Mazda sells its cars on the premise that they deliver more driving excitement than any other car in that respective category. That’s a big claim. From my experience so far, the MX-5 and CX-3 certainly deliver on that promise. They are both fun, stylish and distinctive enough to make any enthusiast look twice without ruining their budget. So when Mazda Canada invited me to take its sedan for a spin, I was eager to say yes.
The sad reality is that midsize sedans are taking a hard hit these days with the presence of the more practical crossovers. People aren’t really buying them anymore, and the segment is dominated by industry giants such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Chevy Malibu. If a carmaker plans on outselling those titans, it must offer something truly distinctive for consumers to even care.
Luckily, Mazda’s “six” sedans have always been somewhat of an entertaining underdog, and this carmaker from Hiroshima has had no problem capitalizing on this in the past. Let’s just say the 2017 Mazda 6 has big shoes to fill.
Is It Attractive?
You bet it is. Actually, out of all the available midsize sedans out there, and, to be fair, there are several good-looking offerings at the moment, think Chevy Malibu, Kia Optima, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion; this is by far the most stylish and appealing design in the segment. In fact, Mazda’s been on a roll lately with a truly inspiring and fluid design language, giving a spanking to even premium carmakers.
Introduced in 2014, and given a slight nip and tuck in 2016 during a refresh, Mazda’s sedan is a curvaceous and well-proportioned people hauler that heavily expresses Mazda’s Kodo design theme, which spans the entire lineup from the Mazda 3 all the way to the CX-9 crossover. That handsome look certainly helps give the car assurance and confidence in an overly competitive industry.With its trademark Mazda front grille, squinting “prancing cat” headlights, raked coupe-like profile and bulging front fenders whose lines take off at the tip of the headlights and fall down to the center of the front doors, this six looks athletic, modern, and distinctive. It’s one of the rare sedans that instantly makes me want to take it out for a drive, and shows no hint that Mazda nearly saw extinction at the end of the last recession.
I’d cruise in the Mazda 6 on a boulevard during a warm summer’s evening any day – it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Remembering The 626
While most kids of the nineties and early 2000’s were ricing up their Civics and Golfs, I was driving around in a 1998 Mazda 626, LX V6, with a manual transmission. Before owning that one, I had owned a 1993, four cylinder, 626 Cronos, again, with a stick.
So I know a thing or two about Mazda’s midsizer.
What I remember about my ’98, V6-powered Mazda sedan, is that it was a real sleeper. Not only did the combination of a five-speed manual with V6 power would give it Jetta VR6-beating acceleration, with the help of a bit of suspension and tire tuning, I could out-handle a Subaru WRX in the twisties. It was a lot of fun, and nothing could kill it reliability wise.But things are somewhat different for this iteration. For now, at least, no V6 option is available for the Mazda 6. The sole powertrain available is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter, Skyactiv, four cylinder. Mazda claims a power output of 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque which allows it to remain competitive against its four-cylinder competition. Mazda, along with Honda, is one of the only carmakers that will still sell you a midsize sedan with a stick. The Mazda 6 can be had with either a six-speed manual, or in the case of my tester, a 6-speed automatic.
0-100 km/h sprints are claimed at roughly 7.3 seconds, even with the automatic. Those are ironically the exact same numbers as my old V6-powered 626. The times have certainly changed.How does it all feel behind the wheel? It feels fine, but nothing hair-rising. To be fair, that engine does sound somewhat buzzy when put through its paces, but it loves to rev, and will eat up the tachometer all the way to its 6,500 rpm redline without a sweat. That engine is energetic and eager, and pulls respectable fuel numbers. I averaged about 8.5L/100 km. Alas, the lack of a larger engine, or even a turbo option, means a Chevy Malibu 2.0T or a Honda Accord V6 will eat it alive at a stoplight.The automatic box works well. It’s quick to react, shifts smoothly and thanks to a Sport mode and dash-mounted paddle shifters, downshifts come with a subtle blip, which, like the CX-3 I reviewed last year, helps add character to an otherwise anemic powertrain. But I strongly suggest opting for the stick.
Handles Really… Ok
The area where the Mazda 6 disappointed me the most, was in the way it handles. Don’t get me wrong, it will tackle on a corner supremely well, good enough for Mazda to call it a sports sedan. Believe the hype, the Mazda 6 is fun to drive.
But the Honda Accord feels nimbler and sharper. Oups.
Let me explain. To Mazda’s credit, the engineers have done a fantastic job of calibrating the suspension for compliance over the hard stuff, while still remaining stiff enough for when you need to hit that street corner harder than you should. The chassis is stiff, it takes in the hits, is well composed and the car will grip without ripping your face off. That’s all thanks to Mazda’s G-Vectoring control, which closely monitors the speed of the driver’s steering-wheel inputs, and tells the engine to ever-so-slightly reduce torque. It’s clever, but doesn’t exactly evoke anything special behind the wheel.Truth is, the car still feels too soft, especially for a car whose selling point is driver involvement. Ironically, next to the light-footed Accord and rock-solid Malibu, this Mazda feels like the most sedated player here.
Then, there’s the odd looseness of the steering while on-center. When asked to do so, the Mazda 6 will turn in hard, and steering response is quick to react, yes, but there’s an uncomfortable dead zone on-center, presumably put there to make the car feel less frantic in general. In that respect, it works, the six is beautifully comfortable and stable at highway speeds.My hypothesis is that Mazda tried real hard to make the car feel more refined and upscale. Great, I guess. I mean, it’s quiet, smooth, and except for a few chassis quibbles over the hard stuff, is formidably well composed. The problem is that we already have midsize sedans out there that do that, they’re called Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.
The Mazda 6 needs to feel totally different. It needs to excite your senses, make you feel young again behind the wheel. At least that’s how they market the thing. Sadly, it doesn’t do that.
Focus On The Looks
While the exterior of the Mazda 6 is definitely its strongest weapon, the interior simply walks all over the competition. This is what Mazda does best, and as far as cabins go in this price point, my god, this is good. My tester was the top-of-the-line GT model equipped with the Premium package, so of course, it came with a full battalion of Nappa leather and elegant bronze metallic finishing on doors, dashboard, and around the center console.
The steering wheel is a sporty, stubby, enjoyable to hang on to device. It also looks absolutely bitchin’. In front of the driver lies a set of very cool and sports-car-appropriate analog gauges, and Mazda’s infotainment interface, all controllable through a convenient little knob (why haven’t the others thought of that?), makes the system in a Lexus feel like it was developed by a three-year old by comparison. The Mazda 6’s cabin isn’t only stylish as hell, it also works.
The same applies for conventional family sedan duties. At the end of the day, the Mazda 6 does what it was meant to do like a champ. The rear bench is cavernous, with more than ample leg and head room. And the trunk just barely outclasses the Honda Accord’s at 419 liters of capacity. Well, damn.
Prices for a 2017 Mazda 6 begin at a rather decent $24,695 for a manually equipped GX model. The great thing here is that the manual gearbox can be had even in the top GT trim level, but without technology or premium packages added on.My completely loaded tester, which came with a very cool retractable heads-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, all the leather and fancy dashboard materials, as well as a solid-sounding Bose premium sound system, sells for $36, 795. That’s decent pricing considering what you get for your money.So the Mazda 6 isn’t the spirited, nimble and surprisingly quick sports sedan I remember growing up with. Yet, it still goes its own way by feeling different enough not to disappear into the shadows. I’d certainly buy one, even if it’s slow.
But Mazda, here’s the thing: don’t try to make this car more comfortable and upscale than it already is. Everyone’s doing that these days. Focus on keeping this car young, athletic and alive. Give it a bit more oomph under the hood. Stiffen up its handling. Make it feel nimbler, lighter. That’s your battle horse. Look at it this way: if consumers aren’t happy with that, they can always buy a boring Toyota Camry instead.
Review of the 2017 Mazda 6 by William Clavey
- Beautiful exterior design.
- Well appointed, spacious and functional interior.
- An overall great value.
- Lacks power, no larger engine option.
- Not as fun to drive as advertised.
- Awkward on-center steering feel.