Skip to content

Stylish, sensible sedan scores high

HERE are your talking points: Jinba Ittai, Skyactiv, Zoom-zoom. Know what any of those taglines mean? You would if you've read a review of any Mazda product over the past few years.

HERE are your talking points: Jinba Ittai, Skyactiv, Zoom-zoom.

Know what any of those taglines mean? You would if you've read a review of any Mazda product over the past few years. The first is a Japanese phrase relating to the melding of horse and rider moving as one being. The second is Mazda's catchphrase for their efficient-yet-sporty engines and chassis. The last is pretty self-explanatory.

Thing is, do you really care about all this marketing foofaraw? I know I don't.

Cars are either good, bad or indifferent. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet; a cowpat with a fancy tagline is still as squelchy and feculent.

When it comes to Mazda mid-sizers, the track record has been a bit hit and miss. I have fond memories of a boxy old 626 that racked up the miles and could haul ridiculous amounts of cargo. Then there was the 626 Cronos that might have been styled by the folks behind Lever 2000.

The Mazda6 of the past was based on the European Ford Mondeo, and that's good, but it didn't exactly fly off the shelves. Strange, that, considering how well baby-brother Mazda3 does.

But here we are nearing the middle of the second decade of the second millennium, and Mazda is both unfettered by partnership with Ford and without their R&D money.

This new '6 is more important than ever: if the plucky Japanese purveyor of driving pleasure is to succeed, their bread-and-butter mid-sizer better appeal to the masses.

Thinking of buying an MX-5 in five years time? The success of this car will determine whether or not you'll be able to do so. Not to worry, though, because I've got good news. . . .

Design

Right off the bat, this theoretically medium-strength family-hauler has the kind of curb appeal to make luxury marques envious. In fact, cruising around West Vancouver, I can't help but feel a certain smugness - nice LEDs, Mr. Audi, I hear you can get those on the new Sentra too.

The '6 isn't a gussified three-box wearing too much cosmetic jewelry: it's an all-new effort that Mazda dubs "Kodo - Soul of Motion." That's more marketing hooey, but the end result is that the '6 stands out.

With swelling front arches, a long hood and a bluff, trapezoidal nose, there's an inherent rightness to the new '6's proportions. There's only so much you can do with a four-door sedan, and Mazda hasn't over-egged the pudding as compared to a few other excessively bulging mid-sizers I could name.

Better yet, Mazda's new corporate grille puts an end to the goofy grins of the past - while the Mazda3 still smirks away like a lunatic, the '6 has a face that says "serious business." The front end does put me in mind of a robot dog, but in a good way.

Environment

If the exterior checks all the styling boxes, the interior is perhaps a tad too conservative for some. There's plenty of black in here, with very little in the way of high-tech gimcrackery.

To my mind, Mazda must think of themselves as the Japanese version of VW. Certainly, their sparse and spartan interiors are clean-cut and almost Teutonic in layout.

Here's the appeal: yes, there's no standard enormous capacitive touch-screens, split-level LCD displays, nor acres of buttons to adjust every nuance of the cabin; instead, you get something better. Instead of trying to impress you with flash, the Mazda actually works.

It pains me to think that we live in a world where I have to label the Mazda6's sensible knobs and simple three-gauge instrument cluster as "old-school," but there you go. I will say this, aside from the pseudo-iDrive controller just back of the shifter, everything is intuitive, and easy-to-use.

Quite frankly, it's a delight to jump in and drive a car without spending three hours reading the manual and watching YouTube instructional videos.

Performance

The long nose of the '6 isn't just a styling feature; the layout of the Skyactiv-G engine below necessitates the packaging considerations.

While it has a slightly silly name, it's worth taking a brief look at what Skyactiv means for Mazda. After splitting from Ford, Mazda found themselves with limited resources, but the engineering freedom to blaze their own trail.

Things could have gone badly: remember, these are the guys who chased the rotary engine, long after that engine technology proved itself too inefficient for commercial success. Luckily for you, me, and anyone behind the wheel of a modern Mazda, they got things right.

First off, the Skyactiv engine has a very high compression ratio, a racing-style 4-2-1 exhaust header and precisely metered fuel injectors.

These all combine to make a grunty engine that extracts the most from each gallon of gasoline and revs sweetly to redline.

Secondly, the Mazda6's chassis is stiffened and lightened, and despite being quite a large vehicle, is slightly smaller than the outgoing model. Crash test ratings are improved, but weight is down.

Thirdly, Mazda has also worked on their transmissions, giving the manual a more crisp feel, and improving the automatic no end. The auto is particularly good - while other manufacturers fiddle around with CVTs and dual-clutch gearboxes, Mazda's solid six-speed auto is a quick-shifting, well-programmed workhorse that puts the fancy stuff to shame.

Sew all these features together in a slipstream-shaped sedan and what do you get? A cure for the Monday-to-Friday commuting blues.

The '6's 2.5-litre four-cylinder has just enough power to be interesting, but like its MX-5 stablemate, the '6 makes the most of every single horsepower. The steering is sharp, body-roll is tightly controlled; this is a real driver's car.

Never mind Japan's VW, Mazda might well be Japan's Alfa-Romeo. Obviously, the Italian marque's questionable reliability isn't to be aped, but the joy in driving one? That's something Mazda has in spades.

In fact, chucking the '6 into a curving on-ramp and letting the fizzy four-pot spin up to redline as I straighten the wheel out and merge with fast-moving highway traffic, I can't help grinning.

As a family man, I can't make a Miata work. This car though? Turns out being a grown-up can be just as much fun.

Features

The Mazda6 line breaks into three trim levels: the nicely-equipped GS, higher-tech GX, and all-the-trimmings GT. Standard features on the base model ($24,495) include Bluetooth, 17-inch alloys, heated seats, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

Bumping up to the GS adds cosmetic features like fog lamps and a little nicer trim, convenience upgrades like an intelligent key, and safety improvements such as blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert.

This last is worth special mention. While I'm normally not a big proponent of extra beeping (why not simply pay more attention?), backing out of my driveway into a busy street is always a bit challenging. Even with the neighbour's full-size pickup obscuring my view, the Mazda faithfully reported oncoming cars with plenty of notice, making life a lot easier.

Official fuel economy ratings are set at 8.1/5.3 litres/100 kilometres for the manual, and 7.6/5.1 l/100 km for the automatic (city/hwy). Even though the Mazda6 encourages spirited driving more-so than pious hypermiling, it still returned excellent fuel economy over a week of heavy traffic use. In fact, I was a bit worried the gas gauge was broken, given that it barely moved.

Stop sign

Conservative interior; no V-6 power; wind-noise on the highway.

Green light

Sporty handling; excellent fuel economy; sharp styling; smooth and dynamic transmission; manual option even on highest trim.

The checkered flag

The full-size sedan every enthusiast driver has been asking for.

Competitor Honda Accord ($25,630)

This is the juggernaut the Mazda6 has to face down.

Not many people are going to cross-shop a sensible-but-dull Toyota Camry with a Mazda6, but the new Honda is quite fun to drive, at least if you pick the Sport model.

It's roomier than the Mazda, and has clever features like a passenger-side blind-spot camera. Excellent resale too, and should be bullet-proof, like most Hondas. Still, it's nowhere near as nice to look at as the '6, and the CVT transmission isn't as satisfying as Mazda's auto. Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. Contact him at mcaleeronwheels@gmail. com. Follow Brendan on Twitter: @ brendan_mcaleer.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks