I can say with confidence that I know much more about cars than I had when I first started out in this industry, but admittedly, my knowledge is limited mostly to the segments that encompass my age group as target buyers. You can ask me anything about subcompacts and compacts, but there's only so much I can prattle about when it comes to family-oriented SUVs. Multimillion luxury vehicles? Let's not even go there.
Lately, however, a number of my peers have been asking my opinion about cars in the executive midsize segment, much to my disbelief (a number of them have also gotten married, much to my greater disbelief, but that's beside the point). It may be that there are more executives among young professionals nowadays. But my having turned a year older just recently reminded me of another important fact: My generation is slowly moving into the demographic of executive-sedan buyers.
Still, even though we're getting older in years, we're not necessarily older in spirit. I know because more often than not, what catches the fancy of my friends is the Mazda 6, which, despite being in the dignified segment of executive sedans, is not above tearing down the streets when the mood calls for it.
From the 2.3-liter lump of the previous generation's top-of-the-line variant, the current Mazda 6 is now powered by a 2.5-liter, twin-cam, in-line-four powerplant generating 168hp and 226Nm of torque. What's really noteworthy, however, is the five-speed automatic transmission the engine is mated to. Unlike cars with Sport modes that don't really give full manual override control, the Mazda 6 actually allows you to hold the gears all the way to redline. Shifting--whether down or up--is creamy-smooth and with minimal lag. I would've bewailed the absence of paddle shifters, but in this case I'm willing to let it go because in Sport mode, the orientation of plus and minus in the gated gearshift is just as it should be: You have to pull the lever down to upshift and push it up to downshift, following the motion of your body in a moving car.
Cinching the deal is the suspension setup of high-mount double-wishbones up front and E-type multilinks at the back. Combined with the Traction Control System, low-profile 215/50 17-inch tires, and all-disc brakes, the package delivers a precise and sporty feel, but retains a comfortable ride expected of cars from this class.
Compared to the previous-generation, this Mazda 6 has grown longer and wider, now measuring 4,735mm long, 1,795mm wide and 1,440mm tall. Inside, however, you'll be hard pressed to see where the extra millimeters went. Only a narrow center console separates the driver from the front passenger. And if you forced three passengers into the backseat, you have a perfect illustration of the saying, "Three's a crowd."
After trying out the Mazda 6, I also began to wonder if I had disproportionate arms and legs. Even with the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel pushed all the way back into the steering column, my arms were still too close to the wheel while my right foot was just barely able to reach the pedals. The eight-way power-adjustable seat allows you to sit high up to get a good view of the road ahead, but not without the risk of scalping yourself on the sunshade, as headroom is virtually nonexistent. If anything, though, the seats offer very good support, especially in the lumbar area.
If you check the 6's price tag, it's obvious that Mazda preferred to spend more on power and performance than on fancy toys. True, you get HID headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and a moonroof aside from stuff that ought to be standard in this class already, like auxiliary input and steering-wheel-mounted controls. Some basic features, however, were overlooked, most notably the turn-signal repeaters in the power-folding side-view mirrors. Worst of all, a small display strip has to be shared by the interfaces for HVAC, audio, digital clock and on-board mileage computer.
Clearly, the Mazda 6 banks on the sense of fun and adventure of its potential buyers more than anything else. For the young boss who prefers to drive than be driven around, this makes the cut as an executive car. Older souls who prefer to take refuge in the backseat would have to look at something else.