The life of a car guy isn’t always easy or as satisfying as one might think. Most of you know what I mean. You spend your free time reading, thinking about cars, taking care of your own car-just Something associated with cars. And if you keep this up long enough, your family, neighbors, and co-workers are bound to catch on to your curious affliction. You know what happens next-they are going to ask your opinion of what car they should buy. And in North America, every year hundreds of thousands of car guys are asked that same question, yet almost no one ever follows our advice. While I do not have concrete proof to back this up, something tells me that if these people were taking the advice of car guys, the Mazda6 would surely be selling in greater numbers than they do.
So, what’s going on here? Your neighbor Joe leans over the fence, and tells you he’s looking for a nice, mid-size family car, and what do you recommend?. You pause for a moment, think, and respond, as a car guy, recommend the Mazda6. And you roll off what you’ve read in the car magazines, that it is engaging, fun to drive, offers crisp handling and steering. Meanwhile, Joe’s eyes are glazing over, and he doesn’t hear a word you’re saying, because in reality Joe already made up his mind. He’s buying a Toyota Camry, he just wanted approval from the neighborhood car guy. Joe may as well have asked where he should go for Italian for dinner. You tell him about the small Italian restaurant downtown, where the chef makes the pasta fresh everyday, buys farm fresh produce, and then he goes to eat at Olive Garden.
Such has been the maddening problem with the Mazda6, held as one of the most respected mid-size cars available from the auto enthusiast community, yet one that is constantly overlooked by the general buying public. And Mazda has been struggling to find the right answer. While past 6’s have been praised for their handling and fun to drive capabilities, some critics blamed the 6 as being a size too small to go toe to toe with the Accord and Camry. In its 2009 redesign, the last generation 6 grew up in size, yet the sales figures just were not there. I even heard from a Mazda rep that sales of the last 6 never met what the company thought they could sell.
With the all-new Mazda6, you get the feeling Mazda took a step back and figured they couldn’t beat Honda and Toyota by imitation. Instead, they have gone the opposite direction-build on the virtues of the 6 and upon its reputation, and see what that brings. Mazda’s smaller role in the mid-size car business actually works to its benefit, in that style-wise, Mazda can take far more risks without the fear of offending long-time customers. And let’s face it, if Mazda buyers expect a fun to drive car, it should be exciting to look at as well. Even on our base model test car finished in a somber Meteor Gray, there is no way you can miss the deep-dish front spoiler, pronounced grill opening flanked with aggressive-looking headlights that taper back to flowing fender lines for a much softer, elegant look than the front end suggests. Taken as such, the Mazda6 may sound like a disjointed design, but in person, it all blends very well. Style is subjective, but in my opinion, the Mazda6 sits at the top of its class, alongside the Kia Optima and Ford Fusion.
Step inside the Mazda6 and its position as the driver’s car of mid-size sedans is confirmed. Slip into the bucket seat and it is immediately clear that Mazda understands that a driver’s car is all about creating an environment that is driver-centric. It sounds simple enough, but in some mid-size sedans you get the sense the driver is just a passenger with the seat with the steering wheel in front of him. Not here. All controls are clear, easy to use, and within short reach. The meaty, just-right sized steering is a pleasure to hold, and would be at home in any German sport sedan. The same can be said of the beautifully executed gauge cluster. Our base Mazda6 may have been low on frills, but provided a distraction-free driving environment. No, there are not four dozen cupholders, or stowage space for six smartphones, tablets and game consoles, but this isn’t a minivan. That said, the Mazda has a roomy cabin with plenty of room for the family.
Presently, the only engine available in the Mazda6 is a new 2.5L four cylinder, rated at 184hp. Our base model test car featured a delightful six-speed manual. A six-speed automatic is an option, but in higher trim levels the automatic is your only choice. Interestingly, in Canada the manual is available on all trim levels. The 6 has always been known as a car with decent pep, and the new car is no different. However, when it came to gas mileage, the 6 always fell short of the competition-a major no-no when fuel consumption ranks fairly high on most shopper’s list of priorities. Mazda has finally addressed the issue with its SkyActiv technology, and the proof is in the numbers. EPA fuel economy estimates are 25/37 MPG city and highway, respectively, which is an impressive figure. While the powerful but thirsty V-6 is no longer on the menu, Mazda plans to add a 2.2L turbo diesel to North America. Until now, Volkswagen has been the sole provider of diesel powered family cars here, and the addition of a diesel Mazda6 should be interesting.
In North America the Mazda6 is available only as a four door sedan, while foreign markets continue to offer the 6 as a wagon. Trim levels in the US start with the base Sport, Touring, and top-spec Grand Touring. Standard equipment on our Mazda6 Sport included 17″ alloys, dual exhaust, LED taillights, six-speaker audio with USB port, and remote keyless entry. In other words, a pretty basic car, but very attractively priced at $21,675USD, including delivery. Of course, features most purveyors of family cars desire like satellite radio, navigation, and other luxury goods are available on higher trim levels. Yet I took delight in the simplicity of our Mazda6, and marveled that such a well-composed, enjoyable car with this much usable space could be had at this price. Short on content, maybe, but at no time did I ever feel I was driving a cheap car. The high standard of quality and driving pleasure make the Mazda6 Sport an outrageous bargain.
And to all the car guys out there, I sympathize. You passionately tell your neighbor Joe this is the family sedan he wants, for all the reasons we’ve just shared. And without fail, he shows up the next day, proud of his new Toyota Camry. You politely decline his offer of dinner at Olive Garden, instead opting for the small Italian restaurant in town. And you take the long way home. The reality of the mid-size car war is the Accord/Camry/Altima is they constantly try to appeal to as many people as possible, yet live in terminal fear of offending anyone. The result are near perfect cars that offer practically nothing in terms of personality, or character, the very thing that draws us to cars. The new Mazda6 is a success because Mazda realized they weren’t going to build a Camry killer, but more importantly, is that they didn’t want to.