Taking a firm stand

Mazda6 delivers crisp appearance, performance

2016 MAZDA6 i GRAND TOURING

  • Price/As-tested price………………… $30,195/$33,695
  • Mileage…………………………………… 28 mpg/city; 40 mpg/hwy
  • Engine……………………………………… 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower…………………………… 184 hp/185 lbs.-ft.
  • Drive wheels……………………………………… Front-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point……………………………………… Hofu, Japan

Mazda will go inch-for-inch against all manufacturers in the midsize-sedan design category. Its entry, the Mazda6, is visually arresting with a sleek profile, redesigned front end that accentuates the grille, rising roofline and a sharp taillight package in back. Former Wheels editors Dave Mikesell and Jimmy Dinsmore take a look at the Mazda6 to see how it stacks up against the competition.

DAVE: Mazda6s come in three trims - Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Pricing starts at $21,995 for a Sport with a manual transmission. The Touring also has a manual version ($23,995), and both offer a 6-speed automatic for $1,000 more. The Grand Touring only comes as an automatic and has a beginning price of $30,195.

Notable additions at this level are leather upholstery, navigation system, steering-wheel shift paddles, front-seat memory and fog lamps. Jimmy, you always look for very specific things, so what was your first impression of the Mazda6?

JIMMY: On looks alone, the Mazda6 is as stylish and attractive as any entry in this ultra-competitive segment. Midsize sedans are so bland and vanilla, and the Mazda6 is more like Neopolitan or rainbow sherbet. It's vibrantly designed with an attractive fit and finish. The modern look has given the 6 a timeless, but updated look. But Dave, a car's looks don't matter if it doesn't drive well, so what say you?

DAVE: The only engine offered is a 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which is not as mundane as it sounds. While the manual transmission would be the drivetrain of choice for enthusiasts, the automatic responds appropriately and comes with a new Sport mode. Mazda touts handling across its line and the 6, with its front-wheel drive, is no exception. The ride is firmer than its other mainstream competitors but brand-loyal buyers know what to expect.

JIMMY: Dave, I've said it before and I'll say it again, nothing drives quite like a Mazda and this midsize is no exception. The Mazda6 doesn't exhilarate, but it's not boring, either. Split the difference and you have a midsize sedan that overperforms its power numbers. Switch into sport mode and you get a responsive steering. And thankfully, there's no CVT in this as my tester had the automatic transmission. It was hardly noticeable, which is actually a good thing. Dave, what did you think about the looks?

DAVE: While the exterior of the Mazda6 is its crowd-drawer, the Japanese maker is bringing a more refined touch inside, too. Most noteworthy is a display screen rising above the center of the dash. Materials are softening from years past. Back-seat passengers, particularly taller ones, might not feel the love like riders up front, who get supportive sport buckets, but the car offers versatility with a split/folding rear seat. I've noticed in other reviews about Mazda that you're not really a fan of the infotainment system, Jimmy. Is that true for the Mazda6?

JIMMY: It's true – I may be in the minority, but I find the infotainment system to be cumbersome. It takes too many steps to do common things like setting radio presets or jumping from one function to another. All of this is distracting to the driver. As you mentioned, Dave, the interior is quite comfortable. I have few gripes with the overall interior quality; I just wish for an overhaul of Mazda's infotainment system. But, the Mazda6 isn't totally without merit when it comes to technology, right?

DAVE: One of the options on our tester was the GT Technology Package, which included a fuel-saving regenerative engine braking system that increases fuel savings by 2 mpg/city and highway, raising the maximum EPA mileage rating to 28 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway.

JIMMY: The Mazda6 is not without flaws, but what car is? What it does, it does well. In the things that matter most – looks, drive performance and fuel economy, the Mazda6 won't disappoint at all. Do you agree, Dave?

DAVE: The Mazda6 might not reach the same sales figures as competitors from Honda, Toyota or Ford, but with its appearance, you are going to notice it when it's around.

David Mikesell is a freelance automotive reviewer based in Indianapolis. Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.