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2003 Mazda 1203 Mazda6 4116 103217
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Expert Reviews

Jim McCraw
powered by New Car Test Drive
The 2003 Mazda 6 is an all-new four-door mid-size sedan. It's sportier than the other cars in its class, both in appearance and in its handling and driving dynamics. It's more agile and holds the road better than other mid-size sedans, such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima. The Mazda 6 is lighter on its feet and stops quicker than other mid-size sedans. In short, it's a better driver's car.

The new Mazda 6 is designed to replace both the 626 and the Milennia and is the best sedan for the money Mazda has ever built. After four generations of maturation and development, and considerable help from Ford Motor Company, the zoom-zoom guys have really put a fine point on it this time.

Model Lineup
Mazda 6 is available with four-cylinder and V6 engines. Both engines offer a choice of manual and automatic transmissions, with the further option of a four-speed sport-shift manual automatic transmission with the V6 engine.

The base model, the Mazda 6i ($18,530) costs far less than the outgoing 626 model at $20,700. It has a long list of standard equipment including five-speed manual transmission, 16-inch wheels, large 11-inch four-wheel disc brakes, power windows, door locks and mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons, leather shift knob and boot, dual stainless exhaust system with dual chrome tailpipes, front and rear stabilizer bars, dual front smart airbags, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, color-keyed exterior door handles and mirrors, AM/FM/CD player, dual 12-volt outlets, one-touch folding 60/40 split rear seatbacks and an electric trunk release.

The sports sedan version, the Mazda 6s, comes with a 220-hp 3.0-liter V6 with variable valve timing, all of the 6i features plus ABS, traction control, eight-way power driver's seat, 16-inch 5-spoke aluminum wheels, and a perimeter alarm system. Our test car was a loaded Mazda 6s with the manumatic, optional leather seating, power moonroof, and the Sport Package ($860).

To keep the base prices down, anti-lock brakes ($900) are optional, as are front seat side air bags ($450), with a full interior roof air curtain. Traction control ($400) and a 200-watt Bose audio system ($635) are also on the option list. Some options can be bundled as either the Comfort Package ($220), the Sport Package ($860), or the Premium Package ($800), on the four-cylinder 6i and 6s models.

We think the new Mazda 6 is one of the crispest, cleanest exterior designs in the mid-size sedan class, with a strong new front-end treatment that's consistent with other Mazdas, the MPV minivan, the pickup truck, and the Protege.

Cat's-eye headlamps and big taillamps are both multi-element creations that enhance the action at each corner of the car. Everything in, on and under this car makes sense, and it all looks good doing it. The relationship of the lower body to the upper body is excellent, and the roof shape is designed for people, not for style. The new Mazda 6 benefits from a kind of muscular conservatism inside and out, with clear design ties to the Milennia luxury car. It has more personality than the Accord and more spunk than the Camry.

There is enough ordering flexibility with both the high-volume four-cylinder 6i models, which should account for about 70 percent of sales, and the V6-powered 6s models, that you can have the Mazda 6 just about any way you want. Both of the engines and all of the transmissions are new technology, new construction. The engines are made of aluminum to keep the new Mazda 6 from getting too heavy, which it isn't, at 3311 pounds for the V6 automatic Sport.

Because the Mazda 6 had to replace both the 626 and the more expensive and luxurious Milennia, it's bigger in all directions than the old 626, and very comfortable front and rear for passengers in the 95th percentile of all body shapes. We found the seats especially comfortable for fast driving through the suburbs and exurbs, with lots of good upper body support, and enough lower back support with the standard lumbar adjuster to keep you happy all day.

There's more than 96 cubic feet of useable space inside the 6s, according to the EPA measuring system, and that translates as plenty of room for four, or five in a pinch. The rear seats are quite comfortable. The flipping mechanism for the 60/40 split rear seat makes for easy switchovers from people to cargo hauling duties, and pops the seat back up just as easily as it goes down. There are half-liter and smaller cupholders in the doors and both front and rear center consoles, and lots of other open and covered storage. The new seat pockets and door pockets are huge. The interior door handles lacked heft.

Leather is in all the right places in the Mazda 6s. The front seats, with perforated leather seating areas, are comfortable through a wide range of adjustments. The interior design is complemented by carbon fiber, titanium and body-color finishes along with three choices of leather color. The sharp new gauge package and other controls are illuminated in red light, but are conventional black and white during the day, with nice, large callouts, labels, and pleasing graphics.

The Sport Package includes clear-lens halogen foglamps, dual exhaust outlets, a front air dam, side sill extensions, a rear apron and a rear spoiler with an integral center high-mount brake light. The new shape, accented and highlighted with this package, is truly fetching in hot colors.

The trunk compartment is quite a good size at more than 15.2 cubic feet, and the trunk lid is designed with hinges that do not impinge in any way on the storage space. The compact lateral link rear suspension system allows for a perfectly flat trunk floor.

Driving Impressions
Handling comparisons to other cars in its class put the Mazda 6 near the top of the heap. The Mazda 6 holds the road better when cornering than the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima, and it offers better transient response than other mid-size sedans in quick lane-change maneuvers. The Camry feels genuinely lethargic by comparison and the Altima feels like a bigger car. The Mazda's handling is sharper than the Honda's.

The Mazda 6 uses a new double wishbone front and lateral link rear suspension design, with revised rack-and-pinion steering. The Sport version uses relatively skinny 215/50VR17 Michelin tires; standard tires are 205/60R16s. Grip is very, very good right up to the point where the front end pushes, telling you to lighten up. Other mid-size sedans lose grip far sooner than the Mazda 6. The amount of power-steering assist backs off the faster you go, to give a really nice feel, though still on the light side, at high speeds.

Ride quality is plusher than we were expecting, but body roll is nicely controlled by the lateral link rear suspension and the standard front and rear stabilizer bars. Road and wind noise do come through, however. This car is not as quiet as the new Accord and the road noise is relatively pronounced on broken pavement. We felt that the extra bodywork on the Sport version we drove may have been the generator of a bit more road and wind noise than we would have liked, because other models that we drove didn't carry as much total noise as the Sport version.

The Mazda 6 offers better braking than the other cars in this class, stopping in shorter distances. The anti-lock brakes demonstrated a marked propensity to arrest forward motion, with solid, progressive pedal feel, and good resistance to fading from prolonged heat buildup.

The Mazda 6i is a hoot to drive. Order it with the five-speed manual and you'll find the fun zone starts at about 4000 rpm where it's very responsive. This engine loves to rev and the manual gearbox is fun to row. Below 3000 rpm, however, the double overhead-cam four-cylinder engine lacks strong throttle response. Mazda's 2.3-liter four-cylinder provides the 6i with acceleration performance that's on par with other four-cylinder mid-size sedans. The new Accord may be slightly quicker, but the Mazda feels sportier. Overall, the Mazda 6i is feels younger and far sportier than the other mid-size sedans, especially when equipped with the Sport Package. Fuel economy from a Mazda 6i with manual gearbox is below the class average, however, EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg.

The 3.0-liter V6 engine found in the Mazda 6s greatly increases the fun. Mazda's V6 uses variable valve timing, providing plenty of low-down torque, a willingness to rev, good gas mileage, and a nice set of sounds from the air intake system and the dual exhaust system.

The automatic transmission with the optional manual shifting strategy was a very good companion for the flexible engine, interrupting torque on both upshifts and downshifts for smooth, positive shifting without that secondary, rubbery bump that some front-drive transaxles generate. The Sport AT automatic transmission offers a manual mode. Pull back on the stick to upshift, push forward to downshift.

The new Mazda 6 is an affordable sports sedan. It boasts more exterior and interior style than other mid-size sedans. It's more fun to drive than those other cars with quicker cornering and stopping performance and a sportier ambiance. It's a great choice for someone who wants something more exciting than a Honda Accord.
Model as tested
Mazda 6s ($21,100)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Flat Rock, Michigan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
automatic ($850); ABS and traction control ($400); side air bags and side air curtains ($450); Sport package ($860), autodim mirror with compass and HomeLink ($250)
Model Line Overview
Model lineup
6i ($18,530); 6s ($20,100)
Safety equipment (standard)
front airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
5-speed automatic
Specifications as Tested
power steering, power disc brakes, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, V6 engine, air conditioning, power seats, AM/FM/cassette system
Engine & Transmission
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
220 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear
Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight
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2003 Mazda Mazda6
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