- Voluptuous exterior
- Sporty, confident driving feel
- Excellent fuel economy
- Lack of stronger V-6 or turbo engines
- Roofline limits backseat space
- Best gas mileage is shy of hybrid competition
The Mazda 6 is a near-knockout: its four-cylinder isn't blazingly quick, but the stunning shape and athletic driving experience add a lot of charm to the surprisingly frugal four-door.
In the context of Camrys and Accords and Fusions, the Mazda 6 has been a slow seller; but that doesn't make it less worthy of attention. It's been mostly overlooked, but Mazda hopes a quick refresh in the 2016 model year will help to turn that around.
The 2016 Mazda 6 is an evocative, sleek sedan with some of the best road manners in its class—and a good antidote to the boredom that usually accompanies affordable mid-size models.
The 6 is gorgeous in a way no other $25,000 family sedan manages, not even the exceedingly handsome Ford Fusion. Its muscular front fenders, arched roofline, and finely detailed rear end make it hard to find a bad angle on the car. This year, Mazda's only touched it up lightly, with a reshaped grille that shares the winged design also emerging on the CX-5 and CX-3 crossovers, framed by narrow headlamps with newly available LED trim and rear LED lighting. The grille is illuminated at the bottom by a strip of lighting on models equipped with the LED headlamps.
On the inside, the Mazda 6 has been less lissome, and plagued in particular with dark grainy plastics. That's changing this year: it's grown more tasteful with a resculpting that pays more attention to material quality, and caps the dash with a bright new display screen. It's attractive, with tastefully coordinated materials, just enough brightwork, and soft-touch materials in most places you're likely to touch.
The 6 has a meager powertrain lineup—on paper anyway. Mazda's 2.5-liter inline-4 is standard across the lineup, and it's a well-developed, new and modern engine. It's fitted with direct injection, variable valve control, and a very high 13:1 compression ratio (unleaded gas is just fine). By the numbers, it makes 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and it's rated for as much as 40 mpg on the highway when stop-start and a regenerative-energy system called i-eLoop is grafted on the drivetrain. All versions have front-wheel drive, and the engine is fitted to either a 6-speed manual, or a 6-speed automatic which gets driver-selectable modes for 2016.
Mazda has cut weight compared to the last 6 while strengthening the body. With a curb weight of just 3,200 pounds, the latest 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. With the automatic, you get crisp, very quick shifts and almost the feel of a dual-clutch unit. The new Sport mode cuts through the logy shift timing meant to improve gas mileage. 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. That said, this is a car that handles well and is eager to change direction, with the nimble feel of something a size smaller, though its ride can bump abruptly with a compact-car feel.
In terms of comfort and storage, the Mazda 6 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 Mazda 6 are excellent (and Mazda's revisited them for the new model year). Even if you're sitting in the base Sport seats, you'll find great lateral support. The rear bench seat lacks the head room that taller adults need, and it's positioned quite high up.
The Mazda 6 has enjoyed excellent crash-test ratings, earning a five-star overall rating from the federal government and IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status (albeit with an acceptable rating in the new small-overlap frontal test). In addition to all the usual airbags, stability control, and four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist, some Mazda 6 models are offered with blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts—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 and forward-collision warning, which detects vehicles ahead and sounds an alarm. Other noteworthy safety options include automatic braking at speeds between 4 and 19 mph, automatic high-beams, and adaptive lighting.
Nearly every feature and option you might expect to see available on a modest mid-size sedan is here, although there have been a few disappointing details in the past. One of them was the mock-iDrive "Commander Switch" and the TomTom navigation system, which together felt laggy and oddly coordinated; the system has been replaced by the latest Mazda Connect setup, seen already on the Mazda 3, and including a larger screen set in a restyled dash. It's quicker to respond, but still has the handicap of a kludgy control device coupled with mapping that's a tier below the best treatments (Audi leads with Google Earth imaging here). Other new tech features for 2016 include an electric parking brake that frees up space on the center console and smartphone connectivity, a part of Mazda Connect. A head-up display is now offered as well.
Standard features on the base Sport include air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless ignition, cruise control, 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 the Mazda Connect system, HD radio compatibility, the new Skyactiv-Drive Sport mode, and a rearview camera.
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, fog lamps, standard LED headlamps, steering-wheel paddle-shifters, satellite radio, a power moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps, and adaptive front lighting. We recommend the 11-speaker Bose premium system for its excellent sound.
The 6's inline-4 gasoline engine incorporates a suite of so-called SkyActiv technologies that include direct injection, variable valve control, and a very high 14:1 compression ratio. With the manual transmission, the 6 returns 25 mpg city, 37 highway, 29 combined, according to the EPA. With the automatic, it scores 26/38/31 mpg.