Though it isn't quite a household name like the Accord or Camry, Mazda's redesigned Mazda6 deserves a serious look from buyers shopping for a new midsize sedan - especially those who enjoy driving. Designed around Mazda's "SkyActiv" lightweight technology philosophy, it offers sports sedan handling, a roomy cabin and excellent fuel economy in a sleek and stylish wrapper.
In contrast to its predecessor's slightly generic look, the new Mazda6 sports sinewy lines and sinister "eagle-eye" headlights. Up front, the automaker's new trapezoidal grille is in evidence, and muscular fenders inspired by the automaker's RX-8 sports car add an athletic flair. The A-pillar touchdown point (where the base of the windshield meets the hood) has been moved back four inches, giving the sedan more balanced proportions and less of a "front-wheel-drive" look in profile.
Pushing the passenger compartment away from the front axle also means that the wheel housings eat up less interior space. Along with a lengthened wheelbase, this change means that the cabin is more commodious than before, especially for rear-seat occupants. Accompanying the newfound space is a reworked dashboard with a simple, unflashy but subtly elegant design. While it isn't likely to win any style awards, it also won't look dated five years down the road, and the controls are logically placed and user-friendly.
Mounted high on the center stack is a 5.8-inch display screen that relays stereo and, if so equipped, navigation system info. The nav unit comes equipped with a rotary-style control knob with redundant menu buttons in a setup somewhat similar to Audi's MMI infotainment system.
As for technology, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, Pandora radio compatibility, HD radio and AUX and USB inputs are standard on all Mazda6s except the manual-transmission base model, as is a SMS Text message function that can read incoming texts aloud and help compose responses through voice commands.
The new Mazda6 is the second vehicle to be designed from the ground up using Mazda's SkyActiv technology philosophy. This approach employs careful engineering to reduce weight while upping rigidity, which reaps benefits in fuel economy, performance, handling and safety.
Thanks to an increased amount of ultra-high tensile strength in its structure, the sedan boasts a lower curb weight and 30 percent increased torsional rigidity compared its predecessor. Mazda also optimized the under-floor design to improve aerodynamic floor, resulting in a class-leading (and mileage-boosting) 0.26 coefficient of drag.
Another efficiency-aiding measure is a world-first capacitor-based regenerative braking system. Dubbed i-ELOOP, it's similar in principle to the regenerative systems seen for years in hybrid vehicles - it recaptures kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost during braking. Unlike a traditional hybrid setup, which stores energy in a bulky battery before sending it to an electric motor, i-ELOOP gathers energy in a comparatively lightweight capacitor and uses it to power the sedan's electric components (including A/C, headlights, radio, etc.).
For now, the Mazda6 is available exclusive with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, although a diesel mill will be available in the second half of 2013.
The standard motor is a 2.5-liter "SkyActiv" four-cylinder that produces a respectable 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. Better yet, fuel economy is estimated at 26 mpg on the highway and 38 mpg on the highway when equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission - just a smidge behind the Nissan Altima's class-leading 27/38 mpg figures.
For those looking for a more engaging driving experience, Mazda also offers a six-speed manual that was modeled after the legendary MX-5 Miata's smooth-shifting transmission. It decreases the sedan's official fuel economy ratings to 25/37 mpg.
The oil-burning option will be a 2.2-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that is estimated to produce 173 hp at 4500 rpm and a stump-pulling 310 lb-ft at 2000 rpm. While fuel economy figures are not yet available for this motor, it has a good shot at rivaling the 43-mpg highway rating of the only other diesel-powered midsize sedan on the market, the Volkswagen Passat TDI.
Unlike some competitors, the Mazda6 is not expected to offer a turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder or a V6 as a range-topping engine.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Mazda6 is available in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels.
The Sport comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, A/C, power windows and locks, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with AUX and USB inputs, cloth upholstery, keyless entry, push-button start, 60/40 split-folding rear seatback, dual power side mirrors with integrated turn signals and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Opt for the six-speed automatic on the Sport trim level, and Mazda will throw in a 5.8-inch display screen, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, Pandora radio compatibility, HD radio and an SMS Text message function that can read incoming texts aloud and help compose responses through voice commands.
To those features, the Touring adds dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette upholstery, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a blind spot warning system, a rear cross traffic alert system and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels. An available Touring Technology Package brings a Bose Centerpoint sound system with 11 speakers, a navigation system, a proximity key, auto on/off headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-dimming mirrors and Mazda's Smart City Brake Support System (explained in the safety section below).
The top-spec Grand Touring features all of the goodies from the Touring Technology Package as well as leather upholstery, heated front seats an eight-way power-adjustable driver's eat, a four-way adjustable front passenger's seat, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bi-Xenon HID headlights, LED daytime running lights, fog lights and silver-finish 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Radar-based cruise control and a Forward Obstruction Warning system are bundled together as an optional package available solely on the Grand Touring.
All Mazda6 models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Touring and Grand Touring trim levels feature a blind spot warning system and rear cross traffic alert, which alerts the driver to obstacles when the sedan is in reverse. Optional on the Touring and standard on the Grand Touring is a Smart City Brake system that uses a laser sensor system to detect potential collisions, warn the driver and even apply the brakes to mitigate the severity of a crash. The system operates at speeds up to 20 mph.
Rivals to the Mazda6 include the stylish and fine-handling Ford Fusion and the well-equipped and efficient Nissan Altima in addition to the perpetually popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.