Review: 2021 Mazda 6 Is the Best Driving Normal Sedan
Though it does have its caveats in the form of aging technology, the important part remains in that the Mazda 6 is the best driving entry mid-size sedan on sale today.
I've long been a fan of Mazdas, even the fun old 'zoom-zoom' adverts I saw as a kid. Going back about 5 years ago when I first tried the modern Mazda 6, I was floored at how a seemingly 'normal' mid-size sedan could drive this well, and with the typically taunted and tyrannical front-wheel drive to boot. Simply put, a front-drive Mazda 6 had better steering and handling than a new BMW 3-series at the time. Today, the 6 is mostly unchanged and while its peers have made large strides to match the Mazda's road superiority, a quick revisit reminded that the 6 is still king.
Now, what do I mean by normal? It's the type of cars that normal people buy to do normal stuff with. In other words, it's a car one buys because they need a car to get from point A to point B, whether that's to work, dropping the kids off at school, or a Dutch Bros. run. Not meant to be a fun and compromised sports car, they address the primary function of the automobile which is transportation; the classic horseless carriage. While many are perfectly content with driving a machine devoid of any and all feeling and passion, there are others that appreciate the sense of fun that a car can instill inside you. That's where Mazda comes in, and has come in time and time again to differentiate themselves from the corporate characters of the world. There are many reasons why not to choose a Mazda 6, such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Chevy Malibu to name a few. But, there are several very big reasons why you would want the Mazda 6.
The Way it Drives
The biggest selling point of the Mazda 6 (and all current Mazdas for that matter) is in the way it drives. You can't help but get the feeling that the engineers behind the 6 are the type that partake in track days and frequent their local 'touge,' that is, the snaking mountain passes in Japan that form the setting for the cult show Initial D. These are the type of people that just love driving and so they pass on their passion to you, the consumer; There isn't a piece of the 6 that feels unnatural. From the first quarter-turn of the wheel, you're greeted by an intimate level and sense of intuition that resonates through the whole car. The steering, brakes, throttle - everything feels at one.
Find your own local touge, such as Highway 193 and Marshall Grade Rd in the Northern California foothills, and the 6 sheds its so-called normality and unsheathes the hidden katana underneath. Even if the 6 isn't overtly stiff to retain an excellent ride quality for everyday journeys, the methods in which the chassis maintains control in cornering is an enlightenment and proves that cars can both handle and be comfortable. Over bumps and undulations, the damping is wonderfully judged to maintain this composure, especially mid-corner ones that cause dedicated sports cars to unravel. The front end is decisive and thoroughly resists the understeer that befalls most all front-wheel drive cars while providing real and tactile feedback to the driver. The rear follows all commands beautifully, too, and as you get into a rhythm you start to marvel at how well the 6 manages quick direction changes and seemingly plants itself through the faster bits. There's body roll, sure, but it's this degree of roll that adds to the organic sensations when the outside corner weights up from lateral loads, also making it more playful. This is a car that you can lean on and trust.
Torquesteer is not on the 6's agenda, masterfully denying the chaotic wriggling of the steering wheel that cars like their own MazdaSpeed 3 of yesteryear would suffer from. However, occasionally there are reminders that the only driven wheels are ahead of you, with slow and tight second gear corners as an example. Throw it in hard and with conviction, as the neutral balance allows you, and the Mazda obeys your command. But, get on the throttle hard and early in a hairpin and the inside front wheel will start to spin as the weight shifts to the outside; tough to beat physics (It would be really interesting to see some type of fancy electronic LSD on the nose to combat this in future models). Besides that specific scenario, it's hard to know it's not RWD. In anything minus hairpins like above, the front wheels put power down with ease and help pull you through a corner even with this being the most powerful engine option currently available at a peak 250 horsepower. The base naturally aspirated engine would likely never show even a milliliter of front wheelspin.
Besides tossing around and enjoying mountains roads, in the more often normal driving, the 6 is a superlative machine as well. The ride quality is excellent as already stated, meaning you and other occupants will be comfortable over most all road surfaces and keeps the adverse effects of bumps and potholes away from you. At 70 MPH on the freeway, the 6 is quiet and allows hushed conversations for a more relaxing trip. At speed, too, Mazda's 6 is stable and tracks perfectly straight on highways with no wandering or constant corrections needed. Do I need to say more? The 6 drives wondrously well and will make naysayers believers of the zoom-zoom faith.
Many, my friends included, have always refused to believe when I would tell them how nice Mazda interiors are. Consider several converts made then. The basic layout and design of the 6's cabin isn't outwardly exciting by any means, and lacks the extravagance of, say, Hyundai's new Sonata, but the materials and craftmanship stand alone at the top. The leather seats and microsuede trim are exquisite for a car at this price point while hard plastics are kept to a bare minimum; Everything just feels comprehensively expensive inside. Also of note is the fact the seats are trimmed in Nappa leather. Do you know how much you have to spend on a BMW to have Nappa leather?
As you reach to for things, you notice the buttons and switchgear feel substantial with satisfying action and clicks, and I like the metallic trim on many. Driver comfort is huge with a great and supporting seating and driving position to boot. It's really hard to not be impressed with the shear quality on tap inside the Mazda which has led many, including myself, to compare modern Mazda interiors to those of BMW even. Looking through the pictures or even peering through the window you might find yourself unimpressed. But, I assure you, once you're inside and comfortable you will begin to appreciate this understated luxury excellence. Understandably, this 6 is the most expensive one you can buy so of course it's the nicest. Even then, at the $37,290 asking price as equipped, the interior is a absolute treat to spend time in for the money.
Is it Fast?
Not crackingingly fast, no, but far from slow. The engine here is the optional 2.5L turbocharged 'SkyActiv' inline-four that boasts 250 horsepower on premium pump gas and an assuring 320 pounds-feet of torque at 2,500 RPM (these numbers are on premium gas. The fat-free stuff reduces you to 227 horses). Sending that power to the front-wheels is an older six-speed automatic transmission that works surprisingly well still despite the age of the unit. I found grip to a be non-issue even from a stop and traction control switched off, and so with a little brake-torquing, the 6 made its way to 60 MPH in 6.4 seconds. Impressive for the class, but neither is it groundbreaking. In other words and in reality, it's more power than anyone needs on the road. For myself though, on those twisting mountain roads, the 6 has such fantastic handling and balance that it could easily handle - and I would welcome it - another 50+ horsepower. The real treat and sweet spot of this powerplant is the meaty midrange that the turbocharging bestows upon it. From 2,000 RPM and up, the big torque number means there is significant horsepower already available which helps pull you along effortlessly. Switch the transmission to manual mode and third gear whisks you along quite nicely with plenty of punch when exiting corners.
I do find the automatic transmission provides effortlessly smooth up and downshifts, and while the trans feels solid and resolute when operating via paddle shifters or switching from Drive to Reverse, the unit is an item that can use a refreshing. When doing acceleration testing for instance, shifts near redline at wide-open throttle were on the leisurely side. I admire Mazda for sticking with a tried and true transmission, but perhaps it's time for an update. The six forward gears (instead of seven or eight) also result in a higher cruising RPM at 70 MPH which hurts freeway fuel economy. Still, highway MPG was a still impressive 35 with an average of 27 during my stay, but a new set/additional gears would yield better results.
What Needs Fixing
Unfortunately, it's not perfect. Luckily, to me at least, I would rank the following items as the least important of how I view a car, but for someone else it might be a deal killer. To be blunt, the 6 has far antiquated electronics in the way of its infotainment system. A year ago when I last had a Mazda 6, I found myself not bothered in the slightest by this, but after driving more and more cars in the passing time, I've come to realize just how old it really is. For starters, the screen is far too small at eight inches and with graphics that lack resolution. The controller is a rotary style knob near the shifter, and while I like knobs in other infotainment applications, the order of many pages can be confounding. The organization of the menu system is there, but in some instances you have to skip forward and then go backwards too often. The new 10" system in the latest Mazda 3 I just had was a more pleasant experience overall and I hope it makes its way into the 6 sooner than later. The rest of the cabin is so sultry, yet the screen is like a zit on Margot Robbie's otherwise flawless appearance. Being so small, it also just looks old, like straight from 2015. Likewise, the reverse camera is too low of resolution and needs a similar update. Mazda, I love you, but the 6 and that classy interior deserves a larger and modern entertainment operative, something to dazzle.
But, It's Still Wonderful
In light of those derelict electronic fixtures, I adore the Mazda 6 because this is an otherwise by-the-books transportation device that has been invigorated with a real sense of class and soul. The fact it drives as excellent as it does is a testament to the mission statement that Mazda stands by and for. With a few minor tweaks and updates, this mid-size sedan would stand atop the food chain with nobody else even remotely close. Until then, while others beat it in technology and the presentation of said tech, nothing is better at delivering a driving experience with such natural verve and swagger.
2021 Mazda 6 Turbo Signature
As-Tested Price: $37,290
Pros: Stellar handling and driving dynamics, good performance, high-quality interior
Cons: outdated infotainment
Verdict: Try one.