The 2015 Mazda6 is a prime example of why America's roads are in such bad shape.
Back when the roads were in better shape, if a family needed a practical car for day-to-day driving and occasional long trips, they usually bought a fairly large and heavy midsize car, powered by a V8 engine that got lousy mileage or a V6 engine that was only a little better.
But the Mazda6 fills that role and averages around 30 miles per gallon. Because Congress hasn't raised the federal gas tax in decades, that means less money for road construction and repair. But its a blessing for consumers, so who can blame them?
A number of midsize cars get even better mileage than the Mazda6, including hybrids and some with advanced technologies, like turbocharging small engines. But the Mazda6 is perhaps the best example of how many miles per gallon can be squeezed out of a conventional gasoline engine there days. The entire car is built with what Mazda calls SkyActiv technology, which means engineering each component to maximize mileage, including the engine, transmissions, and chassis.
But that doesn't mean the Mazda6 skimps on anything. To the contrary, everything about it is admirable, beginning with the styling. It is, in a word, stunning. The sleek and sexy lines look like they belong on a high-priced Jaguar, not an affordable family car.
In contrast, the interior is refined and subtle. The dash is a model of understatement, refreshing free of the clutter of buttons that mar many interiors. Most display screen functions can be controlled by an easy to use console mounted dial, similar to those found on more expensive cars.
Our test Grand Touring model came with a tasteful leather interior that increase the upscale feel. The heated front bucket seats were deeply contoured and supportive, while the leather-wrapped steering wheel was just the right size. Rear seat legroom was impressive, making even lengthy trips with three children a reasonable possibility, although two would obviously be better.
On the road, the Mazda6 drives with a verve that belies its fuel economy figure. The 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine the only engine available was surprisingly powerful. It delivered quick acceleration with the six-speed automatic transmission, while still being EPA rated at 26 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 30 mpg. The numbers are only one gallon less for cars equipped with six-speed manual transmissions.
And on optional i-ELOOP feature available on the Grand Touring version raises the mileage to an impressive 28/40/32. It stand for "Intelligent Energy Loop" and transfers otherwise wasted energy from decelerating and braking into a capacitor, which helps power such electrical components as the headlights and the audio and climate systems.
The suspension and steering lives up to Mazda's Zoom-Zoom standards, giving the Mazda6 a much sportier feel than most other midsize cars. Using the automatic transmission's manual shift mode ups the ante, although mileage might suffer with extended use because it encourages more aggressive driving. Most drivers will undoubtedly be satisfied letting the transmission shift itself, however, because it is very responsive.
The Mazda 6 comes in three trim levels, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Although Sport is the entry level, it comes with a long list of standard equipment. Standard features increase on the Touring and Grand Touring version, which includes heated leather-trimmed seats, leather wheel, dual zone climate control with rear vent controls, a Bose 11-speaker sound system and 5.8-inch touch screen.
And the Grand Touring version can he enhanced even more with the optional fuel-saving i-ELOOP system that comes packaged with such safety features such as forward obstruction warning and lane departure warning systems. They helped the 2014 Mazda6 be designated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Maximizing the options increases the price of the Mazda6 from around $22,000 to over $33,000, counting the $2,000-plus Technology Package. That is not at all unreasonable these days for a fully-loaded midsize car. And considering how much fun and economical the Mazda6 is, even the highest priced version is a good deal.
Facts and figures
Model tested: 2015 Mazda6.
Class: Midsize sedan.
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.
Style: Four door car.
Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 (184 hp, 185 lbs-ft).
Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic.
EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 25/37/29 (Manual); 26/38/30 (Auto); 28/40/32 (i-ELOOP).
Price: Beginning at approximately $22,000 ($33,345 as tested).