2006 MazdaSpeed6

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Cars like the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Evo are Big Fun. Except, of course, if you’re over 30 and could live without the Big Wing (and other cop-magnet styling cues) that are part of the package. “Fast and Furious” is great when you’re single and 25 and calling attention to yourself is almost as important as actually going fast. But get a little older, maybe a little wiser — and you’ll want something like the new MazdaSpeed6.

This car is basically a WRX STi or Evo MR in more discrete attire — albeit a little heavier (and a bit softer) because it’s based on the Mazda6 sedan. (The gung-ho Subaru WRX is based on the smaller, lightweight Impreza, while the Evo is likewise “platformed” off of the compact Lancer sedan).

No wings or air scoops or gold-anodized rims announce your intentions. Other than subtle differences (the slight bulge of the hood, the molded-in dual exhaust cut-outs in the rear valence panel) it looks pretty much like a Mazda6 sedan — which is to say, it looks very nice. But not like it’s up to anything anti-social.

And yet, there is serious firepower on hand, nonetheless.

The MazdaSpeed6 packs a turbocharged and intercooled direct-injection four cylinder engine connected to a six-speed close-ratio gearbox and a permanent, driver-adjustable all-wheel-drive system with Normal, Sport and Snow modes — very much like the layout of both the WRX STi and the Evo. There are also 18-inch rims, bigger brakes, chassis stiffeners and a limited slip differential. Inside, there are aluminum trimmed pedals, brushed aluminum accents, red/orange backlit gauges — and two-tone sport buckets unique to this model.

The 2.3 liter engine develops 274 horses — only slighty off the pace of the 300-hp WRX STi and 286-hp Evo. The performance rush you get is very similar, too. It’ll run to 60 mph in about 5.5-5.6 seconds and eat the quarter mile in the high 13s/low 14s, depending on your clutchwork. Though the Soobie is about half to three-quarters of a second quicker, it (like the Evo) is also much more likely to be caught demonstrating its prowess. And it really doesn’t matter how quick your car is if you’ve lost your license — or your insurance.

Right?

No slam on either the WRX STi or the Evo — but to drive either one is the equivalent of tacking a “ticket me” sticker on the trunk. I’ve been behind the wheel of all three cars and every cop I ever passed when piloting the WRX STi or the Evo would flash me a hard stare — even if I was doing precisely the limit. In the Mazda, you can whip along unnoticed and therefore, untroubled. If you’re over 30, you probably have lived and learned enough to really appreciate this quality. Moreover, you may also need to have a car that doesn’t look cartoonish. Imagine being a realtor or any other person who needs to convey maturity and sound judgment picking up clients in a nuclear blue WRX STi or banana yellow Evo. That’s a no go, bro. But it’s no problemo in the MazdaSpeed6 — which has the respectable countenance of a sporty entry-luxury sedan in the Lexus/Acura/BMW tradition.

You could absolutely pick up your boss in this thing. And it won’t annoy your wife, either.

Another perk — the Mazda’s a lot less expensive than both the WRX STi and the Evo (when similarly equipped). Base price for the MazdaSpeed6 is $27,995 (for the Sport; the higher trim Grand Touring model with heated leather seats and keyless ignition carries an MSRP of $29,925). Either way, that’s a lot less than Subaru wants for the WRX STi — $32,995 to start. Or the Evo, which costs $35,189 for the MR version with the six-speed gearbox (you can buy the cheaper Evo RS for $28,679 — but it doesn’t have the six-speed transmission and some other upgrades you get in the MR).

Dollars to donuts, your insurance will be a lot less, to. The WRX STi and Evo are the automotive equivalents of flashy sport bikes like the Suzuki GSX-R. Everyone — including the insurance companies — knows their “rep.” Premiums are issued accordingly.

On top of all that, you get a larger, more useful — and much more comfortable — vehicle. Both the WRX STi and Evo are essentially econo-compact sedans; the Mazda’s a mid-sized sedan. It has a bigger trunk with more storage space (12.4 cubic feet vs. 10.2 for the Evo and 11 for the Subaru) and almost four inches more rear-seat legroom than the WRX STi ( 36.5 vs. 33 inches). The Evo’s interior space is closer — but its ride is noticeably firmer and fast as it is, the car has the aura of a souped-up econo-box while the Mazda has a more uptown look, feel and overall ambiance.

Basically, the WRX STi an Evo are single-purpose weapons; like switchblades in a sock, they’re also just a little on the lawless side.

The Mazda, in contrast, can deliver the same sort of driving enjoyment — precision handling and acceleration sufficient to blow away almost anything on the road —
but without the compromises necessary to deliver that final 5-10 percent of at-the-edge capability you may never need anyhow.

That small sacrifice is more than made up for in terms of the lower risk profile, costs and day-to-day usability. At least, if those things matter much to you.

And if you are over 30, they probably do.

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