One can just imagine this writer's elation when the guys at Mazda Philippines called up for a weekend with their flagship variant. Images of me and Takumi doing battle in a downhill run down Talisay, Batangas was an exhilarating thought. Although I have had the opportunity to test drive the Tribute and the Mazda 3 in the past, getting a Mazda 6 test unit has always eluded me. I had to wait for almost a year to finally get some downtime with this car. No kidding.
Introduced in 2003, the Mazda Atenza or Mazda 6 is a mid size sedan which replaced the ageing Capella/626 line up. With a more stylish, insightful and spirited design, this car amazed industry insiders by becoming the fastest selling variant in the Mazda range to hit the one million units sold mark.
What will immediately catch your eye is the car's executive, yet sporty demeanor. It sits low to the ground and rides on a 17-inch wheel and tire set up. The aggressiveness of its design is evident up front with the chinky-eyed quad xenon headlamps, a massive grill design emblazoned by a Mazda logo and a bulbous hood, whose character lines flow through the sides up to the rear end of the car. A rear wing provides additional down force during high speed runs and twin exhaust ports subtly tell you to back down or face humiliation down the straight.
The cabin of the Mazda 6 is also more appealing in comparison to its competitors. The meaty-leather covered three spoke steering, aluminum ringed dials, amber lit gauges and a center dash console with aluminum accents add a dash of sporty elegance to the interiors. The moon roof also adds pogi points to any hot blooded Pinoy male who is out to impress a date on a weekend date.
What takes the cake for me is the Mazda Z 2.0 liter engine mated to a five speed manually shifted automatic transmission. Despite its heft, the Mazda 6 is agile and can out sprint any available 2.0 liter in the market today. The ride is solid and the suspension can gamely take the road ruts and cracks common in Metro Manila, despite being equipped with low profile tires.
It is also notable to mention that the Mazda 6 shares the GG platform with other vehicles in the Ford family like the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ and the Lincoln MKX, plus a number of SUV's and minivans. Although the Mazda brand can be given high marks in terms of looks and performance, I think what they should do is introduce the Mazdaspeed version of the Six locally and create a new niche market for the brand. Available only in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan, the Mazdaspeed 6 comes in two versions, the turbocharged 272 bhp version and the detuned 260bhp variant. You can differentiate a Mazdaspeed 6 from the pack with its aggressive front body kit, a bulbous hood to accommodate that muscled engine and a six speed transmission to transfer all that power to the four-wheel drive system. Mazda designed this beast to bash heads with Subaru's Legacy GT and Impreza WRX STi and Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution series. The Mazdaspeed 6 is currently wreaking havoc in the SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge Touring Car Series.
At present, local Mazda officials are mum about how the 2008 Mazda 6 will look like. However, spy photos and industry insiders reveal that the new version will have alterations both inside and out. It will definitely be bigger and more luxurious that aims to strengthen the brand and innovate the market. After spending a weekend with the 6, I now know why it bagged Second place in the European Car of the Year, Car and Driver's Ten Best List, Canadian Car of the Year and of course, beating the competition to win the prestigious Car of the Year Philippines in 2005.