I like cheap thrills, partly because I don’t have the money to spend on items that have a significant cost to go with them. I am how they say, “ballin’ on a budget.” I’d love exotic sports cars and the like, but a midsize sedan is more fitting for my lifestyle, as well as being much easier on my bank account. When many people think of volume midsize sedans, style, fun factor, involvement aren’t really on the top of their lists, largely due to what the midsize category has become. It is a segment made for the masses who want something that is spacious, safe, and can get them from Point A to Point B. It is funny how they have been mutually exclusive categories…until now. You can thank that little company from Hiroshima, Japan who used to make bottle corks ages ago, Mazda.
The gist of it is what Mazda has been known for ages now; light weight, fun, and frugal.
Lately, Mazda has been on a tear of sorts. Ever since they were left to fend for themselves by their former savior, Ford, they learned to stand on their own two feet and produce some really neat products. Mazda’s head honchos kicked it into gear (horrible joke, I know) and rolled out with their all-new SKYACTIV philosophy. The gist of it is what Mazda has been known for ages now; light weight, fun, and frugal. Their first product to debut the all-new KODO design language and SKYACTIV suite of technology was the CX-5 crossover.
Carrying much of the styling elements over from the gorgeous SHINARI design concept, the new Mazda6 is certainly a head turner. The sweeping curves, the fluid profile, and the large wheels do wonders for the car. In my opinion, the 19” alloy wheels fitted on our Mazda6 i Touring tester are the best looking wheels in the segment. Gone is the creepy smile that graced the mug of the last generation of Mazdas (thank God). In its place is a very clean chiseled front fascia, with a more serious look. The tail end softens up the rear end, but still retains the car’s overall athletic look. The bright work is limited to a strip on the trunk lid that connects both tail lights, the window trim, and the lower rim of the grille, which flows into the headlight assembly.
The cabin layout is more reminiscent of a newer Audi mixed with BMW than anything Japanese.
The interior gets a bit more simpler, while adding a dash of European flair. First impressions of the cabin layout is more reminiscent of a newer Audi mixed with BMW than anything Japanese. Given my affinity towards the most recent Audis, I found this to my liking. The cabin is very spacious, thanks to the long wheelbase, and is quite comfortable. The leatherette trim in our tester does its best imitation of the real deal on the seats, which provide plenty of lateral support without feeling overly tight. They have ample cushion, but you don’t sink into the seat either. With the driver’s seat adjusted, I found that like most Mazdas, the driving position is just fantastic. Your right hand falls perfectly on the shifter, the pedals are ideally spaced, beckoning you to heel-toe, and the not so meaty wheel just feels right in your grip. You have soft touch materials of padded leather on the top of the dash and doors, with smooth plastics or textured plastics on almost everything else.
The gauge cluster is simplified, with the speedometer in the middle, separating the tachometer on the left and an informational display on the right. The display shows the typical information that you expect to see, such as the average fuel economy, trip meters, odometer, outside temperature, and fuel gauges. Instead of an engine temperature gauge, Mazda uses a symbol that illuminates in blue when the car is cold, which eventually goes out when the engine heats up. I can’t say I am all too crazy about it but considering how no one really knows what ancillary gauges are anymore, I can see why. The center console is tiered with your infotainment touch screen on top, HVAC vents in the middle and the actual HVAC controls on the bottom. The system is very easy to use and the dials are hard to screw up. With your hand on the shifter, it is very easy to change the settings and commit the controls to muscle memory. Aft of the shifter is a control knob that mimics BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI controllers (more on this later). The Mazda6 i Touring model comes with a 6-way power driver’s seat, with manual control for the passenger’s. The steering wheel has the ability to tilt and telescope, allowing you to find the optimal distance from the steering wheel.
The rear of the cabin is spacious, and with the driver’s seat set to my liking, there was ample space for me to sit comfortably, with a slight slouch with my knees barely touching the front seat. The ample 38.7 inch rear legroom could be the reason why. The rear bench seats are as cushioned as the fronts, and the low hip bolsters provide easy ingress/egress for rear seat occupants. The rear seats are 60/40 split, and will fold forward to allow for more cargo space, should you ever require more than the 14.8 cubic feet that the trunk provides. Mazda says the cabin has a volume of 99.7 cubic feet, and it sure feels it.
With the driver’s seat adjusted, I found that like most Mazdas, the driving position is just fantastic.
As comfortable and as large as the interior is, the car doesn’t drive like a large car by any means.
As comfortable and as large as the interior is, the car doesn’t drive like a large car by any means. When you first get in the driver’s seat, you can feel that it is a very spacious car, but once you start to drive, it just feels as if it compresses around you. It feels light, and with a curb weight of around 3,183 lbs with the manual gearbox, it certainly is. The steering is very communicative and light for its class. The clutch is easy to modulate, and like the steering, feels light to the touch. The shifter feels adequate to my tastes (cable link shifters aren’t that fantastic for feel in my opinion) and the gates are evenly spaced, with the throws being easy and accurate. There is virtually no play in the shifter when in gear, and the shift knob itself looks like it was pulled out of the S5 I reviewed earlier this year. The SKYACTIV 4-cylinder, rated at 184 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. at 3250 rpm, provides ample power to move the Mazda. The direct injected 2.5-liter with a lofty 13.0:1 compression ratio, surprisingly, only requires regular fuel. The 16.4 gallon tank, along with an EPA estimated 37 mpg highway (25 mpg city) when equipped with the manual transmission, gives you plenty of fun for the range.
Ok, so you know how I was alluding that this car is fun? Well, it is probably the most fun I’ve had in a volume midsize sedan in a long time. The front end bite is more than what I expected it to have, and the car loves to take corners. There is a little bit of a body roll, but not so much that you feel uncomfortable. On some of my favorite switchbacks in Litchfield County, the Mazda6 devours curves and begs for more, just like its little (older?) brother, the Miata. The rear will rotate with your inputs, but the car will understeer if you push it too much. The limits are low (it is a family sedan), but when you do reach them, it isn’t overwhelming and scary by any means. The gas pedal is hinged at the floor (think BMW) and the ease of heel toe shifting makes the driving experience even more fun. Downshifting from 6th on down is simple, and requires the same amount of blip from your heel, but 2nd gear requires more which feels a little odd (if you care about such things). First and second gears are rather short to provide acceleration, and the remaining gears are rather tall for fuel economy. The brake pedal is linear and not overly sensitive. Stopping the car are discs at all four corners, sitting behind those pretty 19” wheels, with 11.7” diameter discs up front and 10.9” discs out back. ABS and traction control are standard, and the latter can be turned off completely.
If you drive the car normally like most people and not a heathen like myself, you will find that it is very smooth and quiet. The engine provides a quiet hum when it is chugging along on the highway, or in town; however, it gets buzzy and a bit loud when you get on it above 4500 rpm. You don’t feel any vibrations or harshness, but merging onto a highway on ramp will provide you with a bit more noise. The exhaust is quiet, and the dual tips give it a sporty look, minus the sporty sound. Turn the car on, then step outside, and you will hear a cacophony of sounds emanating from the engine bay. Unfortunately, there aren’t many direct injected engines that sound appealing to the ear when they are at idle, due to the tick tick tick you keep hearing.
On some of my favorite switchbacks in Litchfield County, the Mazda6 devours curves and begs for more, just like its little (older?) brother, the Miata.
The cabin is quiet and isolated from the environment; however, depending on the surface, you may get a little road noise intruding into the cabin. The ride is smooth, despite the 19” wheels, and the suspension does a great job of isolating road imperfections from jarring the chassis. Mid-corner bumps do very little to upset the car, which makes driving the Mazda hard a rather easy task. Despite the swept sporty look, the blind spots are minimal, and visibility out of the sides and rear is rather good. To further assist you with your blind spot is the standard Blind Spot Monitoring System, which will notify you with a light on your side mirrors if a vehicle is your blind spot, and will chime if you are about to merge into the other motorist’s lane. The view out of the front windshield is impeccable. Quite a few cars have their A-pillars get in the way when you are turning left, but that is not the case with the Mazda. The pillars feel as if they are further back, allowing you to see more of the road.
Despite the swept sporty look, the blind spots are minimal, and visibility out of the sides and rear is rather good.
When I have the fortunate opportunity to review a test car for a week, I do my best to drive it like I would the cars in my household. My normal weekly driving includes a 60/40 mix of city and highway driving. When I mean city, I don’t mean New York City driving, but more of roads with speed limits of 25-35 mph, which are 9 out of 10 times much slower than what people typically do on those roads. I am able to get the cars into the highest gear and have seen great fuel economy from a lot of cars. I averaged 32 mpg by the end of my week with the car, and saw as much as 48 mpg on the instantaneous display, when cruising on Route 84 at 70 mph. As much as I like to drive hard and take corners at a brisk pace, I tend to drive with fluidity, which helps maintain respectable fuel economy while allowing me to have fun. If you drive anything like I do, I don’t think you will be disappointed with the car. If you are heavy on gas pedal and prefer more sudden acceleration, this car won’t fit your needs since it is not an incredibly fast car. For me, it had a good all-around package that left me quite pleased.
You can’t have the good without the bad so here it goes….While the 2.5-liter engine was adequate for the car, it just wasn’t enough to appeal to my tastes. Mazda no longer offers a 6-cylinder in the 6, which is rather unfortunate. So far Mazda has stated that it has no plans to put out a V-6 either. I hope they’re lying. The only engine that will have more power will be the upcoming 4-cylinder diesel, which should be available by the time this review comes out (assuming Mazda doesn’t postpone the debut), so stay tuned for a future review of that car. The infotainment system is as sophisticated as my Blackberry. The touch screen is small, the graphics are a few generations behind, and the system took too long for it to recognize my iPod and phone. When I plugged my iPod in the USB jack located in the center flow through console, the system took 10 minutes (yes, I timed it) for it to recognize my iPod. Every time I turned the car off and back on, it started to play from the beginning of my playlist every time, and it kept having to be set to shuffle for it to change the play list order.
The Bluetooth system would work sometimes, and other times it would just freeze my phone. I blame this on my phone, not the car. I don’t get the need to have a touch screen along with a control dial. I guess it is for convenience, but I’d much rather have a larger screen instead. The gauge cluster is illuminated in a dull white and the digital information display is reminiscent of the Timex digital watches. Combine that with the simple all-black interior, and it is a rather boring place to be. I have no problem with the layout of the interior, just the choice of trim colors and the overly simplified displays. I miss the red illuminated interiors of past Mazdas, and hope they bring the red and even purple/blue hues back. A big head scratcher was the lack of lighting for the door switches. The window and door lock buttons are not illuminated so if you are trying to find them at night, good luck. I had to use the illumination from the screen on my phone to find the controls. You don’t need a light in every button, but just a LED shining down on the button cluster would help a lot.
To me, the good outweighed the bad, even though some of the bad parts were just one of those, “what were they thinking?” moments. The overall price of the car which came to my door step at $24,710 included a lot of standard features: USB input with HD Radio, rearview camera (displays in the infotainment screen), 19” alloys, push-button start, hill launch assist, rear cross traffic alert, etc. etc. You get a lot for the money, plus more with all of its intangibles that can’t really have a price appropriated to them. This all-new Mazda6 is the cure for the common boring midsize sedan. The cure we have been waiting for. You should definitely give this car a look.
THE CAR FANATICS BLOG TAKE
Does everything a midsize sedan should do, and then some! The driver’s family sedan.Mazda got serious.