivery: $1,350

The basic warranty for Mazda6 covers all parts found to be factory defective for 36 Months or 80,000 km, whichever comes first. Additional warranties cover Powertrain components for a period of 5 years or 100,000 km whichever comes first.

Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland

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