The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, that Mazda6 'I' (including base SV, Sport, and Touring) models get is not only the more economical choice but actually feels quite peppy with either the six-speed manual or five-speed automatic in this rather light-weight (for its size) front-driver. But once you drive the V-6 there might not be any going back; with 272 horsepower from 3.7 liters, it churns out the torque and makes the Mazda6 feel like a muscle car from a standing start. Gas mileage isn't great, but it's a hoot to drive.
In either version, the automatic transmission that accompanies either engine is paired well, with manual control plus rev-matched downshifts good for driving on curvy mountain highways. Brakes have a pleasing, no-slack feel as well.
Altogether, it delivers athletic handling and a surprisingly accommodating ride, but steering could be crisper and quicker and feels a little too isolated, especially on V-6 models.
The 2011 Mazda Mazda6 has specs that put it on level ground with most mid-sizers, yet it's more engaging to drive than most.