By Roger Witherspoon
It had been raining fiercely, and after the storm passed the temperature dropped
faster than the winter daylight and I-95 coming out of the nation’s capitol was coated
with water slowly changing to ice.
We were just south of the Delaware line when a gust of wind ripped through the
hills and broadsided the tractor trailer running in the center lane, and the rear set of axels
rapidly crossed into the passing lane and those large wheels closed the distance between
us. There was only time to floor the accelerator and slide slightly to the left, leaving those
wheels on gravel while the right wheels rolled on wet pavement.
But Mazda’s tend to be build for performance under pressure. They test the
effectiveness of the traction and electronic stability control programs on their vehicles by
putting explosive charges in a wheel, and then blowing it during a run on their test track.
In this case, the Mazda 6, with one set of wheels on gravel and the other on water,
concrete, and ice jumped to 90 miles an hour in seconds and left the careening trucks in
the heated rear view mirrors. I made a mental note to thank the guys who put the Zoom
Zoom into a family sedan.
There are two reasons for paying attention to the Mazda fleet: Their designers
take pains to put a comfortable car into an affordable package; and their engineers take
pains to pack enough performance to make a moderate priced car as much fun to drive as
the higher priced wheels. In this case, Ford’s Japanese affiliate has produced a family
sedan which can comfortably cruise across country, or – if weather, roads and police
permit – zoom into the triple digits.
The Mazda 6 has a V-6 engine pumping out 212 horsepower, which is enough to
push the sedan to about 120 miles per hour, a speed that is unsafe enough for most
motorists and most roads. The spoiler on the back of this Zoom Zoom special is, actually,
functional. The sedan’s six-speed automatic transmission smoothly slides between gears,
avoiding the whine and jolt one might expect from under the hood of a $30,000 vehicle.
After the sliding truck was in the background, the only sound in the Mazda was
the soft sound of flutes from the Harold Johnson Sextet emanating from the seven
speakers in the Bose surround sound system. There was no roar from the passing wind to
mar the mood in the tight, comfortable cabin.
It is a comfortable ride. The seats are wide, padded and leather, though only the
driver’s seat is powered, and the manually operated passenger seat seems out of place in
this price range. But the seats are also heated, which was appreciated.
The rear section of the four-door sedan contains more than enough leg and head
room for a pair of NFL-sized adults, or three kids. And the trunk – which is designed to
hold about a month’s worth of luggage – can be enlarged if the rear seats are folded flat.
On the other hand, the Mazda 6 does come with a navigation system, something
that is often optional at this price. The navigation system’s controls are designed for a
generation of motorists raised on computer games and joy sticks. There is a small, hand-
held device which can rest in its slot on the console for driver, or be picked up and used
by a passenger. For us older folks, the joy stick takes a bit of getting used to and it takes a
bit of practice to learn to hit the command you aim for. But for the most part, the system
is intuitive and easy to use.
The Mazda 6 is not a car in which your body complains and the aches accumulate
as the miles roll by. It is powerful and maneuverable enough to keep one’s racing edge
active, and comfortable enough to double as a living room on wheels. All you need to do,
is pack your favorite music, pick a distant place in this wide country, and roll.
2008 Mazda 6
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 25 MPG Highway
As Tested Mileage: 18.8 MPG Highway
Top Speed: 118 MPH
3.0-Liter DOHC V-6 engine producing 212 horsepower and 197 pound-feet of torque; 6-
speed automatic transmission; independent front & rear suspension; 4-wheel disc brakes;
traction control; dual front airbags; side air bags & side air curtains; 18-inch allow
wheels; high density headlights; fog lamps; heated outside mirrors.
AM/ FM/ Sirius satellite radio/ in-dash, 6-disc CD changer; navigation system; 200-watt
Bose audio system with 7 speakers; power moonroof; power driver’s seat; leather seats
and steering wheel; tilt & telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise