Weidel on Wheels: Pair of Mazdas offer a little bit of fun behind the wheel

By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Understanding that the decision to buy a car often is reduced to its simplest terms, Mazda has a couple of appealing choices in its 2010 lineup that deliver a basic ingredient — fun. What’s more fun than lowering the top and cruising around town on a stress-free weekend? Exactly. That’s why the Mazda MX-5 convertible (the Miata name was dropped several years ago) is still a great choice for drivers seeking some excitement behind the wheel. Although not as pleasure-inducing, the Mazda 6 is another affordable choice that features some fun-to-drive characteristics. The Japanese automaker did away with the stodgy wagon and hatchback versions of the Mazda 6 in a redesign last year and what’s left is a stylish, more sophisticated sedan. Below is a breakdown of both vehicles. 2010 Mazda MX-5 Now in its third generation since debuting in 1989, this appealing convertible still sticks to the basics, providing a small, lightweight car that meets many people’s budgetary needs. The Touring Plus model goes for $26,410, but the base model slips in at just under $23,000. The power-folding hardtop takes only a push of the button and even the manual folding hardtop can get one into convertible mode quickly. And speaking of quick, the six-speed manual transmission provides plenty of pep with its 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 167 horsepower, which has it capable of going 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds while also getting 21 to 30 miles per gallon. Nothing has changed in the overall handling of the MX-5. Its steering is precision-like and the car goes around corners with an assuredness that will leave drivers smiling due to its great handling capability. The former Miata is still considered one of the top affordable roadsters ever. Of course, there are drawbacks to most convertibles and the MX-5 is no exception. Most adults can expect a snug fit in this two-seat cockpit. And the storage space is limited for even the most basic incidentals. Even weekend getaways can be challenging due to the diminutive 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space. Having the top down is naturally the way to go, but there are some drawbacks. The Mazda-5 has a fair amount of wind noise in convertible mode and even with the optional seven-speaker Bose audio system the music can be difficult to hear, especially at lower levels. 2010 Mazda 6 Interior room is not a problem with this front-wheel drive sedan. In fact, the Mazda 6 offers one of the largest cabins and trunk space (16.6 cubic feet) in the mid-size class. Redesigned a year ago, the cockpit was modernized and now features a sensible control panel and a center console with many storage options. The red backlit gauges are a great addition as well. Available in seven trims, the Mazda 6 now features a long hood, an attractive flared front fender, and also made positive changes in the headlamps and front bumper design. The result was a sporty sedan that surprisingly is being offered at reduced prices this year in some trim models. Not all car shoppers will be happy with the standard engine, a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower. It’s a bit tepid, going only 0 to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds. Yet the upside is the Mazda 6 gets good gas mileage at 21 to 30 mpg. While not as precision handling as some of its more notable competition, the Mazda 6 can be counted on for its reliable feel of the road. The steering is responsive, the braking is strong and this sedan can corner with assurance. __________ 2010 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring Price: Starting at $26,410 Mileage estimate: From 22 mpg city to 28 mpg highway Power: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 167 horsepower Standard features include: Stability control; antilock disc brakes; power windows and mirrors; keyless entry; automatic climate control; leather upholstery; heated seats; a seven-speaker Bose audio system, Bluetooth and satellite radio; leather-wrapped steering wheel 2010 Mazda 6 Touring Plus Price: Starting at $23,750 Mileage estimate: From 21 mpg city to 30 mpg highway Power: 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower Standard features include: Height-adjustable driver seat; tilt-telescoping steering wheel; six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo system with auxiliary audio jack; antilock disc brakes; stability and traction control; power moonroof; eight-way power driver’s seat; blind-spot monitoring system