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The 2015 Mazda6 is different. It stands as a light-and-lean counterpoint to the current crop of mid-size sedans, and it offers the impressive space, comfort, and usability to match or even surpass many of its rivals—yet all with a driving experience that feels uncompromised.
Mazda has a knack for pulling off engineering that's so smart, in its cars, that they can be transcendent from the driver's seat. You need only drive a Mazda 3 from the past few years—or any year MX-5 Miata—to understand what it meant with its 'zoom-zoom' tag line. Considering all the challenges around ever-higher fuel economy numbers, ever-tightening safety concerns, and the pressure bolster comfort and feature sets, it feels like the automaker really played its 'A game' with the all-new Mazda6 introduced this past year.
But it's not completely out of the blue. The outgoing 6 was an often-overlooked model that we've consistently rated one of the most enjoyable to drive models in its class. Why didn't it sell well? We're still not sure; but the 2015 Mazda 6 looks charming, almost sexy, and it's one of the best-driving mid-size sedans on the market.
With a refined, masculine face and rippled, muscular-looking front fender lines, an arched roofline, and smooth but finely detailed tail and rear lights, the Mazda 6 is just gorgeous. It's hard to find a bad angle on this car, and the proportions are the best they get in this class. But on the inside, it's a little farther from ideal; it isn't going to seduce you inside, although it's near and attractive, with tastefully coordinated materials, just enough brightwork, and soft-touch materials in most places you're likely to touch.
The 2015 Mazda 6 has what sounds like a relatively meager powertrain lineup; although making the most out of light and lean is a Mazda specialty. And the 2.5-liter 'SkyActiv' in-line four-cylinder engine that's standard across the lineup is actually a new and modern engine, fitted with direct injection, variable valve control, and a very high 13:1 compression ratio (unleaded gas is just fine)—altogether making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and good for up to 38 mpg on the highway. All versions have front-wheel drive, and the engine is fitted to either a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic.
Mazda has cut lots of weight while strengthening the body, and with a curb weight of just 3,200 pounds the 6 feels friskier than the output numbers suggest. You'll need to rev the engine to get the most pep, although both of the transmissions are willing partners. For the automatic, you get crisp, very quick shifts and almost the feel of a dual-clutch unit; and the manual (our favorite) has short throws and clean, precise action. Steering is quick and well-weighted, although a little detached as many electric-boost systems are, although this is a car that handles well and is eager to change direction, with the nimble feel of a car that's a size smaller.
And while the Mazda 6 doesn't quite live up to the high ground set by the Nissan Altima or Honda Accord in terms of cabin materials, it offers impressive interior space, with a roomy trunk and flip-forward rear seats that help provide a little more versatility than you might expect. The seats in the Mazda6 are the exception. They're excellent, and even if you go for the base Sport model you'll find great lateral support. The rear bench seat lacks the headroom that taller adults need, and it's positioned quite high up.
The 2015 Mazda 6 has strong safety ratings, with a five-star overall rating from the federal government and IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status—although this sedan earns 'acceptable' in the tougher small overlap frontal test. In addition to all the usual airbags, plus stability control, and four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist, some Mazda6 models are offered with Blind Sport Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert—a system that helps spot cross traffic as you're backing out of a parking space, or warn of an adjacent vehicle when changing lanes. There's also Lane Departure Warning, and Forward Obstruction Warning, which detects vehicles ahead and sounds a warning. Other noteworthy safety options include Smart City Brake Support (helping prevent collisions due to inattention, at speeds between 4 and 19 mph), High Beam Control, and Adaptive Front Lighting.
Nearly every feature and option you might expect to see available on a modest mid-size sedan is here, although there are a few disappointing details. One of them is the mock-iDrive 'Commander Switch' and the TomTom navigation system, which together are laggy and oddly coordinated (they work better in the Mazda 3, oddly).
Standard features on the base Sport include air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, push-button start, a USB audio input, and 17-inch alloy wheels (there are no steel wheels in the lineup). Get the automatic-transmission Sport and you add Bluetooth, HD Radio compatibility, and a rear-view camera system, with a 5.8-inch color touch screen.
Touring models get dual-zone climate control, a power driver's seat, blind-spot monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, rear-seat vents, leatherette seats, 19-inch alloy wheels, and the Commander Switch. And at the top of the lineup, Grand Touring models add leather upholstery, heated front seats, a memory driver's seat and power passenger seat, a fog lamps, steering-wheel paddle-shifters, satellite radio, a power moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps, LED running lamps, and adaptive front lighting. And we do recommend the 11-speaker Bose premium system for its excellent sound.