For years, I've recommend the Mazda6 to anyone shopping the midsize sedan class who wants a vehicle that's actually entertaining to drive. And with the third-generation model fixing many of the weak points afflicting previous iterations, I can't help but throw my hands up in the air and wonder why more people aren't buying Mazda's midsize sedan.
A driver's midsize sedan
A week with a 2016 Mazda6 i Grand Touring again reaffirmed my belief that Mazda builds the most engaging vehicle in the segment. Crisp steering responds nearly instantly to inputs. The tight suspension along with the 19-inch Dunlop SP Sport 5000 tires on my test car keep body motions tidy around corners and through bends, with understeer not showing its ugly head until you push really hard. It feels light on its feet, and, like a well-trained dog, does everything you tell it almost immediately.
It also manages to be the sportiest of the midsize sedan bunch without packing a high dose of power. Its Skyactiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque isn't going to set the world on fire, but is zippy enough to confidently merge onto expressways, and have a good time on twisty back roads. The six-speed automatic transmission smoothly cracks through gear changes, and it's fun to play with the responsive manual shift feature. However, for the highest entertainment value, a slick six-speed manual transmission is available on base Sport and midgrade Touring models.
The 6's fuel efficiency game is also strong, receiving 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway EPA ratings with the automatic and optional i-Eloop brake energy regeneration system, which captures electricity under braking in a capacitor to help power the car's electrical systems. Best of all, the brake pedal doesn't suffer from the wonky feeling of many other regenerative braking systems.
Everything comes together in a package that's genuinely fun to toss around, which isn't real common in the segment. I honestly believe you can show up at an autocross in this and have a blast, while turning in respectable times. That's not to say all of the other entries in the class are total snoozers because the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Kia Optima are also good drivers, while the efforts Toyota and Nissan have put in to tightening up their cars are admirable. Dynamically, though, all of them still trail the Mazda.
But if you're looking to win a drag race, the others have the upper hand with available turbocharged I-4 or V-6 engine options, while the Mazda6 is only packing a naturally aspirated four-banger. Mazda previously said a diesel engine was on the way for the 6, but those plans have since been delayed, and there are no signs of it landing in the US anytime soon. Given the diesel headaches Volkswagen has been dealing with, it may be wise for Mazda put those plans on the back burner for a bit, anyway.
With the class-leading Camry outselling the Mazda6 by a ratio of nearly 9:1 last month, Mazda still has a long way to go before achieving mainstream acceptance. And that's not for a lack of effort on Mazda's part, because it has taken steps to broaden the appeal of the latest Mazda6. In addition to its strong fuel economy hand, the flowing Kodo exterior design language is handsome and sharp without being overdone like the previous Hyundai Sonata. It's easily the most visually attractive entry in the segment, with small styling tweaks arriving during a midcycle update for the 2016 model year that brought a new three-dimensional grille, headlights and fog light surrounds.
The most drastic midcycle changes take place in the 6's cabin with a larger 7-inch color infotainment display, new seat designs, dash layout, center console and additional sound deadening that all help provide a more luxurious interior. Over the course of a two hour drive, the seats stay comfortable, minimal road and wind noise seeps into the cabin at expressway speeds and the stitched parchment leather contrasts nicely with the various black interior panels and silver trim pieces. Simply put, it's an attractive and nicely trimmed interior with sufficient space in front and back for adults.
Where the Mazda6 does lag behind the competition is in the ride comfort department. The firmer suspension and the 19-inch wheel and tire package are great for spirited cornering exercises, but aren't ideal for smoothing out impacts from road hazards like ruts and potholes. It's a far from brutal ride, but a couple of my passengers did comment about the 6's rougher on-road personality, which likely will be a turn-off for some midsize sedan customers.
I have driven a Mazda6 Sport model with 17-inch wheels, and can vouch for its more compliant ride, but then you would have to be okay with cloth seats and a lack of luxuries like dual-zone climate controls, a power driver's seat, keyless entry and illuminated visor mirrors. Those looking for more features and content will have to roll on the 19s that come standard on the Touring and Grand Touring trims.
Safety and convenience technologies galore
Being a range-topping Grand Touring model, my Mazda6 tester isn't short of niceties, with standard features like heated and power adjustable front seats, navigation, Bluetooth, 11-speaker Bose audio system, satellite radio, blind-spot monitoring, backup camera, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support that works between 2 and 18 mph to automatically stop the car if a potential front collision is detected. There's also a heads-up display that places important information such as vehicle speed, navigation prompts and safety alerts directly in front of the driver to help limit the time eyes are taken off the road.
The Mazda Connect infotainment system is easy and intuitive to use with the center console controls and the 7-inch touchscreen. The Bose audio system sounds quite good, navigation gives clear instructions while directing me to my destinations and Bluetooth system pairing with my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone takes place without any hiccups.
Unfortunately, Mazda Connect doesn't offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support at this time. A Mazda representative said they are exploring the addition of both systems, but did not give any specifics on if and when they will arrive.
Piling in the optional $2,180 GT technology package also adds the aforementioned i-Eloop brake regeneration system, automatic high beam control, lane departure warning, active grille shutters, smart brake support that will stop the car from speeds above 10 mph in an event of a possible front impact and radar cruise control, which came in handy on my longer expressway trips.
The enthusiast choice
For me, the Mazda6 is a near ideal midsize sedan with its combination of great handling, good looks inside and out, and impressive fuel efficiency. As an enthusiast, I don't mind giving up a little ride comfort as long as it's not too over the top harsh to the point of being completely miserable to drive around in, and the Mazda6 is not that. But I don't represent the majority of the people shopping this segment who are simply looking for comfortable and practical Point A to Point B appliances.
At very least, if you're someone who even cracks a small smirk while taking a corner hard, do yourself a favor and take a Mazda6 for a test drive. You just may be pleasantly surprised, and decide to join the Mazda6 family that is growing ever so slowly each month. If you do, I'm sure you'll be there right with me in wondering why more people aren't buying them, too.