Friday, August 13, 2010

Mazda6 earns its spot at head of the class

Sacramento, California – Driving 101 is easily understood behind the wheel of a 2010 Mazda6 sedan.

Driving 101 enrollment is dominated by newly licensed drivers, first-time new car buyers, young couples and young families. In all cases, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than the Mazda6 -- affordable, practical, right-sized, easy to drive and capable of carrying reasonable supplies of passengers and cargo.

Perfect midsize sedan? Malibu, Camry and Accord devotees will argue the point, but the Mazda6 is certainly in the discussion, with seven trim levels and starting as low as $18,600.

My tester was the 2010 Mazda6 i Grand Touring model with a willing 2.5-liter, 16-valve, variable-valve timing in-line 4. Horsepower is 170; max torque is 167 foot-pounds. The Mazda6 performed well with these middle-of-the-road numbers, enhanced by a quiet cabin that didn’t let much of the exterior noise reach the ears. Steering was effortless and quickly responsive.

Gas mileage is a so-so 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the open road, but those ratings won’t crush your pocketbook.

For a car starting at $26,000, the tester was loaded up with numerous luxury-level features, including a blasting Bose 10-speaker sound system. Mazda seems to have figured out that the Mazda6 is desired up and down the demographic range, from budget-watching retirees to youngsters settling into family life. Consequently, there’s an eclectic mix of comfort/convenience features on board.

My tester came with some $4,000 in extras, including a technology package (auto on/off xenon headlights, driver’s seat memory, Sirius Satellite Radio and more), but I would have been content with the basic standard package.

Regrets? I have a few, but one in particular.

The Mazda6 can be had with a blind-spot monitoring system, and I generally love this helpful feature. If you’re paranoid about blind spots on either side of your vehicle when you’re driving in heavy traffic – and I am among that group – you’re thankful for those little warning lights in the exterior mirrors. They illuminate when cars are in the blind spots, saving you a crash and all that goes with that.

The Mazda6 has this, plus three little beeps that sound off when the system senses you’re about to make an idiot move. Problem is, the system is flawed due to its super-sensitivity.

For example, it would beep when I hit the turn signal while blowing past a car traveling 30 miles per hour slower than myself on the freeway. The beep would be sounding when I was a good seven car lengths clear of trouble.

Likewise, it would beep when I was in the extreme left lane of the freeway, but adjacent to a five-foot wall on the driver’s side. It was beeping to warn me about a wall that was going nowhere. It did the same when I hit the left-turn signal to turn into an above-ground parking garage at my workplace. Why? It was warning me about the parked cars on the left side of the street before I reached the parking garage entrance.

Thankfully, the thing can be disabled. You folks who like to hear all warnings – for trouble real or imagined – might want to keep it on. I must confess that I grew weary of hearing false beeps.

Other than that, the Mazda6 gets a solid A-minus in my test-driving school.

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