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2018 mazda Mazda6

Though it isn't quite a household name like the Accord or Camry, Mazda's 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-like handling, a roomy cabin and excellent fuel economy in a sleek and stylish wrapper.

Recent changes
Mazda updated the 6 with a new 2.5-liter engine, more tech features, and several design tweaks inside and out. It also expanded the line-up with two upmarket trim levels named Grand Touring Reserve and Signature.

Overview
In contrast to its predecessor's slightly generic look, the latest Mazda6 sports sinewy lines and sinister "eagle-eye" headlights. Up front, the automaker's trapezoidal grille is in evidence, and muscular fenders inspired by the now-defunct RX-8 sports car add an athletic flair. The A-pillar touchdown point (where the base of the windshield meets the hood) is unusually far back, giving the sedan more balanced proportions and less of a "front-wheel drive" appearance 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 an eight-inch screen that displays the entertainment, connectivity, 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 reminiscent 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.

SkyActiv advantage
The 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.).

G-Vectoring Control (GVC), an all-new, Mazda-exclusive technology, uses the engine in conjunction with the steering, throttle inputs and suspension to provide sharper chassis control. It is standard across all trim levels.

Engine options
The 6's standard engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 186 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 187 pound-feet of torque at 6,000 rpm. It returns 24 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 27 in a combined cycle.

Buyers who need more power can order a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter with up to 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on tap. Note those figures are achievable when burning 93-octane fuel. Filling up with 87-octane bumps the turbo four's output down to 227 horses.

The EPA rates the turbo four at 23, 31, and 26 mpg, respectively.

Front-wheel drive comes standard. All-wheel drive isn't available. Transmission options include a six-speed automatic and an enthusiast-approved six-speed manual, though the stick is offered solely on the base model.

Standard and optional features
Mazda offers the 6 in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature trim levels.

The list of standard features includes the naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine, a six-speed manual transmission, dual-zone A/C, power windows and locks, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with AUX and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, Mazda CONNECT infotainment, an eight-inch screen, cloth upholstery, key-less entry, push-button start, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, dual power side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Opt for the six-speed automatic on the Sport trim level and Mazda will throw in drive mode toggle for those who want sportier throttle mapping and shift points.

The list of standalone options includes a frameless rear-view mirror with a HomeLink transceiver, a cargo net, rear parking sensors, and a rear spoiler.

Occupant safety
All Mazda6 models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Some models are available with rear cross traffic alert, which alerts the driver to obstacles when the sedan is in reverse. Also optional on select trims is Mazda's 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.

Key competitors
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.