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Headline:FastSaloons.com Mazda 6 2.3 Sport Road TestDate:01/12/2003
Source:FastSaloons.com   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests
   
Review:FastSaloons.com Mazda 6 2.3 Sport Road Test  

FastSaloons.com
Review


Mazda6 2.3 Sport

Test Date
04/11/2003 - 11/11/2003

Our Thoughts
The Mazda6 2.3 Sport has a cracking confidence inspiring chassis, a smart and fresh design and a revvy new 2.3 litre engine.

But has Mazda done enough to provide us with the UK range toppr we deserve? Read on to see if we're fully satisfied or just left a little bit frustrated...
ĎFancy some bedtime exercise?í Whey-hey you might think, Iím up for some of that. Blonde? Brunette? Nope, in this case a beauty clad in silver, courtesy of Mazda. The bedtime exercise reference is a Mazda marketing executiveís suggestion of wanton desire to replace sleep with quality wheel-time. All Iíd say is, it better be good if they are trying to replace that with the normally horizontal bedtime exercise I understand best. The Mazda6 2.3 Sport is currently Mazda UKís top of the range model of the very well received Mazda6 series and is going to be this weeks bedtime rivalling event.

1st Impressions - Exterior Styling

Since the Mazda6 was released I have quite admired the new shape and some of the new Mazda family touches. It appears that the new Mazda3 will follow in the same DNA and Iím sure it will be none the worse because of it. The Mazda6 shape flows well from front end to rear and it has a fresh appeal, not always seen in Japanese mid-size saloons. The TS2 that Neil tested is typical of the majority of Mazda6ís you will see around. But the 2.3 Sport adds a slightly lairy body kit to the standard shape.




Lairy? Maybe, maybe not - but its quite a looker
So, 1st impressions have to be of the additional kit that is trying to distinguish this as the sporty range topper. The extensions provided by the different panels are most noticeable at the rear, although the front end does not miss out either. The big boot spoiler dominates, but does not obscure the drivers rear-view. Possibly most outrageous of all the changes, however, are the dual exhaust pipes. These chromed beauties protrude at least an inch proud of the additional rear skirts.

The overall treatment did remind me a lot of older Imprezas and Evos. Which is a bit of a shame Ė not because of body kit itself, but because its 164bhp unblown 4 is not and never going to rival a blown boxer unit at full crack. It the body kit allows the Mazda to get involved with play-ground like pushing and shoving with other kids on the block like the Impreza and Evo, itíll be the Mazda thatíll go running off to headmasterís office first, crying foul and looking for protection.

Overall, though, the 2.3 Sport has some nice extra touches. Thereís the tell-tale bluish glow of the Zenon lights, for example. There is also the rear-light cluster treatment which is somewhere between Lexus IS and Ford Mondeo, or a new mixture of both. The Bose multi-CD inside adds some additional aural class to go with the comfortable leather seats. There is decent feel-good factor being added up with the neat styling, the nice touches and when you are inside looking out. Itís like putting on a decent suit, itís far from Saville Row bespoke, but itís sharp and stylish and, currently, you can be sure there arenít too many of the same off-the-peg Ė so it makes you feel good.


Interior Styling

Inside the quality was definitely more Burton than M & S. The style of the centre console was interesting, with the silver plastics dominating somewhat. The chrome surround on the instruments panel looked good, though. The combination of the colour and the plastic choice meant that the centre console, in particular, could pick up scratches and show them easily. The rest of the dark trim in this Sport model was definitely lifted somewhat by the splashes of silver and that effect worked well.



Silver and black abound - the silver lifts the effect
It seems that Mazda designers canít get enough of a good round button Ėthey can combine a straightforward on/off switch, an up/down switch and even multiple toggles and multiple switches on the same button. These combined with the round air vents did give a sense of too many circles, especially as a very liberal dosing of geeky acronyms were splashed wherever a button could be placed. Eventually I got the hang of them all Ė no I didnít read the instructions Ė if I canít figure out how to tune the radio or put a CD on without resorting to the instruction manual, then the ergonomics have failed in my mind.

The Sport model came with a front-loading Bose CD system. The quality was good, but nothing special. It had plenty of power and kept itís shape when pushed, but lacked absolute clarity to mark it out as a top-notch system. It seemed to cope better with light-pop like Dido, rather than something heavier like the Stereophonics. Overall this Bose system seemed to lack the depth of others Iíve encountered, such as in the Audiís for example, but it did lift the ambience of the cabin, which is what you would expect in a top of the range model.

Other features and functions left me feeling somewhat puzzled. This was more due to the inclusion of some luxury features but lack of others. For example, I liked the door puddle lights, the electric seats and the steering wheel ICE controls, for example. But very conspicuous by its absence was an auto-dimming rear view mirror. Other interior gripes included the short length of the front centre armrest Ė even with the seat pushed back to fit my 6í2í frame I didnít feel I had the underarm support Iíd like, it was more like an elbow rest than an arm rest. Some of the functions on the centre console were just too far from the driver to be useful Ė the trip computer for example, something you may just flip from clock just to see your fuel economy was positioned on the far left for this right-hand drive car, which, without reaching was too far. (But then only displays values in miles per litre which is useless to most people brought up on MPG).


More madras than vindaloo, but definitely spicy
The seats were nicely trimmed with a reasonable quality leather and were fine for all the A to B journeys I had to make. They really need more padding on the thighs and the lumber area though before becoming useful for proper support when pushing on, though.

The biggest disappointment of the interior experience was the steering wheel, which seemed to be fashioned out of a few pieces of liquorice. It may have correctly reflected the power quotient of the car in general but it didnít match up to the bravado of the exterior body kit. It would seem such an obvious and simple thing to get right. I wouldnít expect a small deep pan pizza sized Momo wheel in what is ostensibly a family saloon and I could let them off if this was a TS or TS2. But I would expect a tactile and more suitable girth wheel to take a good grip of Ė I didnít think the 2.3 Sportís wheel was good to grip at all.


Ride, Handling & Steering



The hills and villages of North Hampshire - oh, and the Mazda
The steering wheel experience is the also the first point to note of the handling and steering. At low speeds the lightness to the steering is most noticeable. The power assistance at low speeds seemed to be too much. This gave the car a very light and flighty feel at anything up to around 30-40mph. You donít feel too detached from the wheels pointing the way though, there was plenty of feedback being transferred back through the wheel, especially as the power assistance backed-off at higher speeds. The steering did weight-up nicely as the speeds increased, it has to be said.

Although the steering assistance gave a very flighty feel to the car, the handling itself was very good. For what is a mid-sized saloon it felt like a smaller car Ė although the steering assistance helped betray any weight it may have carried anyway - the suspension allowed quick, stable and controlled weight transfer through any low speed corners. Mazda claim the high-mounted double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension give it this control.

I canít deny the Mazda engineers the right to claim this carís suspension gives it the ride and handling it deserves. The car felt very chuckable and you were rewarded through the twisties by the confidence-inspiring handling. It was never a problem pushing on through sometimes damp corners. At first the scrabble of the front-drive, followed quickly by the clunk of the traction control would stop any non-sensible behaviour. Although the electronic controls would keep the car totally in-check for what it was capable of, it was none-the-less enjoyable because of it.

The ride felt harder than what would be perceived as the Ďnormí for a family saloon. However, this never felt harsh or too firm. In fact the spring and damper settings seemed to reflect perfectly the combination of family ferrying and B road blasting a car like this should be capable and expected of.


Engine, Gearbox and Performance

The power plant of the Sport is a new four-cylinder 2.3 litre MZR engine. Mazda claim this engine provides 90% of the maximum torque of 153lb/ft through the rev band 1,750rpm to 6,000rpm (redline set at 6,500rpm). Claims like these are difficult to assess on the road, but the power delivery from 2,000rpm on was certainly very linear and constant.




Nice design touches, nice engine, nice (but not naughty?)
The biggest benefit of the new engine, though, is itís free-revving nature. It demanded to be revved. Not just because you need to push through all the revs to get the best performance, but also because it has a nice 4 cylinder thrum all the way to the red-line. In fact the engine itself was very reasonably refined, the edge to the noise was given by the exhaust note that helped round off a refined engine note into something more sporty. The combination worked well together and gave the sense of a Ďsporty little numberí, as the wife would say.

So, although the engine sparkled with its sound, it couldnít really set the tarmac alight. This unblown new four-cylinder is rated at 165bhp. The car doesnít really get going until revs hit about 2,000rpm when it starts to pick up, but beyond that it doesnít at all explode into action Ė it just pulls cleanly. It did feel friskier than itís official 0-60 numbers of 9.0 seconds suggest. Our figures could only fractionally better those with 8.9 to 60. But ultimately the 2.3 engine feels only perky rather than powerful.

Dropping down a gear to grab some extra revs is a norm with the revvy engine and only slightly spirited power supply Ė especially helped by the excellent shifting Ďbox. This was a delight to use throughout any combination of 1st to 4th shifts and back again. Short and snappy shifts were easy to time just right. For some reason it got difficult when shifting into 5th, but this couldíve been just down to the car I was driving.

It is a shame that Mazda US manage to get access to the 220bhp V6 3.0 litre Zetec engine slotted in as their top of the range 6 through Mazdaís global relationship with Ford. The 2.3 165bhp engine, although capable in its own right doesnít appear like the sporty range topper it should be even on its own, let alone when compared to the V6. Feeling short-changed again? You should be Ė the US Mazda6 is regarded (even in V6 form) as a sub-$22,000 car Ė the 2.3 Sport retails at 20,000 but in £ís, which equates to over $33,000. The US V6 Mazda6 puts in some very credible fast saloon performance figures of 0-60 in 6.8 seconds.

The engine note that caused the sporty edge was both a positive and a negative over time. While it helped give the car a sporty purpose when dashing around, when you wanted the car to be a bit more composed, on a long motorway cruise for example, the exhaust/engine note never seemed to settle down to become inobtrusive. It was always slightly there causing a little bit too much cabin noise for a completely serine and relaxing cruise.

It never felt slow or even out of place keeping up with motorway fast lane Germanic traffic Ė although the engine was best run in 4th gear for its best to remain spritely. It joined traffic with urge, itís flighty handling meant it didnít feel out of place nipping between traffic.


Practicality

Putting its sporty pretentions aside, any family saloon has to be a capable and practical transport for a multitude of purposes. I found that the rear seat room for the size of the car was very good, offering definite 4 adult-up transportation even with 6 footers in the front, kids were afforded plenty of room. Boot space is very good and not noticeably compromised by intrusions or suspension components.


Stretch out...enjoy...am I talking about bedtime exercise again?
There is a definitely a positive vibe you sense from listening to Mazda owners talking - the online Mazda forums like www.MazdaWorld.org are a good example. Sure, there is the occasional gripe, but generally build quality and durability are almost taken for granted Ė car ownership as it should be. Although it is too early to factor the Mazda6 into the long term motoring surveys, like the recent Top Gear Magazine, December 2003, Motoring Survey, the immediate predecessors demand much praise. The old 626, although very long in the tooth, rated in 18th position which given its age and dynamics show how Mazda have the other factors of feelgood ownership well sorted. Mazda as a manufacturer came in positioned 3rd overall behind 1st place Lexus and Skoda, above the much bigger Japanese manufacturers Toyota and Honda.

If Mazda really want it to be seen as the desirable rep-mobile of choice then it has to at least match up in key figures department. The styling, equipment and current rarity should ensure short-term desirability. The CO2/tax figure of 212/26% compares very favourably against the equivalently powered Mondeo 2.5i Zetecís 242/32% and not too much above and slower 2.0 Zetecís figures of 199/23%. Claimed fuel consumption figures too put the 2.3 Sport 3 mpg better than the 2.5 Zetec at 31mpg. Plenty going for it, then Ė no reason not to, really.


Conclusion

Mazda have made a cracking new car with the Mazda6. Its ride and handling are certainly amongst the best, if not the benchmark, in its class. Put that together with style and practicality, then this car is going to win owners from the company pool to the man who has to dig into his own pockets.

The 2.3 Sport lacks a little sophistication of itís V6 competitors, the engine noise or exhaust note never settling to a refined level for ultimate relaxation. But letís face it - itís not loud or overly intrusive. The engine itself is a revvy little number, but it lacks the something needed to transform this Sport model into the range topper that it should be. Maybe Mazda will allow the 3.0 litre Zetec unit to come out in the UK Ė then maybe the line-up would be properly topped and tailed.

If you have to or choose to drive this car, then you will enjoy it, no doubt. Whether you would choose it as late-night entertainment or bedtime exercise Ė yea, well, maybe. It hasnít quite got the power to set the adrenalin pumping, but it has the handling to inspire confidence in the chassis and your own driving. So weíll allow the marketing execís a little leeway in the product positioning, for now.


Mark White








Pic a pic
Mazda Press Release for 2.3 Sports Saloon

Our Review of the Mazda 6 TS2

Bedtime exercise Advert


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