The 2021 Mazda6 Is a Sedan With a Personality; The Nissan Altima Is Just a Car

Oftentimes, you’re faced with a choice – exhilaration vs. practicality. And choosing the smartest option isn’t typically exciting. However, comparing the sporty 2021 Mazda6 and the pragmatic 2021 Nissan Altima isn’t as straightforward.

Thankfully, Mazda’s athletic machines aren’t unreliable gas guzzlers. So you can actually buy a model with personality rather than just an uninspiring commuter car.

Do these traits help elevate the Mazda6 above the Altima? Let’s break down the differences between these popular midsize sedans.

The 2021 Mazda6 is a joy ride

A red 2021 Mazda6 on display, facing away from the camera
A red 2021 Mazda6 on display | Mazda

Mazda’s midsize sedan sets the standard for thrilling driving dynamics in its class. Shoppers can choose between a pair of powertrain options – a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a more potent turbocharged variant.

The two most affordable trims – the Sport ($24,475 MSRP) and Touring ($27,075 MSRP) – feature the more tame powerplant. It delivers 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. These numbers won’t blow you away, but this standard engine is energetic enough for most drivers.

Meanwhile, the available 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder kicks the performance up a notch. Mazda makes this engine standard on the Grand Touring trim ($30,175 MSRP) and above, and it’s well worth the money. 

This turbocharged powerplant generates 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. However, you’ll have to use premium 93-octane fuel to make the most of it. Using regular 87-octane fuel reduces the engine’s performance to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.

Meanwhile, the 2021 Nissan Altima’s performance appears to be on par with that of the 2021 Mazda6.

Nissan equipped most models with a standard 188-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. However, the manufacturer’s famous 248-hp 2.0-liter VC-Turbo four-cylinder engine, available on the SR VC-Turbo trim ($30,700 MSRP), provides this car with some unexpected thrills.

Regardless of how you configure either sedan, the 2021 Mazda6 offers much more agile handling.

There’s value to be had with the 2021 Nissan Altima

A silver 2021 Nissan Alitma driving down a highway road
The 2021 Nissan Altima in action | Nissan

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The Mazda6 and Altima have surprisingly similar starting prices, as the latter’s base model begins at $24,300.

That’s why many shoppers may jump at the chance to purchase the fun, classy Mazda6 at a relatively low price. However, the 2021 Nissan Altima makes more sense for some drivers, as it offers something that its rival doesn’t – an all-wheel-drive system.

This drivetrain delivers better traction on rain-soaked and snow-covered roads. Nissan makes AWD available on all trims except the base model and the SR VC-Turbo. Notably, equipping this system lower’s the engine’s output to 182 hp.

Additionally, the 2021 Nissan Altima destroys the 2021 Mazda6 in fuel efficiency. Its base engine achieves an EPA-estimated 32 MPG city/highway combined. Plus, AWD-equipped models still get 30 or 29 MPG combined, depending on the trim level.

The Altima’s VC-Turbo powerplant also remains efficient, managing an EPA-estimated 29 MPG combined.

Comparatively, the 2021 Mazda6’s standard engine only gets an EPA-estimated 29 MPG combined. Its turbocharged variant is even worse, managing just 26 MPG combined.

These statistics make this midsize sedan one of Mazda’s most fuel-efficient cars. But it’ll still cost you significantly more money in gas per year than the Altima will.

Should you buy a 2021 Mazda6 or 2021 Nissan Altima

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Unless you desperately need an AWD vehicle, then the Mazda6 is the clear choice.

The Altima’s value helps it remain competitive, but its driving experience can’t compare to its rivals.

Car and Driver’s review of the Mazda6 proves how this midsize sedan is a different breed. The publication stated, “The Mazda 6 offers above-average driving satisfaction for a family sedan, with a fluidity to its controls and handling that is uncommon at any price.”

Additionally, the 2021 Mazda6 isn’t solely about performance. Its interior is also much more upscale than that of the 2021 Nissan Altima. So, in the end, the Mazda6 enhances your daily commute in a multitude of ways.