This is a car that often goes overlooked by those looking for fast, practical fun. The allure of such cars as the rally bred Subarus and Mitsubishis or the German engineered Audis and BMWs seems not to leave much room for other competition in this segment. Maybe that is why Mazda produced the MS6 for only two model years. Despite its short lived production run the MS6 does offer many of the same things that make the aforementioned cars so great, including all wheel drive, a turbocharged engine, a manual gearbox, sporting dynamics, and quite a fair bit of comfort and refinement. As a package it is very intriguing so I decided to take one out for a spin and see how it drove first hand.
Looks wise, the MS6 has a very clean, sleek look to it. The one I drove was bright red too, so there was no doubt about the car’s sporting intentions. Overall though it will take a trained eye to pick an MS6 out of the crowd as anything special as it does not parade its abilities around with a big spoiler or a bunch of air-scoops like the rally cars do. The MS6 is a bit more tasteful in the way it presents itself to the world; something many will like about it but others may find it a little too undistinguished for a top line performance model.
As far as practicality and comfort go, the MS6 is one of those truly fantastic packages that offers serious performance in the guise of a normal sedan. It is just as practical as any average midsize sedan out there and will seat 5 no problem. The seats are basically sporty buckets, not race inspired like in an Evo, but I never found them to be unsupportive; even during hard cornering. It is very good at offering a mix of cruising comfort and sporting support. In the area of amenities, the Sport model I drove had all the necessities but lacked some of the toys some may like. However, leather seats and navigation are both present on the grand touring model of the MS6, so look for that if you are cross shopping with any of the German cars for sure.
At the twist of the key, the engine fires and reveals no real boom of sound that would let people know it is serious. If you like you engine to have some audible presence exhaust modifications will be necessary. The gearbox is smooth, but just notchy enough to be precise. The clutch is a bit mediocre though. I noticed during some research that people have complained on internet forums to a high degree about it; my findings were that all the complaining is unwarranted. Yes it’s not very grippy, but it has decent pedal feel so it is far from unmanageable. With that said though, an ACT stage 2 clutch would be on my to-do list with an MS6. Around town the MS6 has surprisingly good ride quality, taking potholes with just a light thud (unlike the backbreaking smash in my STi). At normal speeds the MS6 is just as good as any Accord or Camry out there.
After a brief stop at a gas station, we hit the highway and hit it hard. I wasted no time in putting the throttle wide open on the on ramp to see what she could do. The MS6 is definitely a quick car in stock form, dispatching 100mph with ease in just a few seconds. Back at cruising speeds, the MS6 has a nice planted feel on the road that won’t disappoint someone coming out of a German car. It rides really well and would surely be good for a daily commute.
Exiting off the highway I test its handling for the first time. The car has sharp, weighted steering with a level of grip that far exceeded my expectations. It took what I gave it at first, and then stayed composed as I pressed harder through the off-ramp. The route we took back consisted of some tight, wooded, back-roads, the kind that are the forte for STis and Evos. The MS6 felt right at home on these roads with their winding corners, bumps, dips, and the occasional long straightaway. It was here that I realized I was extremely impressed. The MS6, in the real world, is just as capable as the rally cars in speed and offers a level of comfort and ride quality to rival the Germans.
It also has some decent potential for power gains. In fact a basic ECU chip, good for a 30-40 whp gain over the stock 220whp, is recommended because the stock tune is highly flawed and has had problems. A basic “bolt-on” setup (intake, intercooler, turbo-back exhaust, IC pipe, and tune) will net about 300whp before a larger turbo is needed. But in a car the weighs around 3500lbs, 300whp should be enough for most people. From the factory, 0-60 takes around 5.4sec and the MS6 will crack 150mph before all is said and done, and with mods MS6s have been known to embarrass Stis, Evos, and S4s.
It is beyond me as to why more people did not buy the MS6 when it was new because it is nothing short of fantastic. This is especially so when the price is factored in because they haven’t held their value well either. Decent examples can be found as low as $10-12k and exceptionally clean cars (with under 40k on them) can be found under $20k. All of the MS6’s faults (quiet exhaust, bad ECU tune, and mediocre clutch) can be fixed with basic aftermarket parts, leaving the owner with a really fantastic overall package that is right on par with it’s more well known competition. As far as it’s most direct competitor, the Subaru Legacy GT, is concerned, the MS6 offers the same performance and refinement, but in a more exclusive package that (for right now) generally has less wear and tear than the Subaru at the same price point. The Mazdaspeed6 is really a very serious car that, in many ways, offers the best compromise between the hardcore performance of the rally cars and the comfort of the German cars. It also happens to be rather cheap to run and fairly good on gas by comparison as well. So, to all of you out there looking at Evos, STis, WRXs, 335xis, S4s, and LGTs, I strongly recommend that you take a serious look at the Mazdaspeed6 because you will be impressed.
WoM Score: Mazdaspeed6
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2), MPG(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 1
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 7.5/10