While theaters are bulging with “Star Wars,” auto dealer showrooms are embroiled in car wars as top-selling mid-size sedans butt heads with their latest models.
Top of the sales heap are the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, both of which have been revamped for 2018. But one of the sedans each of those has set its sights on is the already snazzy Mazda6. Mazda isn’t sitting still though, it will launch a new Mazda6 this spring, but its most updated model, the 2017.5 version is well worth a look now.
I visited family in the Las Vegas area last week and slipped behind the wheel of a Soul Red ($300 extra, and worth it) Mazda6, a muscular, sporty sedan that still is among this segment’s styling leaders. The sparkling metallic red test car was the top-level Grand Touring edition, so it was loaded.
But before you pooh-pooh it for fear its price is out of reach, consider that the GT starts at $31,570, including delivery, and even with options this one clocked in at $34,695. That’s below the average selling price for a new car and well below a crossover or sport-utility equipped this well.
First consider that all Mazda6 models come with what Mazda calls SkyActiv-G technology that delivers good power and excellent fuel economy. SkyActive-G is applied to Mazda’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and include a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. This one came with paddle shifters too.
Weight remains moderate at 3,305 lbs. and the engine’s 184 horsepower is plenty perky when you tromp the accelerator to get on the highway. But, as with many cars today, Mazda includes a sport mode, this one activated by a toggle on the console. Boom! The tranny holds the lower gears longer to boost power and in this mode the Mazda races to highway speeds.
The secret, if you can call it that, of SkyActiv involves Mazda using higher engine compression, direct-injection and variable valve timing to run its engines more efficiently while delivering superior power. While in past drives I’ve gotten as high as 34.4 mpg, I managed 28.5 mpg in about 70% highway driving, including a jaunt up Mt. Charleston where altitude and the steep climb cut into fuel consumption. The EPA rates the Mazda6 at 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.
Some midsize cars offer more pep, but usually via a V6 at higher cost and increased fuel consumption, or a turbocharged I4. Power here is smooth and linear. But if you need more power, hold on, because the 2018 will offer a turbocharged 2.5-liter that will make 227 horsepower on regular fuel and 250 on premium.
Ride is well-controlled too, something any family can enjoy, especially on bumpy Midwest roads. No problem with bumps on the Vegas area’s smooth highways.
Braking also is good with four-wheel discs along with stability and traction control standard, as are emergency braking and lane departure control on the GT. The test car also included i-ELOOP regenerative engine braking that helps charge the car’s battery when it’s coasting or undergoing braking. It also mildly helps fuel economy.
The i-ELOOP (funny sounding name!) is part of the GT Premium package that was on the test car. It costs $2,500 and also includes active grille shutters to aid gas mileage, plus heated rear seats and steering wheel, along with a black headliner, and bright interior trim along with leather seats and trim.
With all that the car looks and feels luxurious inside, and its interior is incredibly quiet.
Generally the layout it good with a 7-inch infotainment screen atop the center stack. While a touchscreen for channel changing the system is controlled overall by a master dial on the console. I generally find these klunky to use while driving, although this was a bit easier than many to figure out.
Seats were cream-colored perforated leather and the cockpit was trimmed in black with a black dash and white leather inserts in the doors. Add to that a satin chrome trim on the dash and doors along with satin knobs and button surfaces. The look is stylish and upscale.
Mazda’s seats are well-formed and both front seats are powered in the GT. They provide good lower back support and a little wider hip room than some sedans’ seats, and are good for a wide variety of passenger sizes. Legroom is good front and rear with headroom a little more limited in back due to the roof’s stylish swoop. Still, we had five folks aboard, two being youngsters, but four adults will fit easily.
Trunk space is ample too and deep. It’s listed at 14.8 cubic feet, but looks larger. I also like that not only does the rear seat split and fold down, there are knobs in the trunk to separately release both portions of the seat. This is way more convenient than having to reach inside the back door and pull up on a release on each side of the rear seat backs.
Other pluses include heated front seats with three temperature settings. This and the leather seats are standard on the GT model. As noted earlier the Premium package adds heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel too.
Standard also is a sunroof, a head-up display that rises from behind the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel, a rearview camera, lane keep assist, blind-spot warning system, LED headlights and fog lights, rear cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control, visors with extenders, and more. Outside of the Premium package there’s not much you’d want to add here to improve the car’s functionality.
The test car added fancy door sill plates, bumper guards and a cargo mat, but those are inexpensive and depend on your taste and budget.
And the Mazda6 easily fits in the mainstream cost of a mid-size sedan in GT trim. But if you wish to keep costs down go with the base Sport model at $22,780 including delivery fee. Even this one has the rearview camera and infotainment screen along with push-button start and keyless entry.
Move up to the Touring model and Leatherette seats are standard along with dual climate controls, automatic lights, power driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert and automatic emergency braking. The Touring starts at just beyond $25 grand.
The tested Grand Touring comes with a Bose sound system, navigation, plus all that was listed earlier, for $31,570. I like the Premium package this added, especially for our chilly climate where heated rear seats and a heated wheel are beneficial.
So if you’re shopping for a mid-size sedan for the family, or just yourself, consider the Mazda6. You may be surprised at its driving dynamics and economical price and fuel economy. If power is the name of your game, wait for the 2018 turbo model.
FAST STATS: 2017.5 Mazda6 Grand Touring
Hits: Sharp-looking sedan with good power (sport mode) and mpg, plus nice ride and sporty handling. Big trunk, split rear seat releases in trunk, and quiet interior with heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, sunroof, head-up display and bevy of safety equipment. Will carry five, at least four adults.
Misses: Main nav/radio screen control is knob on console.
Made in: Hofu, Japan
Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G, 4-cylinder, 184 hp
Transmission: SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed automatic w/Sport mode
Weight: 3,305 lbs.
Length: 191.5 in.
Wheelbase: 111.4 in.
MPG: 27/35 (EPA)
MPG: 28.5 (tested)
Cargo: 14.8 cu.ft.
Base Price: $31,570 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $29,866 (includes delivery)
Soul Red paint, $300
Cargo mat, $75
Rear bumper guard, $125
Door sill trim plates, $125
GT Premium package (i-Eloop regenerative engine braking system, active grille shutters, shifter LED lighting, bright finish interior, Nappa leather upholstery, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel black headliner), $2,500
Test vehicle: $34,695
Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage