Cars

2016 Mazda6

BY MALCOLM GUNN

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Accolades and awards in the automobile business only go so far, it seems. Mazda has discovered this when it comes to the sharp-looking/driving Mazda6 mid-size sedan.

By all accounts, the much-decorated Mazda6 should be running with the pack leaders that include the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima, but that’s simply not the case. Each of these mid-sizers outpace Mazda’s offering, in some cases by a sales volume ratio of nearly eight to one. Even perennial back markers Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat have the drop on the Mazda6 by a wide margin.

But for buyers in the know, The Mazda6 is their secret weapon that deftly flies under the radar. And what they know is that the car’s exemplary styling, knockout fuel-economy numbers and a hard-to-earn “well-above-average” reliability rating from Consumer Reports magazine combine to make it virtually impossible to top.  Mazda6 fans remain satisfyingly smug that their choice for family sedan places them in an exclusive league of knowledgeable automotive enthusiasts.

Although most sedans on the market are blessed with good looks, Mazda’s “Kodo” design elements (visible on most of the automaker’s models) appear particularly fetching on the “6”. There are no tricks or gimmickry involved here, only a kind of understated yet fashionable presence that’s difficult not to admire. For the 2016 model year, the Mazda6’s appearance has been updated with a slightly bolder grille, new headlight pods with available LED running lights and taillights plus additional trim surrounding the fog lights.

Inside, the instrument panel and floor console have been reshaped and an electrically controlled parking brake has been added. There’s a new pop-up-style seven-inch touch-screen display that houses the latest Mazda Connect audio/communications system. It sits high up on the dash, beside the relocated stop/start button. And for passenger comfort, the Mazda6 has received additional sound deadening for a claimed 25 percent reduction in noise at highway speeds.

Left untouched is the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The powerplant’s higher-than-usual 13:1 compression ratio provides considerable torque (twisting force). Normally, this high a compression ratio would require premium fuel, but the specially designed components, including the pistons and fuel injection system, allow the engine to run on regular.

The 2.5 can be paired with a six-speed manual transmission that uses a Mazda MX5-Miata-inspired short-throw shifter. You can also select the optional six-speed automatic. Of all mid-size competitors, the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat are the only other sedans that make available a manual gearbox.

Standard with automatic-equipped models is Mazda’s Intelligent Energy Loop (i-ELOOP). The system’s compact capacitor is charged when the car decelerates, then feeds that power directly to the numerous electrical components. By taking some of the load off the charging system, the i-ELOOP is claimed to stretch the Mazda6’s fuel economy to as high as 28 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. Only the VW Passat’s turbo-diesel engine has better class numbers (30/44 mpg).

The base Mazda6 Sport with the manual transmission that sells for $22,300 (including destination charges) arrives with all the usual equipment that’s standard in this segment. Move up to the mid-grade Touring and you get dual-zone climate control, six-way power-controlled driver’s seat and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert (the latter lets you know if there’s a car or pedestrian approaching when you’re backing up).

The Grand Touring (automatic only) adds a power-sliding moonroof, leather-covered front seats (heated in front), power passenger seat, navigation system and 19-inch wheels (17-inchers are standard).

With so much going for the Mazda6, you have to wonder what has to be done to catch the eyes of prospective buyers. Meanwhile, give credit to that elite cadre of Mazda6 owners who can spot a good thing after driving it.

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