At the press introduction of the '06 Mazda Mazdaspeed6 the company brass were quick to quell any associations between what is easily the fastest accelerating, best handling and most advanced sports sedan Mazda has ever built and those radical rally-spec sedans from Mitsu and Subaru. According to Shiro Yoshioka, the vice president of research and development for Mazda's North American Operations, comparisons to "rally-replica" cars might seem easy but those cars don't offer the amenities of the Mazdaspeed6.
True dat, Yoshioka-san. But with all due respect to the corporate Mazdaspeak message there is no denying the obvious similarities when glancing at the specs. Each of these three cars is a hot rodded version of a lower base model in an AWD, four-door,four-cylinder turbocharged layout. But this is where the resemblances end. The lines of the Mazdaspeed6 are fluid, clean, and harmonious. There are no tacked-on wings, scoops, or other aerodynamic bric-a-brac favored by the angular, harsh, and oh-so dirty, dirty Evo and STI. And herein lies the rub. Mazda doesn't want to play in this $30K sedan supercar segment, and even though the Mazdaspeed6 coulda been a contender this car is so much more.
When we look at the Mazdaspeed6 visions of the M3 dance in our heads (in addition to the visions of exotic dancers that are always dancing in our heads). We're not so misguided as to suggest any direct comparisons here, but if you consider the way the M3 elevates the performance of BMW's base 3-Series with its subtle, yet serious athleticism then you'll understand the Mazdaspeed6. The MS6 saga starts with the sedate Mazda6 and, much like the M3, at first glance the changes may appear to be minor but the overall improvements are dramatic.
First the chassis is assaulted by a barrage of body reinforcements making for approximately 50 percent more torsional rigidity and, as the ladies can attest, a little extra rigidity goes a long way. Oh yeah! Firmer springs, larger brake discs, and meaty 18-inch rollers round out the chassis work.
To envelop the larger wheels the Mazdaspeed6 gets slightly flared front fenders. Other exterior changes include minor tweaks to the grille and a barely detectable intercooler bulge in the hood. Special head and taillights, side skirts, a rear bumper with integrated exhaust cutouts and a subtle rear spoiler complete the aesthetic alterations. It takes a keen eye to distinguish a Mazdaspeed6 from the standard version but the understated elegance Mazda wants to create is not the primary directive of this car. In order to earn the Mazdaspeed badge the MS6 better have some serious stones-and thankfully it does have 'em, in a very large and very brass package.
The 2.3 liters of displacement is about all the standard 6 powertrain shares with its more machismo Mazdaspeed sibling. The MS6 is flavored with a forged steel crank and rods, a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and a Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI). All of this is in preparation for the Hitachi-Warner K04 single-scroll turbocharger. Once this Mazdaspeed mlange is mixed together the MS6 makes 274 horsepower, making this the most powerful vehicle Mazda has ever sold in the US-including the third-gen RX-7.
Putting all of this power down proved to be too much for the Mazda6's five-speed box and front drive layout, which prompted Mazda's nerd herd to spec a sweet six-speed transmission (more on this later). But the AWD system is the real star of this show. The all-new drivetrain is called the Mazda Active Torque Split system and it utilizes a power take off system and a torque control coupling to deliver varying amounts of torque to the rear wheels depending on load, wheel spin, and driving conditions. The system also automatically alternates between three different driving modes. Normal mode sends more power to the front wheels to optimize straight-line stability. If you lay into the throttle with any sort of vigor the system will engage the Sports mode, sending more power to the rear wheels as well as providing heightened steering feel. As traction falls away torque is maximized to all four wheels in the appropriately named Snow mode.
As you enter the cabin it's easy to see the Mazdaspeed6 as an "executive express" kind of car. The materials are elegant and for an additional $1,930 the Grand Touring package offers leather seats with heat for the fronts and 8-way power adjustability for the driver. The only other notable option is the DVD-based navigation system. In a Grand Touring-equipped MS6 one feels ensconced in the type of luxury reserved for something priced well above the $30K mark. In addition to Cocoa Puffs we're also cuckoo for manual gearboxes and we love to grab stick whenever we can (and to think our moms said we would go blind). Mind you, Mazda, we are not complaining about the six-speed manual being the only transmission offering in the MS6, but the lack of any kind of automatic or even wannabe clutchless manual (an oxymoron of the highest caliber) seems out of step with the overall directive of this car. Again, we're not complaining but we do see a bit of a mixed message here.
Another small quibble with the Mazdaspeed6 was the vague engagement of the clutch but once underway all was forgiven.Although we questioned the six-speed as the only offering in the MS6 it was as smooth as any we've sampled with crisp, short throws, a solid feel and any other clich gearbox descriptors that we dare use. The thrust from the 2.3 turbo DISI was exciting up until 5,500 rpm (well short of the 6,700 rpm redline) as the K04 turbo was sourced for its ability to spool up quickly, which it does. The disheartening tradeoff for a turbo that doesn't lag is the lack of top end thrust but it's definitely not a deal breaker and the low end torque is a welcome trait from a Japanese turbo four. The suspension is firmly dampened but not so much in a harsh way. But in the corners the real hero was the AWD system. The Mazdaspeed6 doesn't push like most AWD cars (or even those that are FWD-based). This car has a much more secure neutral feel to it.
In the end the Mazdaspeed6 is not an Evo or STI-fighter but it does offer the sort of performance in keeping with the expectations of the Mazdaspeed brand all wrapped up luxurious, polished package that those "rally replicas" can't touch.
That New Car Smell
The Ride: '06 Mazdaspeed6
The Sticker: $27,995
Under The Hood: 2.3L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder turbo
The Power: 274 hp @ 5500 rpm, 280 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Scale Tipping: 3,589 lbs.
Layout: Front engine, AWD
Gearbox: 6-speed manual transmission
Stiff Stuff: Front: Independent, high-mount double wishbone;Rear: Independent, E-type multi-link; coil springs and stabilizer bars
Rollers: 18x7.0J wheels; 215/45R18 tires
Stoppers: Power assist, 4-wheel, 4 sensor, 3-channel ABS with EBD;12.3-inch ventilated front and 12.4-inch solid rear discs
At The Pump: EPA 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
The Pack: Audi A4 3.2, BMW 330xi, Subaru Legacy GT,Volvo S40 Sedan and, um, Mitsubishi Evolution IX, Subaru Impreza STI
Deep Thoughts: The Mazdaspeed6 is not quite ready for the 330xibut it does have so much more to offer than the Evo and STI.
That Mazdaspeed Magic
What is Mazdaspeed, some sort of elixir or magic potion mixed into the DNA of everyday ordinary Mazdas? Yes, but it's also so much more. Mazdaspeed was launched in '67 as part of the Mazda Sports Corner motorsports team based out of Mazda Auto Tokyo, Japan's largest Mazda dealer. Because of the success of the team the Mazda Motor Corporation brought Mazdaspeed from Tokyo to the manufacturer's corporate HQ in Hiroshima. In '91 the Mazdaspeed team laid the smack down in a way that no other Japanese OEM had been able to do before or since, taking the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In '99 Mazda took over the Mazdaspeed operation completely and in '03 Mazda released its first Mazdaspeed-badged vehicle for the US-the Mazdaspeed Proteg.This was followed by the Mazdaspeed Miata. However, both of these cars were essentially port-installed Mazdaspeed versions. The '06 Mazdaspeed6 represents the first truly-engineered Mazdaspeed model. In addition to complete vehicles Mazdaspeed is also responsible for motorsports development as well as full-warranted and factory-engineered performance parts. Zoom-zoom never sounded so good.
The lines of the Mazdaspeed6 are fluid, clean, and harmonious.
The MS6 makes 274 horsepower, making this the most powerful vehicle Mazda has ever sold in the US-including the third-gen RX-7.