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Mazda is really on a roll...

By Alisa Priddle

WardsAuto.com, May 17 2004

A 5-Door and Sport Wagon round out the Mazda6 trio that began 18 months ago with the sedan.

SAN DIEGO – Mazda Motor Corp. is the proud parent of triplets with the expansion of the midsize Mazda6 family.

The staged birthing sequence began with the sedan that launched to critical acclaim 18 months ago in the North American market. It now is joined by the ’04 Mazda6 5-Door and Sport Wagon.

Mazda6 5-Door shows its cargo hold in front, with Sport Wagon in back.
The family resemblance is unmistakable. The hatch enters the world almost as an identical twin to the sedan – a move that is generating debate.

It addresses the stigma unpopular hatches have carried in the past thanks to goofy bubble-like styling compared with their sleek sibling sedans. Mazda’s thinking is to give the sedan and hatch – the only midsize notchback for sale in the U.S. – the same sporty lines, but a choice of cargo holds.

The only differences are from the B-pillar back. The large hatch door opens to a 22 cu.-ft. (0.6 cu.-m) area with rear seats up, and more than 58 cu.-ft. (1.6 cu.-m) when folded down. Those who don’t need the 50% additional capacity of the hatch may decide the lighter trunk lid on the sedan is a better option.

If the idea is to have customers see the car as sporty first and then discover it has the utility of a hatch – it works.

The downside to mirror-image design is that Mazda estimates 10%-15% of 5-door sales will come at the expense of the sedan.

The triplets are designed to take volume from about 70,000 sedans annually to 80,000 to 90,000 sales of all three body types this year, with about 35% of sales expected to be incremental.

On the surface, it appears to be a lot of effort, cost and complexity for a relatively small sales boost. But Mazda executives insist all three babies were planned from the start and the parent was prepared to build and support them all. A conscious decision was made to launch with just the sedan, knowing it would be at least a year before the other two could be added.

Mazda says the strategy gives it an advantage in the C/D passenger-car segment with a breadth the sedan-centric competition doesn’t have.

It’s hard to win by powertrain in this segment where each new entry ups the ante. The 3L DOHC V-6 and 2.3L 16-valve inline 4-cyl. engine offered in the Mazda6s are not the most powerful, but they generate a decent 220 hp with 192 lb. ft. (260 Nm) of torque and 160 hp with 155 lb.-ft. (210 Nm) of torque, respectively. Mated to optional 4-speed and 5-speed automatics, they can be uninspiring, especially the 2.3L. But the standard 5-speed manual makes for a spirited romp in and around sunny San Diego. The transmission did a bit of gear hunting on hills. And the V-6 whines if it lingers too long in third. Fortunately, the smooth-shifting manual makes it fun to ratchet up.

Mazda6 buyers already have shown they like their stick shifts and 6-cylinders. About 55% of sedan buyers have opted for the V-6 in a segment where a 25% take rate is the norm. That number should climb, as 70% of 5-door buyers are expected to opt for the larger engine, and the V-6 is standard on the heavier (about 350 lbs. [159 kg]) wagon for the North American market.

About 18% of sedan customers are mating the V-6 to the 5-speed manual transmission and 25% of I-4 buyers are doing so as well. High take rates are expected for the hatch and wagon.

The trio rides on a taut platform, deemed strong enough that stakeholder Ford Motor Co. will base a bevy of future vehicles on these bones. The double-wishbone front and E-type multilink rear suspension do their part for a responsive ride. The cars stick to turns with minimal body roll, partly due to the wide front track and stabilizer bar. Rack and pinion steering, with a quick steering ratio, allows for more aggressive driving.

Traction control and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) are incorporated into the antilock brake system. EBD enhances braking by compensating for wheel loads: The rear brakes work harder if there are rear passengers or weight in the trunk. It comes standard on the wagon and on the higher trim level of the sedan. It is optional on the 5-door.

Performance-wise, the wagon was the most fun on a slalom course as part of the test drive here. The 5-door also bobs and weaves nicely. The sheer size and weight of the hatch door double as a stress member for increased vehicle strength and rigidity.

Recognizing it cannot lead the segment in power, price or quality, Mazda hopes to wow with performance, image, styling and the widest range of body styles with which to go “zoom zoom.”

The pricing is reasonable, basing at $20,795 for the 5-door and $22,225 for the wagon, not including the $520 destination charge. In addition to two trim levels for the hatch and sedan, there are numerous optional packages.

The new entries are expected to account for 30% of the mix each, but the wagon could prove a sleeper hit – and all wagon sales are expected to be incremental.

Designers ensured the look of the hatch did not infringe on the distinctiveness of the wagon. There is definite sport in the crisp side lines. Functionally speaking, there is 33.7 cu. ft. (0.95 cu. m) of cargo space with seats up (twice as much as the sedan) and 60.5 cu. ft. (1.7 cu. m) with them folded.

The second-row seats fold with the touch of a lever, with no need to remove the headrests for a near-flat load floor. A clever feature is the retractable cargo cover shade and a cargo net to keep objects from flying forward. The net can be positioned behind the second row, or behind the driver when the second row is folded flat.

Borrowing a page from BMW AG, the plan is to add variants or significant features to keep the line fresh and enticing.

“We just want to be that quirky little car company from the Black Forest outside Hiroshima – the BMW of Japan,” quips John W. Mendel, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mazda North American Operations.

To that end, a navigation system will be added, with an anticipated take rate of 20%, and a high-performance Mazdaspeed wagon concept should be unveiled later this year as well.

All-wheel drive is on the list. It cannot be packaged with the V-6, so look for a production model next year with a turbocharged 4-cyl. engine.

Given the growth of cross/utility vehicles, it comes as no surprise Mazda is studying its own CUV off the Mazda6 platform.

We look forward to the next birth announcement.


http://wardsauto.com/ar/auto_birth_announcement_mazda/index.htm
 

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Wow, Mazda is planning this one well, if no major recalls appear, this may definiitely take a bite out of the Accord!

If they incremently improve the car such as adding Navi and other features, it will continue to become more competitive against Camry and Accord.

I know, I know this may be blasphemy to say here, but they really have their act together and the styling is very close to the TSX.
 

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hip said:
Wow, Mazda is planning this one well, if no major recalls appear, this may definiitely take a bite out of the Accord!

If they incremently improve the car such as adding Navi and other features, it will continue to become more competitive against Camry and Accord.
Agreed, vs. Accord, Camry and Altima, if you don't want the sedan, the 6 (and Legacy) are the only midsize Japanese choices.

The hatch also has the rear wiper. Does it come with a decent tonneau cover integrated so that the trunk is normally covered?

I've always wondered why nobody builds a second hinge in the hatch, so the rear metal part (behind the glass) can open like a trunklid, and you only have to lift the heavy glass part when needed?
 
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