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BW gave it four stars (out of five), but this is what concerned me the most: gas mileage. My 2003 Mazda 6s gets a mediocre 23-24 MPG, and the 2009 gets a much larger engine... and looks to be about the same mileage. Impressive, but not good enough for these days.

Mazda6: Sporty but Thirsty
The redesigned Mazda6 offers plenty of pep and more space, but it lacks the fuel economy of the Camry or the Accord

By Thane Peterson

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Sportiness, rebates, more space and better engines than previous Mazda6

The Bad: Mediocre fuel economy with V6 engine, relatively high base price

The Bottom Line: Mazda's midsize sedan goes mainstream

If you're the kind of person who always chooses chocolate or vanilla ice cream, you're probably not in the market for the 2009 Mazda6. When it comes to family sedans, vanilla is the Toyota (TM) Camry and chocolate is the Honda (HMC) Accord, the perennial No 1 and No. 2 in the U.S. market. Including hybrids, Toyota sold 436,617 Camrys last year, down 8%, while Honda sold 372,789 Accords, down 5.3%.

If the midsize, front-wheel-drive Mazda6 were an ice cream flavor, it would be Rocky Road. The previous version of the Mazda6, introduced as a 2003 model, was adapted from a European model and never caught on very big in the U.S. Mazda sold only 52,590 Mazda6s last year, down 8.2%. The Japanese company, in which Ford (F) retains a small stake, is hoping the redesigned '09 Mazda6 sedan will have greater appeal to American shoppers. Meanwhile, the company has dropped the unpopular station wagon and hatchback versions of the car.

The new Mazda6 sedan is much more mainstream than the old one. The sedan is 7 inches longer and 2.3 inches wider, making it roomier and giving it a bigger trunk. The '09 also has more power under its hood. It's available either with a 2.4-liter, 170-hp inline, four-cylinder engine, or a powerful 3.7-liter V6 rated at 272 hp (the same one that's in the Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV). Both are considerable improvements over the 156-hp four-banger and 212-hp V6 in the previous Mazda6.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the four-cylinder versions of the '09, but can be replaced with an optional five-speed automatic. The V6 models only come with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The '09 Mazda6 isn't particularly cheap, but it comes packed with standard equipment. Even the base model i SV Mazda6 comes with such standard niceties as stability and traction control, full-power accessories, a six-speaker sound system, and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls mounted on it. The V6 Grand Touring model comes with just about everything included except a navigation system ($2,000), satellite radio ($430) and a remote engine starter ($350).

An entry-level Mazda6 starts at $19,220, rising to $28,420 for a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model. However, in the current car market you should be able to pay considerably less than list: Through Mar. 2 Mazda is offering $1,000 to $2,750 cash rebates or zero-percent financing on the Mazda6.

Keep in mind, though, that rival models, including the Camry, Nissan (NSANY) Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Saturn Aura, Pontiac G6, and Volvo S40 are also being discounted right now.

With an automatic transmission and powered by the smaller engine, the Mazda6 gets a respectable 21 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway (it does 1 mpg worse with a stick shift). However, fuel economy falls dramatically in the V6-powered version of the car, to 17 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway.

The '09 Mazda6 doesn't yet have crash-test ratings, but in addition to stability and traction control it comes standard with antilock brakes, and front, side and head-protecting airbags.
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