In the short time it has been around, the MazdaSpeed nameplate has become synonymous with speed and handling. Engineers take cars from the Mazda lineup, such as the Miata and the Mazda 6, and tweak them to add horsepower and better handling characteristics. Based on our drive of the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6, performance isn’t just for coupes and roadsters anymore. No longer must you sacrifice fun when forced to drive a sedan for the sake of family. Cars like the MazdaSpeed 6 inject a heavy dose of speed and handling into somewhat unsuspecting sedans that will hang with a lot of dedicated sports cars.
The 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6 utilizes a direct injection, all aluminum, 16-valve, 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine boasting 15.6 lbs. of turbocharged boost. Link that power to a close-ratio, six-speed manual transmission (no automatic is available) hooked to a standard all-wheel-drive system, and keeping the 274 horses and 280 lb-ft. of torque under control can be a whole lot of fun. Mazda claims the direct fuel injection setup is responsible for more torque at lower revs, cleaner emissions, and improved fuel economy for a car with this kind of power. The MazdaSpeed 6 is rated by the EPA to get 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Underneath the MazdaSpeed 6, engineers have lowered the ride height and tweaked the suspension. Up front, the suspension gets 25 percent higher spring rates for the coil springs and a 1mm thicker stabilizer bar for better handling. At the rear, spring rates have been increased by 37 percent, the stabilizer bar diameter is upsized by 2mm, and the rear cross-member has been reinforced. These suspension upgrades allow for sharper turn in and flatter cornering while preserving a decent ride quality. Larger brakes with ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution), along with traction and stability control, round out the package.
If you are going to spend the money for a MazdaSpeed upgrade, you want to ensure that those around you know what you have. Mazda understands this and also upgrades the MazdaSpeed 6’s interior and exterior. Outside, the MazdaSpeed 6 gets 18-inch wheels, and the front fascia, hood, front fenders, headlights, rear fascia and taillights are unique to this high-peformance variant of the 6 sedan, in addition to extended side skirts and a rear lip spoiler. You also get your choice of six unique colors. Inside, you choose between cloth or leather seats, depending on the trim level. The Sport trim level gets you cloth seats, alloy pedals, scuff plates, and carbon-fiber-look trim in addition to a 200-watt Bose seven-speaker sound system with and in-dash six-disc CD changer and satellite stereo capability. Step up to the Grand Touring trim level and you get all that plus your choice of leather seating in black or two-tone black-and-white décor, eight-way power front seat adjustment, and adjustable lumbar support on the driver’s seat. Heated seats are standard on the Grand Touring model along with keyless entry and start. An optional tilt-and-slide moonroof and a DVD navigation system can be ordered as options.
Whatever your preference, it’s nice to know that manufacturers like Mazda are aware that just because you’re sometimes forced to drive a family car doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy driving. Mazda fills this niche nicely with the MazdaSpeed 6, allowing enthusiasts to have fun while driving little Johnny and friends to and from soccer games. But this is more than a suburban slot car, especially in Grand Touring trim, which will appeal to closet speed-freak executives as much as any entry-level luxury car. Hey, you in the suit: Next time its your turn to drive to a client meeting.
Sadly, I was unable to take the MazdaSpeed 6 for a spirited run down my favorite mountain road in the Santa Monica Mountains, which, if you’re an enthusiast, might make any of my observations about the car’s driving character suspect. Happily, I did get to drive the MazdaSpeed 6 in a rare southern California downpour during rush-hour traffic, which, if you’re considering one for use as a daily driver, adds credibility to my observations about the car’s driving character.
The 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s all-wheel-drive system is a real benefit in rain and on slick roads. Rev the motor to three grand, dump the clutch, and this thing rockets forward like a turbo Subaru. Grab second using a manual six-speed shifter that is sheer joy to row, and another burst of velocity sails you past 60 mph. I like how broad the MazdaSpeed 6’s power band is – this car isn’t peaky like my MazdaSpeed Miata, and though it starts running out of steam near redline, it’s much more pleasurable at lower revs. The worst thing about driving this sport sedan is the hair-trigger clutch. You can easily stall this car, and the clutch wears on you in traffic. Mazda needs to get a paddle-shifting six-speed automatic into this model yesterday.
My remaining driving impressions are just that: impressions. The slick roads kept me from exploring the limits, but I can say that the steering features good heft and quick turn-in, the brakes are quick to bite and feel good underfoot, the ride quality is taut without beating you up, there’s lots of communication with the road surface, and the body rolls a bit too much in tighter turns. Also, road noise is intrusive.
In my opinion, there are few negatives about the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 driving experience. And as a former resident of the Rocky Mountain State, I would imagine something like this would offer phenomenal year-round performance in, say, Denver, where the thin air chokes normally-aspirated machines and the weather can turn from sunny to severe in a matter of minutes.
Thom Blackett’s 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 Driving Impressions:
This is a grown-up’s Mitsubishi Evolution or Subaru WRX. There’s the same, or at least similar, thrill of a spooled-up turbo, tight and responsive steering, a firm ride, and an overall sporty nature yet without the harshness of the Subie or the overdone styling of the Evo. Some drivers complain about the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s tough clutch, but it really only takes a mile or two in traffic to get accustomed to its sensitivity, and turbo lag is alleviated by goosing the gas pedal a bit to get the revs up into the 2,500-3,500 range. Do that, and you’re off and running from every stop. But for more restrained excursions around town, drivers can go easy with the throttle, keeping revs down by upshifting quickly, with the result being a smooth daily commuter. That’s one of the 6’s greatest points – turbo thrill is there if you want it, but can be easily controlled when there’s no need for speed.
Personally, I start up the MazdaSpeed 6 and instantly do have a need for speed. Therefore, I appreciate the engine’s willingness to put out the power, and the short, precise throws of the six-speed manual transmission. What is less pleasing is a relatively low redline that cuts off the fuel supply a little sooner that I’d expected. But that’s just one quibble amidst numerous complements. Those deservedly go to the steering, which offers plenty of road feel under normal conditions and has a nice heft to it in aggressive corners; the brakes that are well-modulated in everyday traffic and very effective under full pressure; and handling characterized by negligible body roll and a near-perfect balance between over and understeer. Granted, the MazdaSpeed 6 may not keep step with more youthful competitors on gnarly back roads, but it holds its own and is a blast on that tight on-ramp just down the road from your stuffy office.
Ron Perry’s 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 Driving Impressions:
I hate to say it but I was disappointed with the engine in the MazdaSpeed 6. The power is either on or off, making it hard to drive the MazdaSpeed 6 smoothly without lots of clutch and careful throttle application. When the turbo kicks in, the car launches forward, quickly hitting redline and many times catching you off guard. And, as the revs climb, the power really hits a flat spot around 4,800 rpm.
On my initial drive I became annoyed at how much effort was required to drive the car in traffic. Leaving a stop is by far the most difficult task. A blip of the throttle is necessary before engaging the clutch in order to leave the line smoothly. Once at speed, the MazdaSpeed 6 behaves like any other car until you depress the gas, and then like a cat hitting water, it takes off in a panic. That’s fun at first, but the constant reoccurrence becomes annoying. The MazdaSpeed 6’s shifter is smooth and precise, and wind noise is minimal. Steering and braking are spectacular, both giving lots of feedback to the driver. Seating is comfortable, outward views are excellent, and the ride – although a bit stiff – is acceptable for this type car. The LED gauge cluster is easy to read and the fact that the navigation screen can be closed when not in use is a nice touch.
For the most part, I love the MazdaSpeed 6. I just can’t get past the power curve. I much prefer naturally aspirated power or a supercharger as opposed to a turbo.
Brian Chee’s 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 Driving Impressions:
Really, that’s all you need to know about driving the 2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed 6. Whoooha, to 12.6-inch brakes that grab like a date at a scary movie. Wh-o-o-o-ha to a turbocharged, 274- horsepower four-cylinder engine that delivers 280 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm and puts a hair-raising electric charge into your drive. And – you guessed it – wh-o-o-o-ha to a light and tight all-wheel-drive sedan that loves a twisty road like a boa constrictor loves a fat, juicy rat. Add to all that a fun and easy six-speed manual transmission and nicely bolstered seats, and, really – there ought to be a law requiring the purchase of this car across America.
Somebody, please, smack me upside the head.
Wake me up, bring me back to earth, and give me a reason to hate this car. There are enough Mazda lovers in our shop, and someone has to offer the alternative view, no matter how hard it is to justify. I can always come up with something – even for this marvelous car. Point is, all that crazy fun gets a little tiresome on a typical daily commute. Most experts have found the MazdaSpeed 6’s engine and transmission to deliver its power smoothly, with only a small amount of turbo lag. This is courtesy of a direct fuel injection setup that helps the turbo deliver a good portion of its power as low as 2,500 rpm, for a barnyard full of low-rev fun. But here’s the exception: with this setup, it can be tiring to drive the ‘Speed 6 like a normal car. You slip out the clutch and step on the throttle and, well, the power tempts you, so you rev, rocket along, hit a flat spot in the upper rpm range, shift and – stop at the next red light. Do this a few times and you soon get frustrated, and wish you were driving a Corolla. Okay, maybe not. But it is tiresome, and a pity – for many commuters who desire this car’s fun will end up driving it too carefully, and not shaking it out – a sorry state of affairs.
The only way around that is to go around it – find a nice twisty route home, tell the spouse you have to start working late, and take advantage of a car that loves to carve a corner. It’s hard to shake it loose, and the temptation is to pile on the power and see just where the losing-it point is – not a good idea, for with the Mazda MazdaSpeed 6, that’s the point of no return for most drivers.
Comfort is a big plus with the 2006 Mazdaspeed 6. I found a perfect driving position thanks to the standard tilt/telescopic steering wheel and the multi-adjustable power driver’s seat. Soft upper door panels, a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a plush center console armrest pad only added to my comfort levels. And while some might feel the driver’s seat lacks bolstering, it does feature terrific thigh support.
Mazda has taken plenty of heat about rear seat space in the 6 sedan, but with the driver’s seat adjusted to my 33-inch inseam, I found enough room in back to tuck my legs in and sit comfortably with my knees just grazing the front seatback. That’s because the bottom seat cushion sits tall, offering good support and a commanding view out. Plus, there was enough space under the front seat to easily accommodate a pair of size-12 Timberlands. Adding to comfort levels is a center fold-down armrest, but the molded-in cupholders can be a little uncomfortable for elbows.
Loading the trunk for a trip isn’t as easy as it could be, thanks to a liftover height that’s a bit tall, an opening that’s a bit small, and a cargo net that gets in the way when it’s clipped into place. For closing the lid, Mazda supplies a nice pull-down grip.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Comfort:
Competing with the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 are cars like the Mitsubishi Evolution and the Subaru WRX, both of which are stellar performers that lack their share of comfort and refinement. The 6 is a bit different, expanding its focus beyond what’s under the hood to what’s inside. Those of us with aching backs and a little extra girth appreciate the well-bolstered but soft leather seats – they’re great for keeping you snug in corners as well as being comfortable during long highway runs. Also welcome are the padded armrests and window sills, the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and the power driver’s seat with manual lumbar. There’s plenty of room for drivers of varying sizes, and rear passengers will like the generous accommodations, fold-down padded armrest with cupholders, and nicely reclined seatback.
If Mazda is fielding suggestions on what may be improved, I’d point to the driver’s lumbar handle that offers no distinction between inflate and deflate. Also, the ride can be a bit jarring, but that’s a fair trade-off for the car’s superior handling.
Ron Perry’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Comfort:
I was impressed with the MazdaSpeed 6’s comfort, from the ride quality to the well-bolstered seats. The MazdaSpeed 6 is a well thought out package offering comfortable leather seating, lots of soft touch panels, exceptional rear seat room, a smooth ride, and very little wind noise. A lot of nice touches add to the interior comfort like the dual opening center console with the padded lid, integrated water bottle holders in the door panels, assist handles for passengers, and a thick, comfortable steering wheel. Contrary to what Wardlaw says, I felt the liftover height into the trunk was low, making loading up the golf clubs easy. The only negative has to be the small rear seat opening. Entry and exit can be difficult, making it easy to hit your head if you are not paying attention.
Brian Chee’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Comfort:
Long drives in the MazdaSpeed 6 would be a drag, because the car feels narrow and there’s really nowhere to put your elbows – the padded center compartment is located too far back to be comfortable. Other than that, this performance variant of the successful Mazda 6 offers a competitive level of comfort, with nicely finished plastics and seats that look like they are made of durable materials. Interior appointments exclusive to the ‘Speed 6 include front sport bucket seats that are comfortable, huggy seats – fine for a typical drive but probably a little confining after about an hour or so. The seats split the difference between sport and sofa, let’s say – comfortable enough, and bolstered enough to keep you in place when the going gets fun. Our model featured heated and leather seats – the leather felt good, but the two-tone design was a bit garish, and the heat…wasn’t hot. Based on my brief drive, it seems as though the cloth interior trim would be a better value, along with, if needed, a copy of the Atkins Diet Essentials.
Mazda’s been working to make the 6’s interior look more upscale, and the effort shows – especially on this tricked-out, two-tone MazdaSpeed Grand Touring model. Complaints remain, though. The driver’s airbag cover looks cheap in contrast with the smooth leather-wrapped rim. The headliner needs to be swapped out for a woven mesh cloth material. The lower dash plastics still look low budget. And our test car had a few creaks in it with just 1,200 miles on the odometer. I did notice, however, that most of the buttons, knobs, and stalks exhibit the damping and heft common to a luxury car, which goes a long way toward making owners proud of a new set of wheels. Due to rain and time constraints, I didn’t get a chance to examine the exterior build quality.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Quality:
Though there are a few negative points worth mentioning, our 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 test car appeared to be well-built with plenty of attention paid to the details. Inside and outside, gap tolerances were tight and consistent, except for a slight variation around the dash, the outer edges of the instrument panel, and a left headlight that was not entirely flush. I also located a loose plastic panel on the lower section of the driver’s seat.
Materials used throughout the cabin are impressive, including the padded dash cap, the padded door panels with leather inserts (all with matching grains), and the durable plastics used on the lower dash and less visible areas. Even the area around the sunroof, where headliners are typically flimsy, is solidly-secured and neatly finished.
Ron Perry’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Quality:
Mazda has done a nice job with the fit and finish on the MazdaSpeed 6. Exterior panel gaps are all tight and consistent. The seams between the front and rear fascias and the fenders featured flawless transitions. All the plastic pieces, like the honeycomb grille, were tightly fastened and the lower cladding was well adhered. Inside, the fit was poor for the flip-up navigation screen and the A-pillar covers. Gaps between the screen and the dashboard were inconsistent from side to side, and the A-pillar covers need better fasteners to hold them more firmly in place. The quality of the navigation system’s software also needs some attention. Homes in my area of Orange County have been around for some 15 years but the maps inside this Mazda show the area as a barren hillside. Another writer couldn’t find a well-established resort in Dana Point, Calif., because the system is so outdated. It is surprising that Mazda let this slide through the system.
Brian Chee’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Quality:
Want quality? Try a 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 274 horsepower, 280 lb.-ft of torque and is mated to a buttery smooth six-speed manual transmission. Try all-wheel-drive, electronic stability control, big brakes, a stiff suspension and a host of other features that put rubber to road in a very special way. The MazdaSpeed 6 also has quality in coolness, served up nicely in a beautifully enhanced exterior design, interior graphics and red luminescent lighting. It’s almost enough to make us forget about seats that move slightly when you sit down, a center compartment that feels removable, a useless cupholder lid, and two-tone leather seating that “takes a little getting used to.”
Give Mazda kudos for the MazdaSpeed 6’s subdued sleeper appearance, but I think the front end looks too heavy and out of proportion with that bulging hood attached. And I’m no fan of the clear lens taillights. Otherwise, this is a handsome car, with attractive wheels and tastefully decorated with a lip spoiler and subtle aero effects. Inside, our Grand Touring test sample came equipped with a black-and-ivory two-tone décor scheme that looked great. But that ivory-colored trim and leather is going to get real dirty, real quick. I also like the dark gray plastic trim on the dash and console. It’s a little too shiny, but looks unique, like ash wood trim.
As for control layout and design, the stereo and climate display is too far away from the radio and climate controls to make life easy. I find myself looking down to find the right knob or button and then looking up at the display to determine when to stop using the selected knob or button. This arrangement might be aesthetically pleasing, but it’s distracting. At least these oft-used features aren’t bundled with the optional navigation system, which pops out of the top of the soft-touch dashboard and is operated using a slick little remote control.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Design:
With all of the midsize sedans on the market, the Mazda 6 is not my first choice. The tiered front end and swept headlights are somewhat appealing, but the busy taillight design looks like it’s trying too hard. Yet swap in a honeycomb grille, revised fascias with large dual exhaust pipes out back, some sporty rocker panels, and those multi-spoke 18-inch alloys, and you’ve got a looker. Even the subtle rear spoiler is attractive, while serving as just enough splash to detract attention from the ugly taillights.
Interior design also deserves some applause for its piano black radio face, dark gray trim, alloy gauge rings and door handles, and two-tone leather seats. I’d skip the cream-colored seat bolsters and door inserts because of dirt and grime, but other drivers may be less averse to cleaning.
What fails to make any sense to me are the plastic pillar covers that are unlike any other material used inside the MazdaSpeed 6, not to mention that they and the headliner are light gray while the interior is almost entirely black and cream.
Ron Perry’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Design:
The MazdaSpeed 6 still looks good today but is starting to show its age. Newer designs are getting away from cladding where the MazdaSpeed 6 uses it to separate the performance version from the standard model. The highlight of the MazdaSpeed 6 is the interior. Designers did a great job with the materials and color scheme. The trim pieces have a very unusual look to them, kind of a dark brushed texture that is highlighted with aluminum trim throughout the cabin. The use of white leather and plastic with black inserts brightens the interior, adding to the spacious feel. The reddish-orange LED gauges are just another nice touch that finish out a well-designed interior package.
On the negative side, the navigation system is horrible in terms of entering information, and what’s with the removable remote? All I could surmise is that backseat passengers could use the remote to enter information while continuing the journey down the road, but that can’t be because you have to be stopped to program the darn thing. Not only does the remote make no sense, but also entering information is simply difficult. Two of us couldn’t find a backspace when we made mistakes. As a man, I can attest that the allure of using a remote for anything is tempting but if it doesn’t work or make sense, we move on.
Brian Chee’s Opinion of the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6’s Design:
Design has always been a Mazda 6 strong suit, and the MazdaSpeed 6 version continues the tradition. Differences include a lowered stance, exclusive front fenders, hood and grille, a redesigned front bumper, and 18-inch wheels. In back, there’s an understated lip spoiler that adds just the right finishing touch. Look at it this way: driving the MazdaSpeed 6, people around you will notice – and admire you for being a cool car guy. The nice officer, sitting around the corner with speed gun in hand and a quota to make, will think it’s just another Mazda 6, and, unless you’re driving up trees, will focus instead on the flashy Cobalt SS one lane over.
Inside, the design is cool, but suffers a few flaws. The two-tone black-and-white leather package takes some getting used to, the graphite trim fails to register on the wow scale, and the compartment between the front seats is too small to be of much use, feels flimsy, and is set too far back to serve as an adequate armrest. If you buy the optional electroluminescent gauges, however, you may not even notice, as they glow red and are oh-so-neat, easy to read and graphically superb. Perhaps best of all is the location and quality of the environmental controls. Three large knobs at the bottom of the center stack and located right where they should be, they are usable at just a glance and nice to the touch. Cupholders are large and usable, front and rear.
The sticker price for a loaded MazdaSpeed 6 is over $33,000. That’s about where a well-equipped Mazda RX-8 comes in. Near as I can tell, the reasons to select the 6 are the larger trunk, bigger rear seat, softer ride quality, and AWD. But the trade-off is pure driving pleasure. The RX-8 is surgically precise. The MazdaSpeed 6 less so. And, I think Mazda needs to find a way to mate the six-speed paddle-shift automatic from the MX5 Miata with this turbo motor. But I will say this: the MazdaSpeed 6 gives entry-luxury sport sedans with AWD like the Audi A4 1.8T Quattro, BMW 325iX, Infiniti G35 AWD, Jaguar X-Type, Lexus IS 250 AWD, and Volvo S40/S60 AWD a run for the money. I’d take this more exclusive, more powerful, and more entertaining Mazda over any of these more expensive cars in a heartbeat.
Thom Blackett’s Advice about the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6:
Anyone considering the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 – or any of its competitors – is someone interested in a capable performer with good looks and a healthy dose of practicality thrown in. This car satisfies on all points. With just a bit of getting used to, the turbocharged 6 can be equally pleasing on a solo sprint through the canyons or a ride to the movies with all of your 20- and 30-something friends. It’s got enough visual flair and power under the hood to impress your buddies, while not getting you labeled as a hot-rodding young punk at the office. But, regardless of demographic, the MazdaSpeed 6 is a fun car to drive and an easy vehicle to live with, making it a great option for those desiring the best of both worlds.
Ron Perry’s Advice about the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6:
The MazdaSpeed 6 is a great car for younger drivers, especially those that want a high performance car but without the street racer looks. Adults in their late twenties and early thirties might also be attracted to it for this same reason. Older adults and young families with kids should pass on the MazdaSpeed 6 due to the difficult backseat entry and exit combined with the on/off power curve that make it difficult to drive smoothly. These flaws, over time, will diminish your enthusiasm for the car.
Brian Chee’s Advice about the 2006 MazdaSpeed 6:
At a base price of almost $28,000, there should be a queue for this vehicle at your local Mazda dealership. In fact, Ford should make Mazda rebadge this car as a Fusion. Oh yeah – they tried that. Well, they didn’t try it with this car, but maybe they should, for even though there are a few bugs inside, the MazdaSpeed 6’s nuts and bolts make it all seem very livable. Buy the trim with the cloth interior, get it in black (stay away from bright red) and get ready to set your hair on fire.
Price of Test Vehicle: $33,425 (includes $560 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.3-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 274 at 5,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 280 lb.-ft at 3,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,589
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/25 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 18.6 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): 38.0/37.1 inches
Max, Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Capacity: 12.4 cubic feet
Competitors: Acura TSX, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac CTS, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Honda Accord, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mitsubishi Galant, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac G6, Pontiac Grand Prix, Saab 9-3, Saab 9-5, Subaru Legacy GT, Subaru WRX STI, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S40, Volvo S60
Photos by Ron Perry