We spend a week in the refreshed midsize sedan from Mazda that handles as well as it looks.
Exterior and interior styling
Quick steering and agile handling
Infotainment control location
Road and wind noise
Ride on the firm side
2016 Mazda Mazda6 overview
If you don't enjoy driving a great handling 4-door with the looks to match, you can stop reading this right now. That's because Mazda's Mazda6, despite the fact that it's a midsize sedan, is, like every other Mazda, a driver's car. That means it eschews a plush, wallowing, pillow-like ride in favor of something a bit firmer in the quest for handling prowess.
The current generation Mazda6 is available in three trim levels. Not only is it, in our opinion, the best-looking midsize sedan, both inside and out, it's also one of the few remaining offerings in its class that can be had with a manual transmission.
So consider yourself forewarned that we very much have a bias towards this vehicle.
The third generation version that we have here was unveiled in North America at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show. It went on sale in January of 2013 as a 2014 model and is based on the same SKYACTIV platform that underpins both the CX-5 crossover and Mazda3 hatchback and sedan.
For the 2016 model year, Mazda freshened up the exterior a bit, while changes to the interior have been more extensive.
Outside, it proudly wears the latest interpretation of Mazda's "KODO-Soul of Motion" design language. As such, it also bears a strong resemblance to every other vehicle in the Mazda lineup that now ranges from the diminutive MX-5 Miata all the way up to the CX-9 crossover SUV.
The front fascia is highlighted by the requisite five-point grill that, on all but its upper half, is outlined by a wider chrome trim strip for 2016. The chrome traces the lower two-thirds of the updated floating bar grille until it meets and bisects the "eagle eyed" headlamps. The refreshed 2016 Grand Touring trim now comes with standard LED headlights as well as an LED lower headlight surround daytime running lights. The lower valance features a narrow lower air intake flanked by outboard fog light housings (trimmed in chrome on Grand Touring models) that sit above a pronounced lower air dam.
17 x 7-inch aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in P225/65R17 all-season tires are standard on Sport models, while both Touring and Grand Touring models like our tester come standard with 19 x 7-inch alloys (finished in dark chrome on the GT trim) wrapped with Dunlop SP Sport 5000 P225/45R19 ultra high performance all-season tires.
Inside, there's a new design to the dashboard, center stack and console.
The integrated dash touchscreen has been replaced by a free-standing one more in line with the rest of the Mazda lineup. This allowed Mazda to lower the overall height of the dashboard, giving the cabin a more open feel. The horizontal brushed chrome strip that extends from the instrument binnacle to the passenger door is narrower, while the space between it and the glove box door is now filled by a stitched, soft-trim panel.
The more open dashboard also allowed designers to create a flowing upper dash pad with a richer-looking, stitched, instrument binnacle hood (housing a head up display on GT models). Meanwhile, the center stack HVAC controls were simplified.
Eliminating the manual parking brake and replacing it with an electronic unit also allowed Mazda to, in effect, widen the center console. The console sides are now covered in a stitched, soft-touch, leatherette material, while a new, segmented, cup holder cover now retracts rearward.
All in all, the changes give the cabin even more of a luxury look and feel. Trust us when we say that if you lust after an Audi A6 for its interior, you could save yourself some serious cash without suffering any withdrawal pains by choosing the Mazda6.
The gauges are straightforward and easy to read featuring a prominent center speedometer flanked by a tach and multi-information center. The redundant buttons have been eliminated with the new touchscreen, but the console mounted control knob is nearly as easy to use and also does a good job of cutting down on driver distraction on the road. The large controller knob allows users to navigate through all the various touchscreen functions, while separate home, music, navigation, back and favorite buttons plus a separate knob for volume and power help simplify things (personally, we found the old system, with its additional redundant buttons, to be more intuitive, but that is, admittedly, very subjective).
Both front seats are nicely bolstered allowing for plenty of lateral support and there’s plenty hip, shoulder and legroom. The seats in back are also comfortable – even for a third adult in the center – with leg room that’s on par with most sedans in this class.
The driver's view out the front and sides is really good, although the side mirrors do take up some of the real estate. The view out the rear three-quarters and back isn't quite as good as the sloping roofline and high deck lid block some of those views. Thankfully a rear view camera is standard on all Mazda6's except for the manually-equipped base model.
Under the hood
The only engine available is an impressively efficient direct injection SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that generates 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,250 rpm. Both the block and the head are machined from aluminum and it features chain driven dual overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, variable intake valve timing and a 13.0 to 1 compression ratio (when most passenger vehicle engines check in at around a 10.0 to 1 ratio).
The engine can be mated to either a 6-speed manual (in Sport and Touring trim) or a 6-speed automatic (optional on the Sport and Touring, standard on the Grand Touring). The result, even with the conventional torque converter-equipped automatic, is an EPA estimated 26/38/31 city/highway/combined mpg. In some spirited city driving we observed an impressive 28.4 miles per gallon average.
Mazda's midsize sedan also sports a four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts plus a stabilizer bar up front and a multi-link setup with stabilizer bar in back.
On the road
Mazda is known for its driver-oriented vehicles and this is just as true for the Mazda6, as it's one of the best handling vehicles we've ever driven in the midsize segment. The suspension is firm, yet compliant and well damped. The steering is very direct with great feedback to the driver, while braking is also excellent with very short stops and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
At freeway speeds the Mazda6 feels extremely stable and is unaffected by crosswinds. Because of its sophisticated suspension and precise steering, you always know exactly where you are on the road. There’s also very little body lean during cornering and the 3 tracks straight and true down the road.
But all is not perfect, as even though Mazda has added more sound insulation for 2016, interior noise levels remain only average for a midsize sedan. Although this isn't an issue in around town driving, we noticed there's still a fair amount of wind, road and tire noise entering the cabin at freeway speeds.
Mazda offers the 2016 Mazda6 in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. All of them come standard with air conditioning, keyless entry with push button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, AM/FM/MP3/CD radio with Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio capability, auxiliary input jack and carpeted floor mats.
A rear view camera is standard in all but the manually-equipped Sport model.
The Touring trim adds advanced keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette-trimmed seats (6-way drivers with manual lumbar), multi-function commander control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
The optional Touring Technology Package ($1,675) features adaptive LED headlights and daytime running lights, Smart City Brake Support, auto on/off, headlights, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming inside and driver's side rearview mirror, heated exterior mirrors and heated front seats. The optional Moonroof Package ($1,325) also includes a Bose 11-speaker system and satellite radio.
Grand Touring models get leather-trimmed seats, navigation, LED headlights and daytime running lights, auto-dimming driver's mirror, heated front seats (driver's 8-way), moonroof, steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, Bose audio system, Smart City Brake Support and satellite radio.
The optional Grand Touring Technology Package ($2,180) comes with radar cruise control, Smart Brake Support with collision warning, i-ELOOP regenerative braking, lane departure warning, high beam control and active grille shutters.
2016 Mazda6 pricing
2016 Mazda Mazda6 pricing starts at $22,315 for a manually-equipped i Sport and can top out at over $35,000 for a fully-equipped and accessorized Grand Touring model. Our Soul Red Grand Touring model had a base price of $30,195. Adding $75 for a cargo mat, $300 for the paint job and $125 for brushed aluminum door sill trim plates brought the total, including an $835 delivery, processing and handling fee, to $31,530.
The Bottom Line
There isn’t much we don't like about the latest Mazda6. Some might find its ride a bit on the firm side while interior noise levels, especially at freeway speeds, are only average for vehicles in this segment. And, truth be told, we really prefer the redundant buttons found on the previous infotainment system.
The flip side, however, is that you'll have more fun driving a Mazda6 than any other sedan in the midsize segment. In addition to outstanding handling, you also receive excellent fuel economy as well as the handsomest interior and exterior this side of an Audi that will set you back close to 50 large.
The bottom line is that Mazda continues to up the ante in this segment. Buyers looking for a midsize sedan with exceptional handling, performance and fuel economy should put the latest Mazda6 at the top of their lists.