Six appeal 

Mazda's new 5-door hatchback takes sly approach to sporty versatility

Mazda's new 5-door hatchback takes sly approach to sporty versatility

Some folks dare to be different out of sheer contrariness. Other folks just can't help themselves. They were born different; they are different; they'll always be different. To them, the very condition of being out of the ordinary is sheer ordinariness itself.

The designers and engineers for Mazda inhabit the latter camp. The mid-year introduction of the Mazda6 S 5-door hatchback is a case in point. Based on the Mazda6 sedan platform that critics generally praise yet customers generally overlook, the Mazda 5-door boasts a hatchback design meant to camouflage interior versatility within a sports sedan's persona.

Mazda's 5-door certainly looks the part of a jaunty, racy runabout. If the term "hatchback" conjures images of squarish, box-tail bodywork, Mazda6's latest incarnation dashes this prejudice. Its lines are sinuous and serpentine; its stance is rakish, almost combative. For onlookers who might yet miss the point, a basket-handle wing-spoiler festoons the trailing edge of the hatch.

Moreover, this new 5-door embodies all that Mazda's design philosophy stands for. Astride sport-tuned four-wheel independent suspension, the Mazda6 loves the road. Yes, the apostrophizing is both intentional and appropriate. There is something about a Mazda—witness the Miata and Protége5, in particular—that suggests it is actually conscious of its own sporting potential and yearns for an unbridled romp.

In the case of the Mazda6 5-door, sporting potential is expressed through a fast-revving 3.0-liter twin-cam V6 mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. (A five-speed auto is available for the clutch-averse.) Toss in a quartet of anti-lock disc brakes, and the formula is complete: This is a sport-sedan with a yen for bends. It likes to brake deep into turns, corner at the limits of its 50-profile, 17-in. tires, then accelerate smartly through the gears on its way to a 6,500 rpm redline.

About that redline, by the way: Although not unusually high by sporting standards, 6,500 rpm is nevertheless almost coincident with the production of 220 maximum horsepower (at 6,300 rpm) by the Mazda's V6. This motor's a "revver," in other words—its 192 ft.-lbs. of maximum torque at 5,000 rpm merely confirms the fact.

This power-profile goes a long way, I think, in explaining Mazda's niche-appeal among the common run of car buyers. In a nation spoiled by abundant, bottom-end torque, a lofty powerband feels like waiting for a delayed punchline. Aficionados know almost instinctively that "revs are your friend"; but too many commuter-minded folk are put off—if not downright embarrassed—by soaring rpms and the concomitant exhibitionism of a lusty exhaust note in full song.

For this reason, the Mazda6 may not quite win the broad appeal that its unique (and well timed) 5-door design deserves. At a moment when the bloom is fading off the rose where sport/utility vehicles are concerned, Mazda's new hatchback offers a most unexpected alternative. It is nothing if not sporty, for example. And with a well designed cargo hatch that expands from 22 cu. ft. with rear seats in use to 59 cu. ft. with rear seatbacks folded, this Mazda 5-door is utilitarian beyond all expectation.

A five-seater with that kind of cargo capacity, in fact, rivals many compact SUVs, most of which boast maximum cargo space in the mid 60-cu.-ft. range. Suzuki's Vitara compact SUV, in fact, features a cargo range of just 23 cu. ft. to 50 cu. ft. And you can be certain that no SUV will match the corner-craving handling personality of a zesty Mazda6.

Unfortunately for Mazda, however, it's not quite so simple a matter as counting seats and measuring cargo space. Granted, the Mazda6 5-door is versatile with people and things; but "things" may get the better of this deal. The rear bench is a very tight squeeze for its maximum of three passengers—none of whom, I can assure you, will tolerate for long an enthusiastic cornering blitz through the twisties.

Personally, I find the Mazda6 cockpit well configured for a driver and front passenger, and tag-alongs are something of an afterthought. This owes much to the car's trim, athletic dimensions, of course. It is, therefore, a car dedicated to the driving enthusiast. In its new 5-door hatchback iteration, it is dedicated, furthermore, to the driving enthusiast and his or her stuff.

The Mazda6 5-door is a car with great potential appeal to a select cadre of sport drivers—six appeal, if you will. As for broadening that appeal to the masses seeking rational alternatives to spendthrift SUVs, however, that's a bigger load than this hatchback can be expected to tote.

Can-Am rendezvous at Lane Motor Museum

A rare opportunity awaits sports car and racing enthusiasts at Nashville's Lane Motor Museum on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2004. At 11:00 a.m., the rare, one-of-a-kind 1967 Caldwell D-7 Can-Am race car of Sam Posey will be unveiled for long-term display at the Lane museum.

Posey, known to aficionados as a talented sports car racer, motorsports commentator and author, will join D-7 designer Ray Caldwell and the car's chief mechanic Jack McCormack on the podium. For perhaps the first time in almost 30 years, the three will be re-united with the innovative V8-powered sports car that Posey drove in the furiously contested second season of the Can(adian)-Am(erican) enclosed-wheel sports car series that thundered across North America from 1966 through 1986.

Complimentary earplugs are reserved for the first 500 people to arrive at the unveiling—the better to withstand the D-7's explosive roar. Posey, Caldwell and McCormack will be on hand for autographs and photos after a brief ceremony. Lane Motor Museum, located at 702 Murfreesboro Pike in Nashville, boasts one of the country's largest collections of rare and exotic vehicles. For more information, contact the museum at (615) 742-7445 or www.lanemotormuseum.org.

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