Let me preface this by saying I’m a truck guy, a Chevy truck guy. I’ve owned three, an S10, a full-size, and an Avalanche. I loved each one of them. I traded the Avalanche for a 2004 Mazda6 s hatchback. I had several reasons, mostly, I’d had the truck for four years and was ready for something new. Chevrolet failed to capture me with the newest line of trucks, and no GM car really wowed me. This review will be made, obviously, from my experience in the Mazda6.

The 6 is available in three variants, the wagon, sedan, and hatchback. Mine is the hatchback. The S trim denotes only that it is powered by Ford’s 3.0L V6 developing 220 horses. I test drove two 4 cylinder variants (i trim) of the 6, and found it more than adequate, but coming out of my V8, I just couldn’t take the sound of that engine winding up before delivering any torque. The 3.0 isn’t a Corvette, but it’s fun to drive, and that’s all I was asking.

The Powertrain

The 220 horses give good acceleration, and it’s quiet, but has a decent tone when your foot’s in it. The 5-speed automatic transmission is closely spaced, delivering smooth acceleration, but has a bad tendency to hunt for gears. Cruising at 60, you won’t notice it, but try to hold 35 and the transmission will seem to be indecisive about staying in fifth gear. The manu-matic option, which allows you to shift the transmission by hand, is good, but there is a noticeable delay. The 2008 Mazda6 that I test-drove seemed to have mostly corrected this problem, but it’s very noticeable in mine. Only time will tell on reliability.

Interior

My 6 has the leather interior, Bose sound system with 6-disc CD changer, power moonroof, and steering-wheel controls. The seats are very comfortable, noticeably more so than the cloth seats I test drove. The Bose stereo is nothing short of amazing, the distortionless sound can significantly vibrate the side mirrors.  The dash is back lit in red, with speedo, tach, fuel guage and temperature; it also displays the current gear selected by the transmission, regardless if you are in automatic or manu-matic mode. The 6 has surprising amounts of storage space, the center console has an upper tray for two compartments of storage, there is a covered storage bin above the center stack, a change holder to the driver’s left, and an ample glove box. The cup holders are functional and are covered when not needed. Radio and HVAC controls are easy to reach, and well labeled. The automatic HVAC system seems to do its job quite well, although it always feels a bit cold (we’re in A/C season right now). The dash combines the clock, radio, and HVAC readouts into a single LED panel at the top of the center stack. This placement makes it easier to read than some other vehicles I’ve driven.

The hatchback is my favorite version of the 6, a slightly shorter vehicle, it looks sportier than the sedan. The trunk space is gigantic for a car of its size. If that weren’t enough, the rear seats flip down (very easily, I might add) to make an absolutely enormous storage space. I’ve successfully placed an 8-foot-long stand into the car, with it only being a foot or so into the front seat area — you could still put two people in the car easily.

Performance and Handling

The one place that the 6 really shines is in performance, the car handles like a sports car — well, maybe not a Corvette, but it’s close. I can fly down off ramps without the car feeling loose or feeling that I am on the edge of the car’s performance envelope. As  I stated earlier, acceleration is adequate. Braking feels strong, although I think mine may need the roters resurfaced. The car’s road noise is noticeably better than my Grand Am, but somewhat higher than I would like. Rumor has it that replacing the factory Michelin tires will help with this.

The Picky

No review would be complete without picking on something, and there are definitely things to pick on in the 6. The power windows, for example, have a one-touch down on the driver’s door, but not the front passenger door….I miss that. The automatic transmission is slow to shift gears, regardless if you’re in manual or automatic mode, although the 2008 Mazda6 seemed better. It stays in 3rd gear far too long when you slow down, and you have to really force it to jump up into 2nd. The cup holders in the front doors aren’t extremely useful. The headlamps don’t automatically come on, and with the back lit dash, it’s a bit difficult to realize you’ve forgotten them. Rear visibility isn’t fantastic, but adequate. The moonroof has two switches instead of one — can’t explain that one — it also only opens upwards a half-an-inch or so, why not more?

Conclusion

Obviously I like this car, I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise, but I truly believe it’s a great car. It’s fun to drive, functional, and comfortable. It’s not a truck, and it’s not a Prius, and I like that. There are a ton of aftermarket parts for the 6, some to give you more horses, and some just to make it look better, which is perfect for someone who likes to make a vehicle unique. Oh, and did I mention it won’t set you back near what an Accord or Camry will, and you’re getting the same quality?

Review: 2004 Mazda6 s
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