New & Used Mazda 6: In Depth
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The Mazda 6 is a mid-size sedan that offers a stylish design and above-average road manners, both of which have become part of the brand's calling card. With its 2014 redesign, the Mazda 6 also became one of the more efficient family sedans on the market.
The Mazda 6 is a rival for vehicles like the Nissan Altima, the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, as well as the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, and Volkswagen Passat.
MORE: Read our 2015 Mazda 6 review
We're now into the third generation of the Mazda 6, the first model of which was a follow-up to the Mazda 626, which came before Mazda's shift to single-number model names. The first-generation car hit the market in 2002 as a 2003 model and ran for five years. It was available as a standard sedan, a sedan-like five-door hatchback, and a five-door station wagon. It offered a choice between a 2.3-liter four-cylinder and a 3.0-liter V-6 engine, and could be paired with a five-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual. A Mazdaspeed version of the sedan was also available in 2006 and 2007, but did not return for 2008. The Mazdaspeed6 offered an interesting combination of a turbocharged four-cylinder, a manual transmission, and all-wheel drive.
A second-generation Mazda 6 arrived in the U.S. in 2008 as a 2009 model. Its design was specific to the U.S., a sort of Americanization to try and better capture mid-size buyers in this market. Engines got an upgrade in output and size; the four-cylinder grew to 2.5 liters while the V-6 expanded to 3.7. Mazda kept the four-door sedan but dropped the wagon and five-door hatch for this market. The Mazdaspeed also did not return.
Though it came in just the single sedan body style, this 2009–2013 Mazda 6 offered a full seven trim levels over its life span, ranging from economical family-sedan models to luxurious grand tourers. The entry-level Mazda 6 i SV offered a strong base feature set including a six-speed manual transmission, the 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and standard stability control and anti-lock brakes, but did without alloy wheels, keyless entry, or an advanced stereo system. The Mazda 6 i Sport added the option of a five-speed automatic transmission, keyless entry, cruise control, and steering-wheel audio controls among other features. The Mazda 6 i Touring had 17-inch alloy wheels, an eight-way power driver's seat, halogen fog lights, and an upgraded six-disc stereo system. Upgrading to the Mazda 6 i Touring Plus deleted the option of a manual transmission while adding a power moonroof, electroluminescent gauges, blind-spot monitoring, and an anti-theft system.
The Mazda 6 i Grand Touring was the highest-end model. It was fitted with the four-cylinder engine, sharing most of its features with the V-6-powered Mazda 6 s Grand Touring except for the six-cylinder car's 18-inch alloy wheels and six-speed automatic transmission. The Mazda6 s Touring Plus offered the same features as the Mazda 6 i Touring Plus, with the substitution of the V-6 engine and six-speed automatic.
From 2009 through 2013, the Mazda 6 changed very little, even though the competitive landscape changed dramatically with the introduction of a new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, as well in the last year, as new versions of the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion.
The new Mazda 6
The third-generation Mazda 6 arrived in early 2013 as a 2014 model, with production of the U.S. version shifted back to Japan instead of Michigan. The car is lighter and leaner, with great fuel economy courtesy of two gas engines from Mazda's SkyActiv family. A diesel has been promised since launch, but delays have kept it from us, and it still isn't available as of the end of the 2014 model year.
In design, the latest Mazda 6 follows the radical Takeri Concept introduced at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show. It's sleek, elegant, and noticeable, and in an early drive, we found the new Mazda 6 to be more refined than ever--with a driving feel that's athletic if not overly sharp and sporty. In the sharp-looking new 2014 model, a 184-hp, 2.5-liter gasoline SkyActiv four-cylinder engine is standard, along with the choice of either a new six-speed manual gearbox (a rarity among mid-size sedans) or a six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda's i-ELOOP system is also offered in the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model, using capacitors to rapidly store energy during braking or deceleration and make a further improvement in fuel efficiency.
Standard features have been boosted throughout the lineup, although we've found that the latest infotainment interface in the 6 is a little disappointing compared to others in the class. But there is plenty of standout active-safety technology in the Mazda 6, including Adaptive Front lighting, Rear Vehicle Monitoring, a Smart City Brake Support system, and a Lane Departure Warning System.
Mazda is giving the 6 an early refresh, which will come in the 2016 model year. The exterior appearance will be updated, as will the interior, and cabin materials will be improved. Mazda will also fit the latest version of its infotainment system, which includes an optional head-up display; the infotainment system was first used in the new Mazda 3 and is a marked improvement over the one in early versions of this 6.