I think every reader in the CC community figured out that a “Zoom-Zoom” Mazda was the follow-up car for the 2007 Camry based on my not-so-subtle hints. Some commenters expressed hope that I’d finally get something interesting like a MX-5 Miata, but the title probably lets you know that I didn’t go that route. I can explain, though…
My wife did not exactly embrace the base rental car aesthetic of the Camry CE. Oddly enough, the lack of keyless entry was the biggest deal-breaker for her (go figure). As a result she requested more input into the Camry replacement. We considered a number of cars, including the Acura TSX and several Mazdas (and probably a couple of other cars I don’t remember looking at now). I liked the TSX as my mother had just purchased one of those cars with my assistance and guidance. It was a good mix of practical and somewhat sporty characteristics, but a TSX with the options we wanted began to get pretty expensive (higher-end stereo, navigation, satellite radio. etc.).
We did look at the MX-5/Miata at the time and my wife did like it a lot. I was less sold on it, mostly because I didn’t fit very well into it. I am not that tall (6 foot) but in sitting in the car at car shows and the dealer I had a difficult time getting comfortable. For me the seat didn’t move far enough back and the steering wheel didn’t tilt far enough up for me to keep from hitting my knee on the steering wheel when letting the clutch out. This was not uncommon for me – my ’89 Thunderbird had the same problem as my driving position put my knee against the steering wheel exactly at the point the clutch began to release, so I always had to drive with the steering wheel tilted up a bit. In the MX-5 being offered in 2009 I was able to get my head inside the car – in previous versions I found myself having to slouch a bit to keep from having the windshield header at eye level. I probably could have made it work if my wife had been more insistent on getting the car, but she was OK with looking elsewhere.
I had looked at the previous generation of Mazda6 (2003-2008 models) at several points but hadn’t actually considered them seriously. I had a coworker who was a big Mazda fan and had a 2003 V-6 manual transmission version that was very enjoyable to drive. I’d also rented a 4-cylinder automatic version late in the model’s product cycle and found even this base model to be a good compromise between sport and practicality. When Mazda introduced the second generation Mazda6 in 2009, I began to take a much closer look at it. The second generation car was somewhat larger inside and out and had much more striking styling inspired to some extent by the contemporary RX-7. The separated front fenders with pronounced wheel arches set apart from the hood gave this car a look that was very different from the plain vanilla Camry. The prices were reasonable as well given the level of equipment available.
Looking at the Mazda also meant going outside the small number of dealerships with which I felt comfortable, and I got lucky here. We went with a smaller dealership locally that was very honest and above board and treated us very well. I didn’t feel like I’d been taken for a ride (so to speak). The dealership didn’t offer no-haggle pricing but the initial prices for the 6 were good enough that I was able to get a good deal with a minimum of stressful negotiating.
As you might expect, we didn’t go with the base model this time, but rather with the top-line Grand Touring model. We went back and forth about whether to choose the 272-hp 3.7 liter V6 or the 170 hp 2.5 liter 4 cylinder (both with 6-speed automatics) but ultimately decided on the 4 cylinder engine based mostly on price (the V-6 added quite a bit to the bottom line, as I recall, and the extra 100 hp wasn’t worth the money to us).
As you can see from the pictures, this Mazda6 was about as far from the white rental-car Camry as you can get. We chose Sangria Red over black as the color combination, and this, combined with the aggressive(ish) styling certainly made the car stand out. I didn’t necessarily want the pinstripe, especially since the front fender styling meant it stopped awkwardly behind the front wheels, but we were buying this car not long after they were introduced (roughly fall of 2008) so there weren’t that many cars in stock.
The Grand Touring package came with all of the expected amenities like heated leather seats with memory, dual-zone automatic climate control (with big, logical controls), in-dash CD changer, built in satellite radio receiver (the first car I’d bought with this), and Bluetooth phone connectivity. This model also had smart-key entry with pushbutton start, but it always seemed to me to be an afterthought. Lesser models had a regular switchblade key for the ignition, but ours had a large and obvious blanking plate on the side of the column to cover up the switch hole. The pushbutton for starting the car was then located low on the center console in front of the transmission shift lever instead of being high on the dash and accessible. Easy enough to get used to, but maybe a cost-cutting move. The leather seats were nice but certainly not as soft as what you’d get with a Lexus. They wore pretty well, though, so I guess that is the compromise that has to be made. The high-end Bose stereo was typical of OEM systems from this brand – it sounded great when it was cranked to ear-bleeding volumes but was just OK at lower volumes.
The Grand Touring package brought a number of features that were new to us, including blind spot monitoring that worked quite well. The system was pretty simple – if there was a car in either blind spot (behind and to the side) a yellow light illuminated in the corresponding exterior mirror. The yellow light was accompanied by a warning beep if you turned on your signal in that direction. Simple, but effective. This was also the first car I owned with rain sensing wipers that used a sensor mounted behind the inside mirror pointed toward the windshield. The sensor looked at how much water was on the glass and swiped the wipers appropriately to keep the windshield clear in intermittent mode. This was a handy gimmick that worked well – unlike conventional intermittent wipers you didn’t have to adjust the delay setting as rain conditions changed. It wasn’t a feature I’d seek out specifically, though – twisting a delay knob on a wiper stalk isn’t that difficult.
Overall this car was one of our more successful purchases. The car was well equipped with the features we wanted, the price was reasonable, and the car looked pretty good (especially in red). It was enjoyable to drive as well – the 170-hp 4-cylinder was more than adequate for the car and the 6-speed automatic had simple lever-based manual selectors (no paddle shifters or odd up-down switches). The car’s manual shift mode was reversed relative to other cars – the Mazda required a pull backwards for upshifts while many cars require a push forwards for upshifts. Arguments can be made either way (and I’m sure will be made here in the comments) but from a simple “up-down” perspective it seemed backwards – if you look straight down on the shift lever, “up” would be toward the dashboard, to me.
We ran this car all the way to the end of its lease, which was a sign of success for me, and my wife still liked the car when we turned it in. We didn’t stay with Mazda for her next car, but we did pick a non-Toyota product that didn’t have “blend into the woodwork” styling, and this time we went with more power – turbo power for the win. More in the next couple of weeks.