LOS ANGELES -- The 2006 MazdaSpeed6 is Mazda's attempt to create a sedan as dynamic as the BMW 3 series for a few thousand dollars less.
The basics: Rather than create 274 hp through engine displacement, Mazda instead used a turbocharger. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is the first direct-injection engine Mazda has made. Direct injection allows Mazda to use the turbocharger to deliver low-end torque, rather than high-revving horsepower.
The MazdaSpeed6 all-wheel-drive system features "active torque split," which means engine power is sent to all wheels at all times. Mazda says that makes it different from many awd vehicles based on front-drive architecture, which use the rear wheels only when an assist is needed.
It takes 6.2 seconds to reach 60 mph, yet the MazdaSpeed6 gets 20 city and 26 highway mpg.
Notable features: With reinforced cross members, the MazdaSpeed6 is 50 percent more torsionally rigid than the standard Mazda6 sedan. Dynamic stability control is standard, but the driver can deactivate it.
What Mazda says: "This is the fastest-accelerating sedan Mazda has ever built," said Shiro Yoshioka, vice president of research and development for Mazda North American Operations. "It's the most powerful Mazda ever sold in America, and that includes the third-generation RX-7."
Compromises and shortcomings: Boy-racer features such as a body kit, alloy foot pedals, stiffened suspension and 18-inch wheels are standard. But leather seats, a moonroof and xenon headlamps cost extra. The only transmission is a six-speed manual, as engineers felt an automatic transmission would be inappropriate for such a vehicle.
Nuts and bolts: The MazdaSpeed6 will be built at the Hofu plant in Japan. Mazda plans to sell 12,000 units globally a year, with 5,000 of those units in the United States. Only the 300 certified MazdaSpeed dealers can sell the car, although service and warranty work can be done at any of 705 Mazda dealers. The vehicle began arriving in ports last month.
The skinny: Though acceleration is strong, power falls off a cliff from 5,500 rpm to the 6,700 rpm red line. The firm ride does not filter out road jounce as well as a BMW 3 series. The MazdaSpeed6 may be a better sport sedan than most competitors' efforts, but it can't beat BMW at its own game.
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