08/31/04 — Mazda makes the wagon cool

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Mazda makes the wagon cool

Mazda6 Sports Wagon (2004)

If it’s time for a bigger vehicle because all of a sudden mommy and daddy and baby make three, there’s no longer the need to fear years of boring, underpowered driving in a minivan.

And there’s no need for a gas guzzling sport utility. No need for a compact 4-cylinder sport utility with the performance of a three-legged rabbit.

Chin up, please.

Mazda6 Sports Wagon, 2004

Wagons, once the favored family transportation before vanishing like the dinosaur in the mid-90s, are back and are now cool. And they come with performance and some excellent handling qualities.

Example, the Mazda6 Sport Wagon. There are some other choices, but today we will concentrate on this new version of the mid-sized Mazda6, which was introduced in 2003 as replacement for the aging 626.

In addition to the sedan and wagon, the Mazda6 can also be purchased in a 5-door hatchback format. While the sedan can be outfitted with either a 4-cylinder or V-6, the wagon comes standard with Mazda’s 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6.

This gives the wagon a serious performance feel, especially when mated to an available 5-speed manual transmission.

One of the great things about the Mazda6 Sport Wagon is that there will be plenty of spare cash available for Pampers and infant formula because it can be purchased well equipped for a family-efficient $22,745.

Try to find a 6-cylinder sport utility or crossover vehicle for that kind of outlay. Good luck.

Our test wagon was equipped with the optional 5-speed automatic, a stand-alone option for $900.

The V-6, granted, is not a screamer, but when compared to alternatives its 0 to 60 time of just over 7 seconds compares more than favorably with sport utilities, minivans and other cargo carriers.

And its low, sedan-like stance, a sport-tuned suspension and sticky Michelin rubber give it good, if not great, cornering ability. Fun can be had for just a little bit of effort.

The wagon has the Mazda zoom-zoom look with a slightly slopping roof and rear haunches that rise up toward the ceiling. It’s a look of speed. The wagon has an eye-catching stance that should please the new father who has reluctantly been eased out of his sporty two-door.

He may find the trade off a pretty easy pill to swallow.

OK, we’ve talked about the fun-to-drive aspect of the Mazda6 wagon, but what about the practicality?

Storage capacity is where the wagon shines with 34 cubic feet behind the second-row seats and 60 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.

That doesn’t fall on the big side, but it is four cubic feet bigger than a Passat wagon, six cubic feet less than a Ford Escape sport utility vehicle, and slightly more than the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx wagon.

Practicality can also be measured by a solid 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 on the highway, according to EPA.

Mazda has dared to be a little different with its interior and it works. It looks modern while keeping the secondary stereo and climate controls simple and intuitive.

The entire center console has the titanium look that is now in vogue, but it works well here. Knobs for the climate control and stereo flow in a U shape that is about as neat design as I’ve seen in any car.

And the knobs are large and all are functional.

For instance, one big knob adjusts volume and another on the other side tunes the radio. One big knob adjusts temperature, one fan speed. Perfect.

A readout above three center air vents imparts such information as interior temperature setting, outside temperature, radio station setting and time.

Mazda has not forgotten comfort, either. The leather sport seats in my test car were well shaped particularly for spirited driving. In fact, they may be too contoured for the average sedan driver.

Rear-seat leg and head room is adequate. Some competitors have more. But two adults in back will find it comfortable with a pull down armrest which includes two drink holders, overhead reading lights and storage pockets on the seatbacks.

The wagon comes with a long list of amenities for just a shade over 22 grand including automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows and doorlocks, 17-inch alloy wheels, antilock brakes, remote keyless entry and a six-speaker stereo with CD player and steering-wheel mounted controls.

Options on our test car included side impact airbags and side-curtain airbags, automatic transmission, power moonroof, leather seating with power driver’s seat, 6-disc in-dash changer, heated seats and door mirrors and electroluminescent gauges.

That brought the bottom line to $27,070.

BMW, Mercedes and Saab all have variations of the station wagon. All our wonderful machines. But all are priced out of reach of a new family.

Perhaps one of these luxury brands will be something our new dad and mom can aspire to.

But, in the meantime, they don’t have to take a backseat to anyone as proud owners of the Mazda6. It’s certainly not a compromise vehicle.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on August 31, 2004 2:23 PM