The Mazda6 isn't long for this world, but it's been a perennial favorite of ours. Here's why.
The venerable sedan used to be the default choice for most new car buyers. Every company made some, and they were just about guaranteed to outsell anything other than pickup trucks. Times have certainly changed, however, and compact and midsize sedans are dropping like flies as automakers shift their focus to crossovers and SUVs. Mazda just confirmed the fashionable Mazda6 won't live to see 2022, and following a drive in the 2021 Carbon Edition, I can tell you this sedan's demise hurts more than most.
Arguably the best thing about the Mazda6 is how it drives. It's currently available with two engines: a 2.5-liter I4 with 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and the uplevel 2.5-liter turbo I4 found in my test car, with a healthy 250 hp and a borderline-silly 320 lb-ft. Both engines are paired with a somewhat archaic six-speed automatic transmission, driving the front wheels exclusively.
On the road, the six-speed auto is largely ignorable -- and I mean that as a compliment. The transmission shifts smoothly and imperceptibly, though with only six forward gears, fuel economy isn't exactly outstanding. The EPA rates the 2021 Mazda6 2.5T at 23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, but at least I'm able to match those estimates without issue.
As is the case with most Mazdas, the 6's goodness isn't about its power, it's how it feels on the road. The Mazda6 is fun to drive on a curvy road but also very comfortable and compliant even on terribly maintained Los Angeles streets. The steering is quick and perfectly weighted, and there's a sense of lightness to the chassis. If I have one criticism, it's that the engine's healthy torque often overwhelms the stock all-season tires, making unintentional chirps a fairly regular occurrence.
When the Mazda6 was refreshed for the 2018 model year, one key focus was to make the interior look and feel more luxurious and upscale. This was largely successful, as the 2021 Mazda6 uses some excellent materials and the overall cabin design is clean and modern. This sedan has arguably one of the most elegant and understated interiors to come out of Japan in a while. The high-quality leather and solid-feeling plastics go a long way toward accomplishing Mazda's goal. The tall gear lever and mostly analog instrument panel feel a little old compared with what's in more modern competitors, but they're perfectly functional and easy to use.
Mazda has always lagged behind rivals like Honda and Toyota when it comes to infotainment technology, and that's evident in the 6. The 8-inch touchscreen atop the dash is bright and easy to read. The standard Mazda Connect software is pretty antiquated, and Mazda's insistence on locking out the touchscreen while you're moving is super annoying, especially if you need to do something that can't be controlled with voice commands. Thankfully, the 6 has wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto integration, so maybe just rely on your smartphone's tech for infotainment duties.
When it comes to safety tech, the Mazda6 offers a suite of driver assistance systems on par with the rest of the class. Things like automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability are all standard on my loaded Carbon Edition tester. Are any of these features class-leading? No. But they're all things I'd expect to see at this price.
Where the Mazda6 continues to lead the midsize sedan class is in exterior design. Sleek and sophisticated, this is an incredibly pretty car, even when stacked up against fresh competition like the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia K5. But once you dig a little deeper, the Mazda6's old bones just can't keep it relevant against hot newcomers, even with its powerful turbo engine. The Honda Accord 2.0T is better than it's ever been, and the Hyundai Sonata N Line is freaking brilliant.
The 2021 Mazda6 Carbon Edition comes with all the bells and whistles, with no options apart from $500 parking sensors and $400 embedded navigation. My tester retails for $34,845, including Mazda's $995 destination fee, which isn't unreasonable but is still slightly more than the sporty Sonata N Line, which has a better drivetrain, newer tech and a more comprehensive warranty -- though the Mazda's looks are likely less polarizing.
Of course, even the less expensive trims have plenty of appeal. The base Mazda6 Sport trim with its nonturbocharged engine retails for just $25,470, including destination. The turbo engine becomes available on the Grand Touring model, which starts at $31,170. The top-tier Signature, with its wood and ultrasuede interior trim, will set you back $36,895. Basically, there's a Mazda6 for most budgets and the inherently great chassis is standard on all of them.
All told, the 6 continues to show off the things Mazda does best: great handling, nice interiors and stellar looks. The Mazda6 might not present as strong a case as it once did, but it's still a favorite among enthusiasts. I'll be very sad to see this driver-oriented sedan go.