REVIEW: 2018 Mazda Mazda6 Signature – Redefining The Premium Midsize Sedan

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Mazda’s new 2018 Mazda6 brings a new level of luxury and refinement to the premium midsize sedan market.

What is it? 

While the automotive media has been sleeping at the wheel, Mazda has risen from its past as a mainstream brand to being a premium one. We could compare the Mazda6 Signature to its former peers, the Camry and the Accord, but it wouldn’t be fair to the car or our readers. The 2018 Mazda6 is a car that competes well with vehicles like the Audi A4 and Acura TLX.

Pricing and trims

The Mazda6 line is comprised of five trims. The base Sport trim starts at around $23K. The trims then increase in price at intervals of about $27K, $30K, and $33K before arriving at the Signature trim which is priced at $36,140. The bottom two trims have the four-cylinder engine found in many of Mazda’s vehicles rated at 187 hp. It is a fine base engine, but we strongly recommend that you try the new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine with dramatically more torque found in the top three trims. The difference in driving pleasure is significant.

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Our $36,140 Signature Mazda6 test vehicle was painted grey and had a mature look. The reason we opted for these images of the Soul Crystal Red is that you’d have to be crazy not to buy that color. It adds about $600 to the price of the vehicle, but if you skip it, you are going to rue that decision. See it in person and then make your own judgment.

Safety

When tested in 2017, the Mazda6 earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating, the highest possible tier. The Signature comes standard with all manner of active driving aids, all of which have sensitivity adjustments, and none of which we found annoying.

Performance

If you search for midsized premium cars based on price points and not actual driving results you may overlook the Mazda6 Signature. You won’t find it compared to the Acuras, Audis, and BMWs in car magazines written for enthusiasts because those publications opt to stick with tired old definitions of what premium is and of what segment a given brand falls into. We will put it simply. The Mazda6 Signature (or any of the top three trims) has as much performance capability as any premium midsized sedan should have. More than you can use in almost any situation, and more than most sports and muscle cars of a generation ago.

Mazda has long had a fantastic chassis and suspension in its Mazda6. It pretty much always wins any comparison it is in. One reason for that is the comparisons usually stick it in the mainstream affordable class of cars. It is more than that and should be being compared to cars costing dramatically more. A similarly-equipped Acura TLX with this level of capability will cost buyers about $5K more. An Audi A4 with this level of performance and luxury content will be priced at around $50K.

Mazda’s new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine drives like a European diesel. It has 310 lb-ft of torque at pretty much idle and never works hard. If you want to spin the tires simply turn off the traction control and stab roughly at the power pedal and the car will reduce the tread depth of your tires for you. Why you would want to, we have no idea, but the point is, cars that can easily burn rubber don’t need more engine. Mazda offers a manual transmission on the base trim, but we’d skip that and get the higher trims for many reasons. The automatic is smooth, has just 6 gears, and never is in the wrong gear when you want more speed in any real-world situation. There are both paddle shifters and a Sport mode. We tried both and they work as they should. However, with so much pull available, we didn’t find the need to use them in our spirited driving.

All this delicious torque comes at no apparent fuel cost penalty. The Mazda6 uses regular fuel and is rated at 26 MPG. Audi makes a vehicle with a smaller engine and more gears that has a higher Combined rating, but it has the exact same cost per year for fuel. This is because Audi rates its A4 using Premium fuel. The Mazda6 has a $500 per year fuel cost advantage over the less-torquey Acura TLX V6. Mazda’s Skyactiv approach isn’t just marketing baloney. The company has found a way to offer excellent fuel economy, more torque than competitors, and a driving experience that is top-notch. All this without premium fuel and without CVTs or gear-hunting transmissions.

Does the Mazda6’s 26 MPG Combined EPA rating reflect its real-world mileage? Not at all. To the contrary, we measure our fuel economy as 33 MPG at the pump in real-world summer driving, beating even the EPA Highway estimate.

Ride and handling

The Mazda6 Signature hits that special sweet spot where crisp steering, great handling, and a comfortable ride intersect. We could go on and on about how great this midsized sedan handles, but we have so much more to tell you!

Interior

Inside, Mazda is the definitive leader in its price class and more than competitive with Acura and Audi. The Nappa leather seats are both heated and cooled. You won’t find cooled seats in a European competitor anywhere near this price. Nor will you find a heated steering wheel like that in our Signature trim. Mazda has begun to use soft microfiber suede trim on the seats, doors, and dash. You will be blown away by the level of craftsmanship that is put into this interior. Even the plastics are amazing. The dash top you see in the image feels as good as it looks. Our tester had the Parchment (white) interior and it made the car so bright and so welcoming we have decided we are done with black and dark interiors. There is no going back now.

Cargo

The trunk of the Mazda6 is deep and under the cargo floor is a spare tire. Good luck finding that in a BMW 3 Series. The Audi A4 has a 13 cubic foot trunk. The Mazda6 has a 14.7 cubic foot trunk.

Infotainment and controls

Mazda’s remote interface is very similar to Audi’s. They both use a rotary knob and a volume knob on the console where your hand would normally rest. Though this writer personally prefers touchscreens, this is our favorite of the remote interface type infotainment systems. It takes a few days to adapt to, but it quickly becomes second nature. Our suggestion would be to not judge it negatively on a short test drive. We would rate the Bose audio as average for the premium class. Mazda is adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to 2018 models and plans to update those already sold to have this important technology.

The screen is large and easy to see, but most of what you will want to know is also shown on the state of the art head-up display. Including traffic signs and a handy speed warning you can set to 10 above the limit (or turn off). Mazda divorces the HVAC controls from the infotainment – exactly the way we like it.

Our Mazda6 also had adaptive LED headlights, a feature we love that is not normally found at this price point.

Ownership Experience

We are stepping out of line by calling the Mazda6 Signature a premium sedan, rather than a mainstream one. By comparing the car to Audi and Acura we are defying convention. So let us try to justify that with some discussion of the ownership experience. First off, initial quality. J.D. Power has just released its newest 2018 Initial Quality Study. Mazda’s score was 100 with lower being better. Acura’s was 99 and Audis was 105. Mazda was the most improved brand in the study for 2018.

But there is more evidence. We next looked at the owner-reported reliability scores at Consumer Reports for the 2017 Mazda6 (since the results are not yet in for the 2018s). It scored 5/5. To its credit, so too did the Audi A4. However, the Acura TLX scores a 2/5. These are owners’ reports, not editors’ opinions.  Clearly, there is independent evidence that Mazda’s quality is on par with Acura’s and Audi’s.

Next up, dealership loaner vehicles. A colleague who is primarily a medical writer, but also a guest auto writer for another publication, recently switched from BMW to Mazda. One big reason aside from quality and cost was that her two Boston area BMW dealers declined to provide her with a loaner car on two back to back unscheduled repair visits. By contrast, both of the Mazda dealers closest to her offer loaner cars to customers.

Overall

We find the new 2018 Mazda6 Signature to be a leader in the premium midsize sedan class. This high opinion isn’t really a surprise. As the glowing past Mazda6 reviews we have attached at the bottom of this story prove, the Mazda6 has been getting better and better for the past four years.

The Mazda6 Signature couples high levels of refinement and performance with great looks and amazing content for its price point. Those looking for a premium midsized sedan priced like a mainstream brand should start with the Mazda6 Signature.

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John Goreham

John Goreham