Road trips are excellent for getting acquainted with any car in a variety of conditions. And, if you’re a regular on the show scene, then you know all about road trips. While some trailer their prized show ponies like cattle, others risk driving them in, perhaps hoping to score extra kudos and trophies. Most large shows even have awards for the furthest distance traveled; and, practically all of the racers and tuners I know have at least one good story about drives to NOPI in Atlanta or HIN in some state in a tuner car.
While many of my peers are testing Kia Sedonas or Honda Odysseys for the more practical and sedate markets, the OEM tuning segment allows me to drive some of the hottest factory-enhanced cars and tuner rides around and report on them from my unique point of view. I’ve seen thousands of different vehicles interpreted by enthusiasts from all over, but the vehicles I enjoy most are the ones that get driven every day. Last September, I test drove the new MX-5 in the Rocky Mountains around Kelowna’s Lake Okanagan. All four trim levels represented were impressive and responsive, including the #001 special edition model I drove; but, there was one thing that didn’t sit well with me. There were no plans for a Mazdaspeed version.
You see, I’d had the ’05 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata for the 2004 Labour Day long weekend when my girlfriend and I drove it from Toronto to Collingwood, ON and back to check out a chocolate lab puppy we were interested in. The weather that day was amazing, traffic light and drive terrific, but unfortunately there was no room for any new additions on this trip. Even though we were disappointed, the turbocharged Miata helped ease our pain with its poised performance. Our kidneys were still in tact and the rush of driving top-down through rural Ontario was more than satisfying. It was pretty good on gas too!
This brings us to the newest and highest trim level in the Mazda6 lineup. Not to be mistaken for the award-winning Mazda6 sedan, the Mazdaspeed6 boasts an active torque-split AWD system that senses and optimizes the car’s control in normal, sport and snowy conditions. A 2.3L turbocharged DOHC engine with direct injection produces 274 hp at 5,500 rpm and 280 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm. Mated to a smooth six-speed manual transmission and LSD, the car is seriously fast. Thankfully the four-wheel ABS with EDFD and 314/320mm front/rear solid/ventilated discs, which work in conjunction with the driver-controlled dynamic stability program, is up to par.
The Mazdaspeed6 is smoother and more refined; more comfortable and mature than lower Mazda6 trims. My test mule came equipped with Pirelli winter tires wrapped around 18-inch alloy wheels and our trip would take us on one of Ontario’s most dangerous stretches of road – the Forks of the Credit.
Our destination was the Caledon Ski Club, a private club that allows the public in on Tuesdays and Fridays for $40 a pop. We were prepared to drive a few hours and as far as Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, NY, or Blue Mountain in Collingwood. However, good snow conditions were scarce in the northeast, so we decided to stay closer to home and save a few bucks on gas.
Christmas had depleted the funds pretty good and the turbo 6’s recommended 93-octane fuel request made me cringe a bit upon having to fill the 60L can twice in two weeks. The manual states 87 octane is suitable in emergency circumstances so I had to skimp to the 89 for a buck a litre.
At a few degrees below zero, I wasn’t concerned about engine knock. I am a bit concerned about fuel economy though. Going by NRCan’s figures in the current fuel consumption guide, which rates the turbo 6’s fuel economy at 12.5 and 8.5 L/km (city/highway) and estimates basic annual fuel costs at $1,712, you’re looking at $32 a week on fill-ups. With gas costing what it does these days, I think you’re looking at a much larger commitment.
At the expense of cargo capacity, torsional rigidity is 50 percent greater than the sedan. Additional bracing around the rear crossmember negates a true 60/40 folding rear seat option, but there is a workaround your dealer might help you with. An aftermarket roof rack is another option. But, after squeezing two pairs of bagged skis into the sporty cloth interior, we were on our way comfortably.
We got in some good morning turns before the snow went to poop and we headed out onto the tricky Forks of the Credit. The Mazdaspeed6’s cornering skills became quickly evident and everything was in check on the salted wet winding roads with several 90-degree hairpins and elevation changes. Torque falls off noticeably above 5,000 rpm, but it was a lot more prominent on the Fabi track in Shannonville last October when I drove it for the first time at TestFest
The Dodge Magnum SRT8 collected 1.5 more total points than the Mazdaspeed6 in the Modern Muscle category at AJAC’s 2006 Canadian Car of the Year competition. It tilted the scales in my opinion; but, the turbo 6 is just as competent if not more. As a road-tripper it may not be the most cost effective mode of transport, but under the right circumstances the Mazdaspeed6 could help shave off a few precious minutes on one of those famous long distance hauls. It’s a treat to drive, and by far Mazda’s fastest and best handling sedan. It’s a turbocharged all-wheel drive winter warrior!
[Disclaimer: Always consult your dealer about performing any modifications to your vehicle. In some cases, you can accomplish what you want to without voiding your warranty. No modification to any vehicle shall become a hazard to drivers and passengers of it, or any other vehicles it shares the road with.]
Price Range: $35,995 as tested
Body Type: 4-door sedan
Layout: Front engine, AWD w active torque split
Engine: 2.3L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder MZR DISI Turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Horsepower (SAE): 274 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Trorque (SAE): 280 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm
Brakes: disc/disc, ABS and EBD
Curb Weight: 1,628 kg (3,589 lbs)
Acceleration: 6.6 sec. (0-100 km/h) under Mazda test conditions
Top Speed: 240km/h
Seating Capacity: 4 (2+2)
Cargo Volume: 351 L (12.4 cu-ft)
Fuel Economy: 12.5/8.5 L/100 km (city/hwy)
Warranty: 36/80,000 comprehensive; 60/100,000 powertrain, safety restraint components; 60/unltd. km body sheet metal perforation; 96/128,000 select emission control components
Direct Competitors: Subaru Impreza WRX/STi, Dodge Charger/Magnum SRT8, Lexus IS 250, Audi A4 2.0T, Volvo S40