After all these years reviewing cars (30+) I find it hard to understand why Mazda doesn’t sell a lot more cars.
Its midsize Mazda6 is another gem that is sporty looking, handles well, provides a comfortable ride with good power and delivers extremely good fuel economy. Sounds like a lot of checkmarks in the average buyer’s “want” boxes.
Yet Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, among others, outsell the Mazda6 regularly, and have for years. Could it just be buying habits that work against other sedans that easily challenge those top dogs? Could be. But if you’re looking for a midsize family car with more pizazz, then the Mazda6 should be dead center on your radar.
I drove a sharp looking Blue Reflex (light silvery blue) Grand Touring model. That’s top of the line, so it’s loaded with standard equipment, leather seats, etc., plus this one added the $2,180 GT technology package, a cargo mat and door sill trim plates to push a $30,195 base price up to $33,395, including an $820 delivery fee. That’s almost exactly the average selling price for a new vehicle these days.
Mazda uses what it calls SkyActiv-G technology in its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engines and with its 6-speed automatic transmissions. Between cutting vehicle weight (just 3,250 lbs. for this model) and using higher compression, direct-injection and variable valve timing to run its engines more efficiently, the Mazda6 delivers 184 horsepower along with stellar fuel economy. As I write this a “refinery problem” has driven our gas to beyond $3 a gallon again, so fuel efficiency is again front and center. I got 34.4 mpg while the EPA rates the Mazda6 at 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. My driving was about an equal mix.
Power is good, if not super peppy. Some midsize cars offer more pep, usually via a V6 or turbocharged I4. This one will easily pull the front-drive Mazda up to highway cruising speeds, plus the engine is relatively quiet and the shifts smooth. There is some hesitation during acceleration at lower speeds, but pressing the gas pedal a bit harder solves that.
The test car also came with an electronic Sport mode toggle on the console to tell the tranny to hold onto the gears a bit longer to help boost acceleration. It works, but at the cost of gas mileage, naturally. I also noticed that sometimes the transmission didn’t want to shift into a more fuel-efficient gear until after 50 mph, which elevates engine noise. Yet Sport mode was helpful a couple times when I wanted to get ahead of traffic to change lanes.
Handling is a Mazda strongpoint and steering wheel feedback is good here providing a fairly precise feel when zippy through a series of curves on a drive to Holy Hill. What a blast! While the car corners well there is a much heavier steering feel than you’ll find on other midsize cars, so maybe that’s a slight drawback to some buyers, but I like it.
Ride is a tad firm, but well controlled and compliant enough to provide pleasant highway drives and comfortable city drives. Bumps and roadway craters do not cause much jostling inside the quiet comfortable interior. Braking also is good and stability and traction control are standard. The test car included I-ELOOP regenerative engine braking that helps charge the car’s battery when it’s coasting or undergoing braking. That’s part of the GT technology package.
I drove the Mazda6 around Milwaukee for several days with a variety of passengers and everyone agreed it was comfortable and quiet. Some said its interior was the best they’d seen in years. I liked it, and I see a lot.
This one was two-tone black and white leather, both attractive and soft, giving the seats a luxury feel, same with the center armrest and door armrests. There’s satin chrome trim on the dash and doors and steering wheel too and handsome gauges that are easy to read. Seats are supportive and well-shaped with good legroom in the rear seat, even with taller riders up front.
Four adults fit comfortably and five would be possible, just a little snug in the back seat, mainly for hip space. Trunk room is generous (14.8 cubic feet) and the rear seats split and fold forward to carry long loads. The trunk also opens wide to make it easy for loading large boxes.
In addition to offering a soft leather, the tested Grand Touring model had heated front seats, a power driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support, a sunroof, blind-spot warning system, rearview camera and Mazda’s new 7-inch navigation/radio screen. That’s up from a 5.8-inch screen in the 2015 models. I’m still no fan of the radio being tuned via a knob on the console, but I figured out this radio within a couple days. Still, storing local stations and recalling them is not as easy as in days when there were 5-6 buttons on the dash.
The GT package also added radar cruise control that slows the car when someone pulls out and drives slowly in front of you while on the highway. It works fine, but I recommend turning it off unless you’re in very low traffic situations. The package also includes a lane departure warning system, best used only when on a long highway trip where drowsiness could be a factor.
A few other pluses inside include a large glove box, push-button start, visors with extenders, HomeLink system overhead, a heads-up speedometer display, and interior releases for the trunk and fuel door. The Grand Touring also comes with a Bose stereo system, including 11 speakers.
If you don’t need (want) the leather seats or some of the other electronic bells and whistles, then consider the base i Sport model with a six-speed manual gearbox, but the same engine and other mechanicals. It starts at $22,315, including delivery. Moving up to the Sport with automatic transmission edges the cost to $23,815 while moving up to the Touring model, again with a manual tranny, moves the needle to $24,765.
I love manual trannies as much as anyone, but note that the automatic here actually gets better gas mileage.
So let’s recap. Good power, good ride, excellent handling and gas mileage, sporty looks plus room for a family of four and their cargo. Hmmm, still seems to me the Mazda6 should be selling faster than some other duller-looking makes.
Hits: Sharp looking family sedan that handles well and provides smooth ride and good power with excellent fuel economy. Quiet, roomy two-tone soft leather interior, heated seats, sunroof, blind-spot warning and smooth shifts, plus big trunk.
Misses: Some hesitation on acceleration at lower speeds, radio tuned via knob on console, no radio pre-set buttons on dash.
Made in: Hofu, Japan
Engine: SkyActiv-G 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 184 hp
Transmission: SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,250 lbs.
Wheelbase: 111.4 in.
Length: 191.5 in.
Cargo: 14.8 cu.ft.
MPG: 28/40 (EPA)
MPG: 34.4 (tested)
Base Price: $30,195
Dealer’s Price: $29,339 (includes delivery)
Cargo mat, $75
Door sill trim plates, $125
GT technology package (radar cruise control, I-ELOOP regenerative engine braking system, Smart brake support, high beam control, lane departure warning system, active grille shutters), $2,180
Test vehicle: $33,395
Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage