While watching the Daytona 24 hour race a few weeks ago and listening as the audio pickups captured the wound-up-tight wail of the RX-8's rotary engines on the banking, I was reminded that Mazda is a pretty neat car company.
Since the 1960s and its entry onto the world automotive stage, it has exhibited a corporate spirit - and some might say doggedness, as we're still listening to that rotary engine, which nearly spun the company into the financial weeds a few decades ago - that has created more than a few interesting and entertaining cars over the years.
I'd count among them the second-generation Mazda6 mid-sizer that made its debut a couple of years ago and which I drove in range-topping 2011 GT V-6 form recently. And I'm not alone in thinking this as the first-gen Mazda6 of 2004 and the second introduced for 2009 were named Best New Family Car in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Car of The Year competition.
Those wins were in the family car category you'll note and while the GT V-6 designation might make it sound like a hard-edged sports sedan it really isn't. It is, however, a car that will suit rather nicely those who expect a little more than mediocrity from their mid-size four-doors.
And that starts with the styling. The redesign for 2009 resulted in a bigger car - up 195 mm in length, 60 mm in width and riding on a 115-mm longer wheelbase with wider front and rear track, numbers that helped create a roomier cabin. But the sheet metal wraps around this like a Speedo LZR suit on an Olympic swimmer, sleekly and with bulgy-bits that hint at the performance potential.
The GT's 3.7-litre double-overhead-cam V-6 makes an enthusiastic 272 hp at 6,250 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, which is delivered to the front wheels through a shift-it-yourself-if-you-like six-speed automatic.
Put your foot in it from a standing start on dry pavement and the Mazda6 launches vigorously, the motor sings a sporty mechanical tune, and it all arrives at 100 km/h in about 6.5 seconds. Around-town manners are civil, but the feints and jabs of city traffic driving are delivered with quick downshifts. When you do shift it yourself, you find shifts occur deliberately rather than quickly.
Fuel economy is slightly better for 2011, with ratings of 11.9 litres/100 km city and 7.9 highway.
Like all Mazda6s, it has double wishbone front and a multi-link suspension systems in the rear, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability and traction control systems. The GT comes with 18-inch wheels shod with P235/45RT18 all-season tires.
The speed-sensitive steering, while not razor-slice precise, is direct and nicely enough weighted and the suspension is more than competent to take on back road curves with enthusiasm, while delivering ride quality that won't make a drive to the mall feel like you've taken a wrong turn onto a racetrack.
Mazda sells the Mazda6 in five flavours. the first three with four-cylinder engines and starting with the base manual six-speed GS at $23,995, a packaged-up GS-L at $26,995 and the GT at $29, 395. A GS V-6 starts at $31,500 and the GT V-6 goes for $37,440.
The interior is certainly family-friendly, with room to stuff a couple of kids in the back (headroom is okay for bigger people, too) and with a 469-litre trunk to haul things in, but it is appointed to suit sophisticated adult tastes. Trimmed in leather and wood, it provides a pleasant, quiet and comfortable environment in which to drone through the routine of a daily commute or enjoy lengthier touring trips.
The features list includes front, side and side curtain airbags, blind spot monitoring system, Xenon headlights, fog lights, sparkly LED taillights, Bose premium audio system, moon roof, air conditioning and automatic climate control, power (and heated) front seats and all the other power-operated systems you'd expect.
A mid-cycle makeover is likely a year off, but Mazda has added manual folding mirrors with turn signal repeaters (with auto dimming on the driver's side), a rear-view camera, new wheels, speed-sensitive locks and a brake override system for 2011.
2011 Mazda6 GT-V6
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base price: $37,440; as tested, $39,035
Engine: 3.7-L, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 272 hp/269 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/7.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Nissan Altima/Maxima, Buick Regal, Hyundai Sonata, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat
Buy a vehicle that retains its resale value well