A common knock against the current crop of mid-sized sedans is that they all look the same. That’s something you wouldn’t say about the Mazda6.
Mid-sized sedans are focused on safety features and mainstream appeal. That means today’s family cars do well at protecting their occupants, while they can be exceedingly difficult to distinguish. From 10 feet away, I’m still mixing up the Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Legacy.
The Mazda6 has many of the current cutting-edge safety systems, but they’re wrapped in a sexy body. Mazda’s KODO design philosophy is reflected in the Mazda6’s new LED headlights, which the company says are a “bold and elegant” expression of the theme.
The shape of the headlights is mirrored in the tail lights. Both lend a serious and half-lidded look.
The fastback rear window is a common touch among its competitors…
…but the front end is something else, with sinewy curves that run up the front doors…
…and then resolve in a dramatic valley that contours the fenders and hood. Overall, the Mazda6 seems low and lean, and it has real presence.
Model year 2016 also brings two new colors, including the test car’s Titanium Flash Mica, which was first seen on the Mazda3. This shade dulled out in darker conditions but sparkled brightly in the sun.
Mazda has a little more freedom with its mid-sized sedan, because it’s not chasing the absolute top sales position – Mazda6 volume in the first three months of 2015 amounted to about a quarter of the best-selling Accord‘s. So it gives Mazda room to carve out a distinctive niche within the market, and the Mazda6’s bold look is proving to be a winner, with sales up 28% over the same three-month period in 2014.
Predictably, Mazda6 prices are right in line with its competitors; that’s one area where mid-sized sedans need to be on-point. Three trim levels – Sport, Touring and Grand Touring – range from $21,495 to $30,195, with an attendant increase in features. Manual transmissions are available in the Sport and Touring – the automatic adds $1,500 to the price of each – but the Grand Touring is automatic-only.
The test car was a Grand Touring with the $2,180 GT Technology Package, which includes Radar Cruise Control, the sensor for which is mounted behind and to the right of the grille logo. It also includes Active Grille Shutters to tailor the airflow for more efficient aerodynamics.
The strong shiny surround for the grille – Mazda calls it a “signature wing” – is not available on the Sport. It’s optional on the Touring and is standard on the Grand Touring. See the difference?
The GT Technology Package also includes Mazda’s i-ELOOP system, which uses regenerative braking to store electricity. That electricity is then used to power the car’s electrical accessories, which reduces the engine’s load.
All Mazda6s come with the same four-cylinder engine. It displaces 2.5 liters and produces 184 horsepower. Not offering a V6 keeps weight down – compare the 3,250-pound curb weight Mazda claims for the test car with the 3,559-pound rating Honda quotes for its Accord V6. Of course, the Mazda‘s four is no match for the V6’s 278-hp output. The Mazda carries about 18 pounds per underhood horse, while the Accord V6 drives that number down to 13.
So you don’t get the commanding acceleration of a V6, but with about the same power rating as the Accord’s four-cylinder and about 100 fewer pounds to carry, the Mazda6 has the advantage in a more direct comparison. The Mazda’s four sounds willing and feels perky enough, as long as you don’t drive a six-cylinder right before.
The six-speed SKYACTIV-Drive automatic transmission responds well, especially when Sport mode is specified, as it lets the revs climb higher to milk out more power.
A word about SKYACTIV, which is the overriding philosophy of efficiency that informs many parts of the car’s design: the fact that the Mazda6 can claim a 100-pound advantage over a comparable Accord is impressive, and its lightness of being helps the Mazda6 handle with a flick instead of something more planned and deliberate.
It’s great when the car is underway, but it’s also felt with the reverberating slap of the thin-skinned door when you close it after disembarking. There’s an opportunity cost for everything, and although we winced the first time we heard that slap, the Mazda6’s nimbleness seemed like a reasonable exchange for the slight tinniness we perceived.
Inside, the tested Mazda6 had the lovely Parchment Leather surfaces, which did much to jazz up the surroundings. Seats were broad and supportive.
Particularly impressive were the soft touch points on the doors and console, though we’d probably search for a protective treatment to keep these surfaces in their bright-white original state as the commuting miles piled up, with their accompanying spills of coffee and breakfast burritos.
The instrument panel echoed the Parchment theme…
…and the felt-lined coin bin was most welcome.
Hewing to the theme of understated elegance was the typeface on the instruments, which reinforced the sense of quiet refinement.
Unlike most competitors, which ask you to stab your finger at a screen to specify your selections, all Mazda6s come standard with a Multi-Function Commander Control, which falls effortless to hand and allows you to dial in your preferences without having to aim at a screen. It’s a luxury-car touch that all cars should have, and it’s always nice to drive a Mazda equipped as such.
The rear seat feels a bit low to the floor but has measurements that about match those of the Accord’s. Trunk room is 0.8 cubic feet off the Accord’s 15.5-cu.-ft. rating.
Overall, the Mazda6 is a satisfying package. The fact that it can’t run with the V6s is balanced by its stellar fuel economy – an i-ELOOP-equipped Mazda6 posts 40 mpg EPA highway, as opposed to a similar Accord’s 36 mpg. And it looks damn good as it sips that gas. Not surprisingly the Mazda6’s set of assets is one that an increasing number of buyers are finding appealing.
Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the Mazda6’s combo of styling and efficiency?
2016 Mazda6 i Grand Touring
Base Price: $30,195
Price As Tested: $33,395
Technology Package: $2,180
Mazda Radar Cruise Control
I-ELOOP Regenerative Engine Braking System
Smart Brake Support
High Beam Control
Lane Departure Warning System
Active Grille Shutters
Door Sill Trim Plates: $125
Cargo Mat: $75