Fast forward a couple of decades and, in spite of grade-school teachers’ best efforts to confuse us with theorems and such, we’ve managed to muddle through with the basic math skills to recognize a good value when we see one. And that’s precisely what we see in the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6.
This limited-production model’s souped-up four-cylinder engine, new all-wheel drive system, sport-tuned suspension, and handsomely-restyled sheetmetal are admittedly eye-catching. But when we discovered all this good stuff can be had for a nominal premium, we knew we’d found a sports sedan that added up to much more than the sum of its parts.
While Mazda’s high-performance division has been kicking around U.S. racing circles since the early 1990s, it’s only been three years since the first turn-key MazdaSpeed models went on sale through U.S. dealers. Though those early efforts – which included MazdaSpeed versions of the compact Protégé’ sedan and Miata sports car – earned widespread praise, we still can’t help but be pleasantly surprised that such a relatively young program could create a sport sedan as sophisticated as this new MazdaSpeed 6.
While Mazda’s mainstream 6 line-up has grown in recent years to include sedan, sport wagon, and five-door hatchback models, the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6 will only be offered in the four-door body style because of its greater structural rigidity. There are two trim levels to choose from, however, including the entry-level Sport and the upscale Grand Touring.
Sport models are well-equipped, with unique front sport seats, automatic climate control with pollen filter, cruise control, keyless entry, and a 200-watt Bose seven-speaker audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer. The Grand Touring trim level adds xenon headlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats and outside mirrors, and a nifty keyless-entry-and-start feature. Major options include a GPS navigation system, power sunroof (available on Grand Touring models only), Sirius satellite radio, a universal garage door opener, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass.
No matter which trim level you choose, you’ll get a car that both looks and drives significantly better than the very likeable mainstream model on which it’s based.
Nuts and Bolts
While it would have been easier to simply bolt on a turbocharger and call it good, the MazdaSpeed team has taken a much more comprehensive approach to the engineering behind the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6. Virtually every system has been extensively redesigned, starting under the hood. Here you’ll find a turbocharged and intercooled version of Mazda’s excellent 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out an impressive 274 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque.
To coax those additional 114 horses out of the stock four-banger, MazdaSpeed engineers developed an injection system that sprays fuel directly into the combustion chamber. This DISI technology (pronounced “dizzy,” which gets it our vote for Most Amusing Automotive Acronym since Toyota’s TRD) makes for a denser air-fuel mixture that results in better low- and mid-range torque, reduced emissions, and improved fuel economy. The MazdaSpeed team’s decision to use a slightly smaller turbo also has significant benefits, allowing the 15.6 pounds of boost to come online at just 2,500 rpm. To make sure the rest of the engine was up to the abuse such horsepower invites, engineers replaced hundreds of parts with beefed-up versions including a stronger crankshaft and connecting rods.
To put all this power to the ground, the MazdaSpeed crew jettisoned the 6’s front-wheel drive set-up in favor of a new all-wheel drive system. This system automatically switches between three modes – Normal, Sport, and Snow – to send available torque to where it can do the most good. In the Normal mode most power goes to the front wheels, while the Sport and Snow modes can vary the power distribution between 100 percent front and a 50-50 front/rear split. The only transmission is an excellent close-ratio six-speed manual. While the fact that this shift-it-yourself gearbox is the only transmission offered may put a crimp in sales, we think it’s a fine way to say “Posers need not apply.”
Because a sports sedan that only goes fast in a straight line isn’t much fun, the MazdaSpeed 6’s suspension also received a thorough reworking with firmer springs and shocks and larger-diameter stabilizer bars. Front and rear crossmembers were added and suspension mounting points were reinforced to provide the stiffness necessary to make the most out of the hardware upgrades. Engineers also massaged the ratio of the variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering to deliver better feel and quicker response. Stopping chores are now handled by a beefed-up braking system, including 12.6-inch ventilated discs up front and 12.4 solid discs in back.
When it came time to give the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6 more visual punch, designers chose to forgo huge hood scoops and a big honkin’ rear wing, and we think the car is so much the better for it. The end result is a design that strikes a perfect balance between being low-key enough to not attract unwanted attention from the authorities and being distinctive enough to make even the causal observer realize this is more than just another ordinary grocery-getter.
Subtle changes include a bolder front fascia with blacked-out honeycomb lower grille inserts and halogen fog lights, a muscular hood bulge, flared fenders over the front wheels, side-sill extensions, a modest trunklid spoiler, and a rear valance with cutouts for the large dual chrome exhaust tips. Blacked-out headlight housings filled with jewel-like projector-beam headlights and turn signals further enhance the effect. Handsome 15-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile performance tires add a finishing touch and make the car a real head-turner.
The same understated, sophisticated look continues inside. Sport models are fitted with well-bolstered front seats covered in a grippy black cloth, set off by drilled alloy pedals and carbon fiber-patterned trim on the instrument panel. Spring for the Grand Touring model and you get leather upholstery in either black or a limited-edition black-and-white combination, along with the additional comfort and convenience features noted earlier.
It’s one of the unalterable laws of nature that sporty cars like the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6 are going to be driven hard. That’s why we’re happy to report that Mazda product planners have included a full complement of advanced safety features on the standard equipment list. On the proactive side, four-wheel antilock disc brakes should help you avoid trouble while electronic stability control helps keep the car headed in the right direction. If a crash is unavoidable, dual-stage front, side-impact, and side-curtain airbags plus whiplash-reducing “active” head restraints atop the front seats should help soften the blow. Finally, an alarm and engine immobilizer are also included to make sure your new car doesn’t decide to take off without you.
The whole package is wrapped up with your choice of six largely understated colors including black, gray, silver, white and a purple hue called Black Cherry. The lone exception to this subtle color palette is our absolute favorite, a bright, stand-out shade called Velocity Red. So much for trying to keep a low profile while hot-footing it through town.
While all this looks good on paper, you’re probably wondering how the most powerful sedan Mazda has ever produced actually performs on the pavement. We thought you’d never ask.
It feels like there’s something more substantial than a four-cylinder at work in the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6. The sensation is so distinct that we were tempted to pull over and raise the hood to make sure they hadn’t snuck a V6 in there while we were in the men’s room. While the acceleration this souped-up four-banger provides is impressive, we soon discovered that it has the split personality common to turbocharged powerplants. Tooling around at slow speeds the engine feels quite docile, maybe even a little sluggish. Wind it up, however, and there’s a definite WHAM! as the turbo’s full boost delivers a kick in the butt that says “Hang on buddy, here we go.”
We found the six-speed manual to be a very good match for this motor, with smooth operation and nice short throws. Likewise, the all-wheel-drive system adds a viscerally pleasing quality under hard acceleration as you feel all four wheels scratching to find traction. Though we didn’t get the opportunity to try it out in the snow, we imagine this system paired with a good set of snow tires would make the Mazda MazdaSpeed 6 one of those rare performance cars that could actually hold its own when driving conditions turn ugly. And since the engine is turbocharged, and therefore impervious to altitude’s effects on a combustion engine, this foul-weather performance is perfect for thin-air cities like Denver or Santa Fe.
The MazdaSpeed 6’s suspension changes give the car a solid well-planted quality that inspires confidence when pushed hard, with very little body roll in turns and a firm but very livable ride. The precise rack-and-pinion steering and strong brakes only add to this feeling of confidence.
As for the question on everyone’s mind, yes we do feel the MazdaSpeed 6 is worth every penny of its $28,000 base price. When you do the math and consider what it would cost to add a fraction of the performance and style the MazdaSpeed 6 offers to the standard version via aftermarket parts, it actually starts looking like a bargain.
Just remember, when we say “you do the math,” there’s a good reason for it.
FAQ and Specs
What’s up with this “MazdaSpeed” name?
MazdaSpeed is Mazda’s performance-oriented sub-brand that markets go-fast parts and accessories and, more recently, hot-rodded versions of Mazda’s mainstream models. The underlying idea is that the glow from these sexy limited-production models will spill over to show all the company’s products in a more favorable light.
How come my local Mazda dealer doesn’t carry the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6?
MazdaSpeed models are only available at certified MazdaSpeed dealers, of which there are about 300 (out of a total 700 Mazda retailers) in the U.S.
How does the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6’s keyless-entry-and-start feature work?
The system, which is one of the slickest we’ve tried, starts with a thin credit card-size remote that fits easily into a shirt pocket. With this little doo-dad on your person (we hear inside a purse works too) you simply walk up to the car, touch the door handle to unlock it, slide behind the steering wheel, then twist the stub where the key would normally go and drive away. A cut-down version of a traditional metal key is housed in the remote and provides a handy back-up if the electronics ever go kaflooee.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6
Price Range: $28,555 (Sport – includes $560 destination charge); $31,155 (Grand Touring)
Engine Size and Type: Turbocharged 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 274 at 5,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 280 at 3,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,589
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 20/26 mpg
Length: 186.8 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Wheelbase: 105.3 inches
Height: 56.3 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 42.3/36.5 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 38.7/37.1 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 12.4 cubic feet
Competitors: Acura TSX, Audi A4 2.0T, BMW 325Xi, Cadillac CTS 2.8L, Chevrolet Malibu SS, Chevrolet Impala SS, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Honda Accord EX V6, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Lexus IS 250, Mercedes-Benz C230, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Nissan Altima SE and SE-R, Pontiac G6 GTP, Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, Subaru Legacy 2.5GT, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S40 T5
Photos courtesy of Mazda North American Operations