It’s not everyday that someone comes across a car that makes them wonder whether they’ve been wrong all along. Take the benefits of buying Korean cars, for example: For years Americans have written off Kia and Hyundai as complete crap, when in all actuality they have recently been awarded higher quality and reliability scores than most luxury automakers by companies like J.D. Power and Consumer Reports.
I, too, have been guilty of such an infraction, as I have consistently been writing off the Mazda6 as just another lowly four-door transport vessel designed to serve as a middle management commuter car and little more. Maybe it just never stood out to me aesthetically, or perhaps my preconceived notions of the 6 from the 1990s with its oscillating air vents and rotund lines tainted my vision. Either way, this vehicle has never really garnered my attention, and for that I must apologize.
Apologies are in place for a reason here. Try as I might, I could not find a connection between what you see here and the car from my youth. The Mazda6 has evolved into a magnificent machine, complete with all of the sophisticated lines, sporty handling, and worldly refinement of a luxury car, but in a price tier that is easily obtainable. This sedan is a four-door surprise party on wheels, complete with a cake, a piñata, and all the party poppers. So put your party hats on, because we’ve all been invited to come play.
If it weren’t sprayed a flashy “Soul Red,” my week-long loaner in Grand Touring trim would have been more undercover than James Bond at a Sussex speakeasy. The new 6 has just enough curve and flare to it to make it memorable, and while that duo of gaping grilles out front adds some much needed aggression to the game, everywhere else it remains relatively relaxed. It stands out and blends in all at the same time, and if you aren’t completely sold on the looks, be sure to check out pictures of it in “Sonic Silver” and “Deep Crystal Blue” before totally writing it off.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Bowed trunk-mounted spoiler, 19-inch alloy wheels, horizontal gaping grille fins, moderate touches of chrome… externally there’s so much about this car that is tastefully understated and properly proportioned.
+ If you haven’t seen a new Mazda6 at night, take a second glance at its grille. That bow-shaped trim piece below the upper grille isn’t chrome, but a fully tubed LED display. Accompanied by the LED taillight display out back, this car is a total looker in the evening.
+ Small touches like the rear lower lip kit, driver side dimming mirror, and the purposefully undersized shark fin antenna may not be noticeable right away, but are extremely well thought out and tastefully executed.
– Even on the Grand Touring (GT) model you can’t get a sharp aero kit like what we found and liked so much on the Mazda3.
– There aren’t any alternative wheel options listed on Mazda’s website. So buyers will have to go aftermarket if they want to rock some different rollers.
– Mazda will more than likely one day offer proximity based power-folding mirrors and different exhaust options for its GT models, but sadly they aren’t there just yet.
While the turbocharged Mazdaspeed6 from a decade back was the 6 to get if you wanted performance, Mazda’s latest run of SKYACTIV engines are a pretty potent little duo of four-bangers. This model’s 2.5-liter, 184 horsepower engine may not look like much on paper, but the way in which Mazda has implemented this powerband remains nothing short of solid. Between the silky smooth shifts, tire-squealing 185 foot-pounds of torque, and 40 mile per gallon highway gains, there’s very little to dislike in the powertrain department here, even if it is far less stout than its V6 competition.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ It may weigh a few hundred pounds more than the CX-3 we tested a while back, which also came equipped with the same 2.5-liter motor, but good lord does the 6 get up and go in Sport mode!
+ The six-speed automatic transmission shifts like it were made of silk, and even in Sport mode with the paddle shifters clicking it delivers consistent results.
+ Efficiency numbers that top out at 40 on the highway and 28 in the city are pretty hard to ignore, and while throttling it in Sport mode does drain the tank pretty quickly, for daily driving purposes the 6 delivers gains in a big way.
– We’ve waited years for the return of the turbocharged Mazdaspeed6, which to many was one of the best sleepers of all time. Now that the CX-9 has a turbo motor, we can only hope that it will wind up in the 6.
– If you opt for the GT version of the 6, you will have to omit Mazda’s solid six-speed manual gearbox, a fact that might not perturb the typical sedan buyer but is a bother considering some people would rather not downgrade to Touring or Sport models to row their own.
– Mazda has opted to leave the 6 completely front-wheel drive, and while Cincinnati wasn’t getting pounded with snow when I received it, I know that this would have been a bit of an issue back in January.
Dammit if this interior isn’t magnificent. Of all the Mazda’s I’ve driven recently, the 6 looks best with this “Parchment” colored leather interior. Maybe it’s the contrasting black interior pieces accompanied by the Soul Red hard shell, but this cabin just pops when you look at it, and groping one’s way around it will confirm the fact that it feels just as good as it looks. Super easy to operate, and well tailored in every measure, the Mazda6 is a pleasure to pilot as well as ride along in.
Interior pros and cons
+ White, black, polished, and brushed, the cabin materials in the 6 look and feel like they belong in a Jaguar. The leather stitched dash, ample rear seat head and leg room, large trunk, and slick door sill plates strongly emphasize that.
+ Of all of the Mazdas I’ve driven, the 6 easily has the quietest cabin, regardless of the driving style, speed, or type of road I threw at it.
+ Small stuff, like the retractable cupholder cover, electronic e-brake switch, LED cabin lights, upper dash-mounted start button, and metallic trim pieces across the lower half of the steering wheel all stack up.
– Mazda’s paddle shifters are very basic black plastic. While they may work well, these flippers remain a bland touch-point both in shape, size, and substance.
– No heated steering wheel or rear bench, and an absence of ventilated seats up front lose the 6 a few points since other automakers include these features in similarly-priced five-seat automobiles.
– While it may sport some slick exterior accent lighting, the cabin is pretty much devoid of mood lights, and even though the dome lights are indeed LED, the ones in the doors are not.
Tech and safety
For an additional $2,180 you can get the GT version equipped with the optional tech and safety package. This upgrade features adaptive radar cruise control, a regenerative engine braking system, Mazda’s Smart Brake Support, high beam control, lane departure warnings, and active grille shutters for greater mileage gains. Add that to the healthy horde of standard GT tech features, and it’s hard to ignore the quality and value associated with Mazda nowadays.
Tech pros and cons
+ Blind spot, tire pressure, and lane departure warnings are all notable, as is the rear cross traffic alert system, raining sensing wipers, and Mazda’s hill launch assist.
+ That 7-inch color touchscreen display is a handy tool, and being able to control it manually with the rotating commander knob is icing on the cake for those of us who like the best of both worlds. Let’s also not forget the dash integrated heads-up display (HUD), which has become a Mazda GT signature tech touch.
+ The gauge integrated multi information display (MID), one-touch windows, Bluetooth, auto dimming rearview mirror, Bose 11-speaker audio, and 3D mapping are all additional tech goods that add to the bottom line.
– Limited pre-installed apps, and a somewhat tedious XM channel surfing layout are frustrating.
– While it is quite refined looking, not having the ability to adjust/customize the gauge cluster, HUD, and MID is a tech miss for those of us who like to personalize their vehicles.
– Not having multiple camera views is an issue when comparing the Mazda6 to some of its equally priced competition, where it is now becoming the norm on top-tier models.
Piloting the Mazda6 GT for a week was not something I expected to enjoy as much as I did. With its unassuming exterior lines and four-cylinder engine, I was under the preconceived notion that this was just a handsome, comfy sedan and nothing more. Boy, was I wrong: The GT version only weighs a hair over a ton and a half, so it’s relatively light on its feet, and since Mazda’s traction settings work so damn well, I had little issue getting giddy behind the wheel.
Forceful when pushed, relatively flat in the corners, and forever rev-ready, I found myself forgetting gripes regarding the 6’s lack of a V6 when in Sport mode, and marveled at my MPG gains when cruising. The brakes were also exceptionally solid, as was the car’s turning radius, and while the steering system is indeed electronic, it did not feel disconnected or spongy at all. But perhaps the greatest joy when driving this car was the feeling I got within the cabin. This is truly a splendid space in every way, and for as prim as it may appear on the outside, riding in this thing is nothing short of stellar.
Wrap up and review
Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of pleasantries I found in Mazda’s flagship sedan, and in reflection, I don’t think I would want it any other way. Sure, it doesn’t have the turbocharged power of the new Kia Optima SX-L or the all-wheel drive of the Buick Regal GS, nor the hearty V6 out of the Touring version of the Honda Accord, but after a day or two on the road you won’t mind so much.
This is an exceptionally well built mid-size sedan, and despite missing a few steps in the styling and tech departments, is a very pleasant surprise. At $33,695 it isn’t all that expensive either, and even though all three of the sedans I tested in the previous paragraph were similarly priced and had certain features I wish the Mazda6 did, they all had their own issues as well. So if you have the time to test a new Mazda6 GT out I strongly encourage you to do so. Chances are you will be just as surprised as I was.