Although, it let me arrive in grander style than I'm accustomed at my favorite restaurant, the Greenbriar Inn, on the outskirts of Boulder, Colo., the MazdaSpeed 6 is reportedly Mazda's fastest accelerating, best handling, and most advanced sports sedan.

The turbocharged 2.3-liter direct-injection engine is one of the company's firsts for North America. The turbocharger delivers 15.6-psi boost at 2,500 rpm. And with 274 hp at 5,500 rpm and 280 lb-ft of nearwhiplashing torque at 3,000 rpm, I unexpectedly found myself going 100 mph while passing on a long straight-away. The car even screamed up 6% grades in sixth gear at nearly 10,000 ft above sea level.

The close-ratio six-speed manual transmission coupled with Active Torque Split all-wheel drive makes it difficult to stay under speed limits. ATS uses steering angle, yaw rate, lateral G force, and engine status data to provide the most power and traction for any road condition. A torque-sensing limited slip differential (borrowed from the Mazda RX-8 sports car) is said to optimize torque and ensure sufficient power on corners and slippery surfaces. Shifting was smooth and effortless, but I have to admit I stalled more than once at stops and was never quite able to master that finicky shift from first to second gear.

To differentiate the Speed 6 from the original sedan, Mazda redesigned front and rear fascias, the hood, and front fenders. Aerodynamic improvements include extended side skirts, lip spoiler, and reprofiled rear bumper with built-in diffuser and contours for the twin tailpipes. Amenities include heated, leather-trimmed seats with an eight-way adjustable driver seat, a lockable center console with power outlet, a seven-speaker 200-W Bose sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and Sirius satellite radio compatibility, automatic climate-control air conditioning with pollen filter, and 12.4 ft3 of cargo space. The back seat, with 54.1 in. of hip room will fit three adults and was comfy enough for me to sleep in when I found myself 400 miles from home without a hotel reservation. (But then I'm not that tall.)

The car lists for just under 30K, but the optional navigation system ($2,000), wheel locks and cargo net ($40 each), and compass/autodim mirror ($175) boost it to $32,740.