DETROIT – Mazda Motor Corp. applied lessons learned from the last-generation Mazda6 to the latest iteration of the sporty sedan in an effort to avoid previous mistakes.

While the outgoing Mazda6 was a decent car, it was plagued by shortcomings that relegated it to “also-ran” status in the ultra-competitive C/D-segment, which is dominated by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and redesigned Chevrolet Malibu.

With the ‘09 Mazda6, product planners say they aimed for the heart of the segment and firmly believe they can sell 100,000 units annually, a substantial improvement over the 57,575 deliveries last year.

“We had three main issues with the previous car: quality, power and size,” says Tim Barnes, director of product planning and strategy. “Quality basically wasn’t where we needed it to be in the C/D segment, and it was a ‘tweener’ car as well. It was undersized for the core of the market. And both powertrains were worst-in-class in both horsepower and torque.”

To address quality issues, Mazda pared complexity by eliminating the wagon and 5-door versions offered in the previous-generation Mazda6, which is assembled alongside the Ford Mustang at the AutoAlliance International Inc. plant in Flat Rock, MI, a joint venture between Mazda and Ford Motor Co.

Mazda also paid greater attention to craftsmanship in the new Mazda6, Barnes says, noting the old car ranked poorly in the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Initial Quality Study.

“We were at the bottom of the segment from an initial quality standpoint. Some of our features and content were not what they needed to be,” Barnes says at an event here. “We weren’t having long-term durability issues, but in initial and perceptual quality we did not meet the consideration for the segment.”

Barnes says the goal is for the new Mazda6 to rank No.1 in its segment in J.D. Power IQS, while upholding the brand’s “exciting to drive” character. “We want to retain all of the aspects that makes a Mazda a Mazda.”

Horsepower and torque, another weakness of the outgoing Mazda6, were addressed for the new generation with two more powerful engines: a 2.5L I-4 that produces 170 hp and 167 lb.-ft. (226 Nm) of torque and a 3.7L V-6 that makes 272 hp and 269 lb.-ft. (365 Nm).

“The new Mazda6 has an I-4 that’s right among the top in (its segment) in both horsepower and torque, and the V-6 will be best-in-class in both of those areas,” Barnes says.

The I-4 comes available with either a 6-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic, while V-6 models get a 6-speed automatic with manual shift option.

Lastly, Mazda upsized the vehicle, as the previous generation was too small to hit the sweet spot of the C/D segment in North America, Barnes says.

The ‘09 Mazda6 boasts a 4.5-in. (11.4-cm) longer wheelbase and a wider front and rear track than its predecessor. Additionally, the overall length was increased by 6.1 ins. (15.5 cm), while the width was stretched 2.3 ins. (5.8 cm).

Barnes says the previous Mazda6 was designed as a global car, and while its dimensions appealed to consumers in Europe and Asia, North Americans found it too small. The new Mazda6 comes in two variations, a larger model for North America and a smaller version for the rest of the world.

The new model, which recently arrived in dealerships, likely won’t dominate its segment but will conquest sales from most of its competitors, with the possible exception of the Camry, Barnes says.

“Camry customers love it (Mazda6), but they still buy Camry. So to get people to switch from Camry is a difficult proposition,” he says.

The new Mazda sedan also is likely to appeal to a broader age demographic, Barnes says, noting the previous model drew a much younger audience than most of the top players in the segment.