The best driving and most luxurious mid-size sedan period.
The Road Beat. Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
A shower thought I recently had: “Why don’t more people buy the Mazda 6?” It really had me stumped, like a game of smartphone sudoku with the difficulty set to ‘hard.’ I like Mazdas for the most part, but it’s hard to understand why these characterful machines are not more popular. For the past decade, they have set themselves apart from the anonymous Hondas and Toyotas by combining an almost English or Italian understated elegance to their designs with class-leading driving dynamics. Really, Mazda makes the best driving cars in each class of vehicle they make; they’re that good. The 6 sedan is no different.
Mazda’s 6 lives in a very crowded mid-size segment of family ‘normal’ sedans. You’ve got the Camry and Accord heavyweights, plus the hot new Sonata, which has even taken a page from Mazda’s own understated design book. Yet, those two Toyota and Honda rivals obliterate the near-perfect 6 in sales volume, but why?
Viewed from the front, it’s a marvelously beautiful thing, with the design language being a carbon copy of the CX-9 I recently drove, too. Park it overlooking Lago Garda or Como and it would look right at home. It’s all class; no need to be flashy and vulgar here. I like how the chrome trim around the grille is three-dimensional and there are lines that flow from the front all the way down the body. The shapely front wheel arch is particularly evocative. The rear, well, it’s the only aspect that disappoints. Not that it’s bad, but just a little boring and generic. The front and sides are so good that the rear just doesn’t quite live up to it. I also wish this example was in the absolutely radiant Soul Red paint Mazda offers instead of the more low-key Machine Grey.
The interior matches the outer coat, in that it’s all class, akin to a venetian palazzo. Look, blindfold someone like an Architectural Digest editor and even they would be impressed with the furnishing and high-quality adornments throughout. Think of Giorgio Armani wearing a classic and tailored cashmere double-breasted topcoat, only to take it off and reveal a similarly striking wool suit underneath; That’s how this car transitions from outside to inside.
The front seats are terrifically comfortable and with decent support, leagues better than the driver’s seat in the new Sonata I recently tried. Space in the front is abundant, creating an airy atmosphere with great visibility. The rear bench is similarly comfortable and spacious, with the high quality materials make it feel like you are being chauffeured about. On the road, it’s also quiet, adding to that luxurious nature.
"While most non-sports are numb either on purpose or oversight, the Mazda 6 feels resolutely alive."
The inside can be a party, but it’s once you turn a wheel that the real party mode is engaged. Though the gap has narrowed over recent years to competitors, the 6 remains the standout of the mid-size sedan field. The steering is tasteful and nuanced, and responds to the most delicate of inputs. While most non-sports are numb either on purpose or oversight, the Mazda 6 feels resolutely alive.
Handling is more neutral than a front-wheel drive sedan has any right to be. The nose is very direct and willing to change direction, with a most compliant rear end. Understeer can be found, but only when pushing beyond stupidity and testing the limits of the 225-width all-season tires. In a long, fast sweeping corner, there’s loads of adjustability from changing steering angle or lifting off or applying more throttle. It’s more like a BMW 3-series of decades prior than a family, normal sedan.
The suspension is well-tuned as well, with no heaving over bumps and never feels unsettled. Yet, despite this wonderful handling and body control, the ride is weirdly good. It doesn’t float like you’re of control - you get a feeling for what the car and road is doing beneath you, but it’s just plain comfortable.
Now, if there’s somewhere where this car hurts, it’s the power. While perfectly adequate for the normal life of driving, it could use an extra 50 horsepower, especially when a V6 Camry or quick Accord Sport pulls away from you in the world’s most unassuming drag race. It’s a 2.5 liter inline-four with a sky-high (SkyActiv in their marketing book) compression ratio plus a low-pressure turbo and some manifold trickery that leads to cooler temperatures in the combustion chamber. This adds up to an engine with better response than other turbocharged units and better efficiency. Power is 227 on regular gas (they say you’ll get 250 on premium), but with a staggering 310 pounds of torque, all from just 2,000 RPM. Pulling away from stops and accelerating onto freeways seem effortless, but when you really wring it out, there isn’t much more power to be found in the top-end. The eager low and mid-range, though, is where 99% of driving will be done, though.
Luckily, the engine is smooth for a four-banger, and doesn’t elicit any unwanted nor harsh noises. 0-60 is done in a respectable, but again not class-leading 6.7 seconds. 50-70 feels stronger with the meaty mid-range power that the 310 pounds of turbocharged torque dishes out, needing a brisk 3.5 seconds. Economy wise, to satisfy the marketing team, the SkyActiv engine is greatly frugal. In my freeway test, a level 70 MPH yielded 35 MPG, and my taxing work commute netted 27. This is good, but I did expect a little better. Perhaps the use of an older 6 speed automatic is to blame. Moving on to a 8 speed would allow a lower RPM on the freeway thus increasing MPG. The transmission does shift very well, though, being smooth and compliant. If you didn’t need the turbo engine’s extra oomph, the standard engine will touch 40 on the freeway.
Mazda’s 6 remains a benchmark for how to make a seemingly uninteresting car incredibly interesting, and brilliant. It has the looks of understated European grace, the unexpected dynamics and an eagerness for corners taken from the best sport sedans of ages past, and punches well above its weight in luxury. Parked next to a Camry, it renders the Toyota an amateur and vulgar attempt - and that’s coming from someone who likes the current Camry!
The Mazda 6, for a ‘normal,’ reasonable sedan, is the best of the bunch. And that’s even more remarkable considering this generation 6 is over 6 years old now, and still able to deftly fend off newly redesigned competitors. The 6 comes highly recommended.
2020 Mazda 6 Signature
As-Tested Price $36,620
Road Beat Rating 4.5/5
Pros: Fantastic luxury, style, and a joy to drive
Cons: Not much. Really, I’m struggling
Verdict: The best mid-size sedan period.
Full image gallery below. Double click to full screen the images.