2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

The 2009 Mazda6 is supposed to be the driver's car in the mid-size sedan segment. Considering it competes with the Camry, that's not exactly a challenge. Still, can it get us hot and bothered?

Hotness is relative; there's actual hot, as in Megan Fox or John Hamm, and office hot, as in someone hot compared to people you work with. Is the 2009 Mazda6 hot... or just office hot?

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

Since most of us don't work in the same office, I'm going to lean on the cast of NBC's The Office, which is notable for employing actors almost as unattractive as the rest of us. The 2009 Mazda6 is Pam, a.k.a. Jenna Fischer, who is smokin' hot for a receptionist from Scranton, PA but nothing special compared to the cast of most NBC programs (ahem, Chuck). In the same way, this new Mazda is fun for what it is, but that's still a FWD mid-size sedan.

The 2009 Mazda6 is the replacement for the beloved first-generation Mazda6, a sedan notable for offering a sporty ride and enough style to differentiate it from the appliance-like competition. Unfortunately, the biggest difference in the eyes of most buyers was the size. It was much smaller. This is why the little Mazda was more likely to get duty as the daily driver for a hot twentysomething than a MILF.

The only Mazda6 available with the six-speed manual gearbox is the 6i version, which comes paired with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Compared to the previous generation's 2.3-liter four-banger, power is up modestly to 170 HP and 167 lb.-ft. of torque, an increase of 14 HP and 11 lb-ft. The V6-powered 6s jumps stratospherically to 272 HP and 269 lb.-ft. of torque, thanks to a switch to the six-cylinder engine out of the Mazda CX-9. We wanted the manual transmission, so we opted for the heavily-optioned Mazda 6i Grand Touring.

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

Compared to the pudgy Toyota Camry and dated Nissan Altima, the Mazda is sleek and modern. Run into friends while driving a Mazda6 and you won't have to apologize for its looks. The front fenders flare out dramatically from the rear slope of the hood, giving it the athletic look of an RX-8 from one or two angles. From dead-on the 6 is slightly one-note, but it's attractive from most of the remaining angles. It won't stand out on Rodeo Drive, but you were going to Chili's anyways.

On the inside, the new Mazda6 has traded up from The Gap to The Limited. Though it retains the same black-with-metal trim look, the materials are much nicer and the controls are integrated into an actual theme (circles) as opposed to merely stacked on top of each other. More impressively, the designers opted for a smooth-surfaced and piano black accent pieces over cheap and fake wood. Highlighted by silver striations for the Touring models, the trim sounds cheesy but works rather well. The textured plastic on on the underside of the console is too dense and rough for a luxury car, which is just about right for this class.

The new 6 is either larger or within half-an-inch of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in terms of front and rear legroom and larger than both in terms of rear hip room. With the front seats all the way back, there was plenty of room for four adults. I picked up a couple of Mazda3-owning friends and they were impressed with the stylish look and roomy backseat. Whether a big backseat is a sign of hot or office hot is purely subjective.

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

Though nearly 200 pounds heavier and six-inches longer, the new 6 retains much of what makes it fun to drive. The speed-sensitive steering is feather light and perfectly matched to the sedan's carefree and fun attitude. Throw it into a corner at a reasonable speed and it won't bend or dive. You'd expect the price for such a stable ride would be a rougher ride, but even on the worst roads its as smooth most entry-level luxury cars. All of this comes from a car that starts at $24,910 in this trim and tops out with all options under $30,000. If you want to forgo all the options and luxury touches it starts at $18,500.

Attractive, fun, comfortable and affordable — what's the catch?

It's not slow, but it's a little community college. Step on it hard and the new four-in-a-line doesn't wake up until well into 3-grand in second gear, near the point where the VVT system opens up and lets it breathe. You'll feel great passing on a downshift, but If stoplight power is all you desire, the new Mazda6s slays all comers with its massive V6. Thankfully, the six-speed manual is fantastic fun, with intuitive shift points, easy throws and a clutch so light you may put your foot through the firewall. The biggest complaint, actually, is the noise. In the throes of passion the inline-four lets out an unattractive and high-pitched squeal.

2009 Mazda6 Grand Touring: First DriveS

In the end, the Mazda6, like Pam's status as most desirable girl on The Office, is the most desirable car in its segment . It's the best you can do when you're a salesman at a second-run paper store.