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by Steve Siler

Mazda 6
2003 Mazda 6

One of the big newsmakers of 2003 is the newly-christened Mazda 6. The 6, here to replace both the aging Millennia and the sleepy 626, is now one of the sportiest offerings in the mid-size class-one that is bound to wake people to the brand at last.

One look at the 6 tells you that it's gonna have some zip. Those razor-thin headlamp clusters pack no fewer than four lighting elements into their chromed bezels like jewelry. It appears low and hunkered to the ground, especially if you opt for the sportier 6s, which gets ground effects and big, 17-inch wheels. The rakish stance gives further aggressiveness to its look, without exacting much of a penalty in terms of outward and rear visibility.

The interior is a mix of contemporary finishes and ergonomically sound design. Cool metallic plastics cover many components on the center stack controls and elsewhere. The seats are excellent, and there is plenty of room-indeed it is larger in every direction than the outgoing 626.

The 6 is powered by your choice of two engines, a 160-hp four-cylinder or a 220-hp V-6. Notably, both can be mated to either manual or automatic transmissions-the manual offering not just a bone thrown to drivers who still like to row their own, but yet another symptom of the sporty overall intentions of this fine-looking, fine-driving family sedan.