In the race to see which car company can offer the most complicated technologies to boost mileage and performance, Mazda stands apart. While other manufacturers are offering everything from turbocharged, supercharged, turbocharged and supercharged, hybrid and all-electric vehicles, those from Mazda are remarkably simple. They are all powered by fuel-injected four cylinder engines. Only the largest vehicle — the new full size CX9 crossover — adds a turbocharger.
And yet all Mazdas are fun to drive and deliver respectable fuel economy, including the midsize Mazda6 family sedan, the subject of this test. That's because several years ago, the company committed to squeezing as much mileage possible out of the most standard technologies. It reengineered everything to reduce weight and increase efficiency. The result is a line of vehicles that can perform well with fuel saving engines.
But more than that, they feel lighter and more nimble than their competitors, reinforcing Mazda's reputation for building driver's cars, ranging from genuine sports cars like the Miata MX5 to economy hatchbacks like the Mazda3 and smaller crossovers like the CX3 and CX5. All seem to handle just a little bit better than similar vehicles on the market.
But the company didn't stop they. They also came up with a fluid corporate exterior style dubbed "KODO: Soul of Motion" that is genuinely beautiful. Every model benefits from the flowing lines and such trademark features as large wheel wells that convey a sense of restrained power. Downsizing the overly large corporate grill a few years ago was the finishing touch.
Everything comes together to make the Mazda6 one of the most delightful affordable family cars on the market, even though, on paper, it doesn't seem to offer as much as many competitors. The 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine revs freely and can be ordered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission a Sport mode and ways of shifting manually. Our fully loaded test model came with the automatic, which accelerated well in the Normal mode and felt even better in the Sport mode.
Though not a genuine sport sedan, our Mazda6 still encouraged spirited driving, thanks to the precise steering and supple suspension. Mazda also added its G-Vectoring Control system of computer-controlled braking of individual wheels in corners this year, improving handling. Optional engines in some other midsize sedans may be more powerful, but we had no trouble keeping up with traffic anywhere. And we still got about 25 miles per gallon, which is decent in real world conditions.
The interior of the Mazda6 was comfortable and felt large, thanks in part to the simple but refined layout of the dash and console that minimized intrusions into the front cabin. A console mounted control knob reduce the number of buttons and switches needed to operate the climate and infotainment systems. That helped create the refreshingly open feels, which was highlighted by leather and chrome trim in our rest model.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of available all-wheel-drive, which is handy in the Pacific Northwest and can be had on some competitive vehicles. But many of the virtues of the Mazda6 can be found in the company's crossovers, which can be ordered with AWD.
The Mazda6 comes in three trim levels — Sport, Touring and Grand Tour — to allow buyers to pick the one that's right for them. Even the base Sport version has a lot of standard features, however, and comes with high safety ratings and a good warranty.
With relatively low gas prices and interest rates, many consumers are overlooking midsize sedans for crossovers, even if they don't really need larger vehicles. But there are many good ones to chose from, with the Mazda6 being a smart choice that should be near the top of the list of anyone looking for a fun alternative with impressive styling and decent mileage.
Base price: $21,945
Price as tested: $34,695
Type: Midsize sedan
Engines: 2.5-liter 4 (184 hp, 185 lbs-ft)
Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic; 6-speed dual clutch automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 24/34 (manual) to 26/35 (auto)
Overall length: 191.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,150 pounds
Final assembly: Hofu, Japan