Family Car Comparison: 2010 Mazda 6 Vs. 2010 Nissan Altima

May 21, 2010

We here at Family Car Guide know that shoppers often compare vehicles with the same mission, and in the case of the 2010 Nissan Altima and the 2010 Mazda 6, both are family sedans that carry a sporting mission (the Altima also comes in coupe flavor, but for the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing on the sedan). Using the reviews provided by our parent site, The Car Connection, we'll break down the two vehicles and see who emerges victorious.

So forget about Camrys and Accords, let's see which sporty mid-size sedan takes the throne.

In one corner, we have the Mazda 6, which was redesigned for 2009. The 6 features two engines, a 2.5-liter, 170 horsepower four-cylinder, and a 3.7-liter V-6 that makes 272 horsepower.  Four-cylinder models are marked by the 'i' designation while "s" models have the V-6. A 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic are the transmission choices for the "i", while "s" versions are only available with a 6-speed automatic.

The Nissan, which gets some styling tweaks (both inside and out), is available with either a 2.5-liter four-banger that makes 175 horsepower or a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 270 horsepower. A hybrid model that uses a 2.5-liter four in concert with an electric motor makes 198 horsepower, but it's only available in nine states.

Those are the players. Read on for the winner.

2010 Mazda Mazda6

2010 Mazda Mazda6

2010 Mazda 6

The Basics:  Mid-size front-wheel-drive sedan offering inline-four and V-6 engines, front-wheel drive, and three transmissions: A 6-speed manual, a 5-speed automatic, and a 6-speed automatic.

Price:  $18,600

Fuel Economy: 17/29

Rating: 8.6 out of 10

Our editors liked the "peppy" four-cylinder and also heaped praise on the V-6 for being a "hoot" to drive. The 6 also gets high marks for being easy on the eyes, thanks to its "classy" styling.

Looks and performance aside, practicality matters as well, and this is another area in which the 6 doesn't disappoint. We liked the large interior and spacious trunk (16.6 cubic feet, largest in its class), not to mention the accommodating backseat.

Other positives? Generally good safety ratings from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS)--the exception being in the seat-based rear-impact test, in which the 6 scored marginal, meaning that chance for whiplash is higher-than-normal--and a high-end interior.

Like the rest of us, the 6 isn't perfect. We dinged it for the lack of a trunk release for the fold-down rear seat, and for the lack of a wireless cell phone link on less-expensive models.

The Bottom Line? Well, the 6 makes a good choice for buyers who want sportiness without sacrificing practicality.

2010 Nissan Altima

2010 Nissan Altima

2010 Nissan Altima

The Basics: Mid-size sedan, front-wheel-drive. Has four-cylinder and V-6 power. Standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, a continuously variable automatic (CVT) is available. Coupe and hybrid models available (hybrids only sold in select states).

Price: $19,900 (sedan), $22, 940 (coupe)

Fuel Economy: 18/33

Rating: 8.2 out of 10 

That brings us to the Nissan. Like the Mazda, it gets applause for its looks and strong V-6 power. It's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) also gets praise for being better than most such transmissions.

Steering and suspension bits get high marks for being sporty while still providing a good ride.

Another area in which the Altima shares praise with the Mazda is the interior--our editors like the look and feel of most materials, although some disappoint for being too plasticky. One other kvetch: A small rear-seat area.

Safety ratings are generally good, although in some categories the Altima falls a bit short of top marks. This puts it at a disadvantage against some of its competitors.

On the other hand, the Altima does offer some features that one might not expect at this price point, so that gives it a leg up over some other mid-sizers.

The Bottom Line? Like the 6, the Altima offers a sporty driving experience. But for those who value rear-seat space, there might be better choices--including the Mazda.

2010 Mazda Mazda6

2010 Mazda Mazda6

The Winner: 2010 Mazda 6

It was close, but the 6 scored slightly higher than the Altima, earning an 8.6 rating out of 10 while the Nissan checked in at 8.2

The reality is that it's hard to go wrong with either car if you have a sporting bent, and the final determination will come down to details such as safety, features, and interior room. Pick what's most important to you, and you'll have your winner, but for us it's the 2010 Mazda 6.

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