If a Six Were a Nine

April 2, 2009

The Mazda6 and the Mazda3 are good examples of a traditionally good value; both cars have shown up with excellent reliability, safety, and quality comparable with Toyota.

The new Mazda6 is a midsize four-door sedan that seats five, four in luxury. This size of car stands to sell millions over the next few years to millions of people getting out of SUV’s, who don’t use the space or the added power. They likely will buy a very safe economical midsize vehicle like a Honda Accord or a Mazda6. As a rule Mazda’s are a special value.

Mazda’s Understated Value

The Mazda6 and the Mazda3 are good examples of a traditionally good value; both cars have shown up with excellent reliability, safety, and quality comparable with Toyota (for example). Traditionally, corporations like Toyota and Honda have been able to ask more for their comparably equipped vehicles because of their reputation. Also by tradition, other Asian companies like Mazda, Subaru, Kia, and others have sold their cars for a lower transaction price to make up for a lesser image. The lesser image makes Mazda cars devalue quicker. The Mazda6 drops in value quicker than a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, yet is as good a vehicle. Subsequently, a well-cared for, used Mazda6 can be a better buy than Toyota's Camry or Honda’s Accord.

An automobile that shows itself to be safe and reliable will result in a slower rate of devaluation. If the image of the automaker or the images of the car are strong and powerful then the devaluation rate will be meaningfully slower. In the end, the valuation rates boil down to a bunch of men, mostly men sitting around a table making their own minds up what they think the devaluation rate should be then publishing it. Finance companies subscribe to these books or even pay to have their own published, and then base their loans and particularly their leases on a published rate of devaluation. Vehicle valuation specialists publish their information based on history. They do not have a crystal ball so their estimates do not include the effect of a limited oil supply or five dollars per gallon fuel.

If you have a lease on a four-cylinder midsize car you are probably in a great situation right now. The price to buy your car at the end of the lease is probably way below what true market value is, maybe by as much as $5,000. Conversely if you leased a V8 engine in anything a year or more ago you're probably underwater or backward, or some other bad news expression that means you owe more on the product than the product is worth in the new economy.

Redefining Economic Value Strategies

In the new economy values are evolving rapidly and individuals are taking better care of their machines because they're keeping them longer. Automakers must bring forward technologies that they have been withholding for decades to give citizens a reason to become buyers again.

Over the next decade you'll see hundreds of hybrid variations burning diesel or natural gas or hydrogen gas or any of the three at the flick of a switch to create electricity to charge batteries and or super capacitors to drive electric motors to the road wheels most efficiently. And the ultimate hybrid of the near term future is likely to be a hydrogen powered fuel cell in tandem with capacitors and batteries, all electric, all the time, much cleaner.

Automakers and car dealers like hybrids. Because hybrids have two drive systems, they have more parts and a lot more complexity than traditional automobiles. In the long-run hybrids should bring the automaker and the dealers more money. Battery powered cars are perfected and have very, very few friction parts. Battery powered cars will be a big portion of sales in well less than a decade.

For most of us transportation needs to cost less. Most of us are not going to give up on personal transportation, yet. In the near term, a vehicle that costs less to own and operate makes sense. There are more personal, emotional issues that often have to be worked through, like image, not to mention social pressure. Did we mention social pressure and status? Status is a powerful sales tool. In the new economy we are studying more before we buy and listening to our inner sensibilities.

The best strategy for most of us is to own at least one proven car that gets at least 30 miles per gallon on the highway, that can also be used as a family or business car as the case may be. The best economy with the largest interior volume is what most of us want. As you transition to a new vehicle, you may want more luxuries, more creature comforts and a quieter passenger compartment. Yes, you can pay less and get better than before. Aim high.

Mazda6 Styling Mix

The completely redesigned front-wheel drive Mazda6 is about 194 inches long. That makes the Mazda6 a few inches longer than a Camry and a few inches shorter than the Avalon. It's a luxurious size with a spacious interior. With today's economy, most of us are reevaluating our concepts of luxury and our needs.

Mazda has been reevaluating our concepts of luxury too. At the beginning of the Mazda6 concept years ago, chief designer Youichi Sato told the creative staff that it’s, "Time to be Japanese." This is a real unusual order considering the fact that the Japanese traditionally avoid touting their Japaneseness. But maybe this is a good thing now. The island nation of Japan has a very compact and efficient lifestyle. The styles and designs of Japan are not traditional in the United State; hence you may find the look refreshing.

Frankly, when we look at this car standing about 10 to 15 feet in front of the grill looking front to back, we see the heavy Asian influence. As we walk around the car we can see and feel the Italian and German influence of style. The Mazda design studio in Frankfurt, Germany had a hand in this, as did the design studios in Irvine, CA as well and as Hiroshima and Yokohama, Japan. This car is designed for the North American market.

The styling brings together the Mazda look that started with the rotary powered RX-8. The front fenders are very distinctive with a unique wheel surrounded treatment at both the front and rear. The hood and grill appear to be bulging with power. The diamond shaped headlights are attractive and intricately detailed as to create an elegant jeweled appearance.

The steeply raked windshield leads to a rounded roof with a long sloping fastback to a short trunk lid with a traditional German sporty Kamm back finish. The whole design is pleasantly liquid. Even if you didn't like the style it's unlikely you would find it objectionable. It's a pleasing style that has the ability to grow on you.

Mazda6 Offers Seven Choices

The new Mazda6 comes in seven different models. Four models come standard with a four-cylinder engine. Four-cylinder models are available with a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual transmission. The proper designation for Mazdas with a four-cylinder engine is Mazda6i. Three models come standard with a V6 and automatic transmission. The designation for the six-cylinder model is Mazda6s. We will stay focused on the superior handling more socially responsible four-cylinder models.

The least expensive manual transmission model can be had for well below $19,000 nicely equipped with the best safety technology including stability control. Other standard features include air conditioning with pollen filter, delayed courtesy lights, and a telescoping steering wheel with a height adjustable driver seat for the best fit. Your best value is probably the Touring model. The Touring model is well-equipped standard with features like keyless entry with a pushbutton start. Remote engine starting is an option, great in ultra cold climate. The Touring model offers a few options that bring you up to the luxury market place; like a 10 speaker Bose sound system, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and a moon roof.

Extra Features Go Up-Model

If you want a navigation system, it's disproportionately expensive because it forces you to go up to the Grand Touring model with the base cost of over $3,000 more and then you have to spend another $2,000 to buy the attractive, well placed 7-inch flat screen. Maybe for you or your family the best value is the Grand Touring model if you demand a luxury feature filled coach. Some features standard on the Grand Touring are options on the Touring that you might want. Should that be the case, the price difference whittles down considerably. A very well-equipped Grand Touring Mazda6i should cost you approximately $30,000. This is a competitive price.

Your best value might be the SV model for $10,000 less. The least expensive model has the same body, chassis, suspension, engine and passive safety features. One safety feature not available on the SV yet standard on the Grand Touring is the Blind Spot Monitoring System. This feature has usually been reserved for Volvo, Lexus, and the like. The BSM system warns you if there is another car in the space you are planning to make a lane change into. BSM is a high value feature.

The Four is No Sacrifice

The four-cylinder engine is very well done. It's loaded with low end torque and the drive by wire accelerator pedal is near instantaneous. Engine pull is solid and strong, yet at idle speed there is no telltale four-cylinder shaking. Variable valve timing is very meaningful to this engine’s design as are the internal rotating counterweights that have proven to work so well over the last decade at eliminating engine vibration. Like so many four-cylinder engines today, this big 2.5L has double overhead cam shafts with four valves per cylinder, with centrally located sparkplugs and an ignition coil on the end of each one. Direct injection of fuel into the combustion chamber is missing, yet it is overall a well done engine.

You will enjoy the consistent smooth, predictable power this 2.5L puts out. You will also enjoy the 87 octane requirement. In times of tight petroleum, lower octane fuel is usually more available than high octane. The sporty five-speed automatic gets better highway and city fuel economy than the very sporty six-speed manual. The automatic is responsive enough in its sporty setting so it will feel less necessary to shift gears manually, which the transmission and shift lever are designed to do.

The automatic transmission uses a traditional fluid drive torque converter. So power flows smoothly from the top of the pistons to the bottom of the tires. This is a satisfying driveline. To bring the driveline and the steel unit body together well, a quality independent suspension is required. Upfront are double wishbones with coil springs, at the rear is a more traditional multi-link. Stabilizer bars are standard, front and rear to minimize and eliminate body lean.

Superior Ride, Luxury for Less

The ride of this car is clearly luxury. The old Mazda6 was a sporty performance-oriented sedan. This new model takes on Lexus, Acura, Toyota, and Honda. Now the emphasis is on luxury and comfort with the sporty appeal.

Traditionally, when you wanted the most luxury in a car the automaker would force you into the largest, most fuel thirsty engine. Mazda allows you the most luxuries with the engine that gets the best fuel economy. So now you can have more for less.

The interior maintains a sporty appeal; all controls are direct and distinctive. The instrument panel and center console are quick to learn and easy to control without using your eyes. Good automotive controls don't require you to look because they give themselves away by position and feel. The navigation instrument panel is well-designed with a very nice standard radio or an optional killer 10 speaker Bose system.

Ergonomic Insides

When you step into the driver's seat you'll see four pods in front of you with a large speedometer to your right and to the right of that a nice large clear temperature gauge. Then on the left is a nice large tachometer, which is great for sporty driving. To the left of that is a clear fuel gauge. In the center between the tachometer and speedometer are your transmission settings. The steering wheel is pleasantly thick with standard audio controls on one side and cruise control settings on the other side. If you order Bluetooth, it can be controlled on the steering wheel too.

The use of different textures, earth tone colors, combined with flat and glossy finishes gives the interior a pleasant flow out from the center console. The Touring and the Grand Touring model give you a gorgeous electroluminescence instrument panel with red nighttime illumination.

Oddly, the hand brake is on the passenger side of the center console. Our whole upper torso disliked this feature. The front seating is delightful, and the optional leather is very supportive and tastefully done. At the very top of the center console is a well-placed small LCD screen. This small screen is chock-full of information a driver and passenger would want to know. Mazda has used this sort of integrated screen long before they installed navigation systems.

The New Zoom

Mazda used to build a big luxury car called the 929. It was a rear-wheel drive and a bit boat-like. It seemed to be their attempt to build a Buick. The 929 was the first vehicle in America to offer solar cells on the roof that passively vented the passenger compartment, whilst charging the battery. Now, the Mazda6 is appealing to a new audience seeking well-made, economical luxury. I don't think Jimi Hendrix envisioned that the Mazda6 was really the reincarnation of the Mazda nine from the last century. "If the six was a nine, I don't mind."

If you're considering a Toyota Camry or Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord, or for that matter the Lexus ES 350, try the new 6i with the eyes of a child. The power is more than adequate, the luxury is in excess, and the safety is all there. It will leave a smile on your face, and will leave you with more in your pocketbook.