The Mazda6 midsize sedan entered its third generation three years ago with an all-new exterior and revamped interior, along with a new four-cylinder engine and two new transmissions.
For 2017, this sporty family sedan got further updates, including Mazda’s exclusive G-Vectoring Control technology and some additional noise-absorption materials to help make the cabin a bit quieter at highway speeds.
The recent redesign gave the Mazda6 a whole-new exterior based on Mazda’s KODO “Soul of Motion” theme, and a new interior that includes the availability of plush Nappa leather.
Mazda introduced the original 6 as a 2003 model, replacing the popular 626 with the new single-digit designation and a whole host of improvements.
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Now, the No. 4 Japanese automaker has taken this sporty sedan to a whole new level, making an already good car an even better competitor for the segment-leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
With the original Mazda6, whose marketing efforts introduced Mazda’s “zoom, zoom” advertising theme, Mazda created what it considered to be a combination of sports car and sedan, breaking from the somewhat boring practicality of the Accord and Camry models of the day
The whole idea was to create a midsize family car that offered enthusiasts an affordable alternative to the popular cookie-cutter sedans. The first Mazda6 was a fun car to drive, and it quickly established itself as something different in a field of sameness. Its best sale year was 2004, when more than 72,000 were delivered to U.S. customers. A total of 45,520 were sold in 2016.
The truth is in the driving, and our 2017 test car offered the same spirited acceleration and confident handling I’ve come to expect from Mazda.
With the redesign, though, the previous generation’s V-6 engine option was dropped, bringing us the new SkyActiv 2.5-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder, with 184 horsepower and 185 foot-pounds of torque.
The base transmission is a six-speed manual, but our top-of-the-line Grand Touring test vehicle (base price $30,695, plus $835 freight) came with the SkyActiv Sport Mode six-speed automatic, one of the smoothest-shifting transmissions on the market today. Front-wheel drive is standard.
There are three trim levels for 2017: the base Sport ($21,945 with manual transmission, or $22,995 with the automatic); the Touring model ($24,195, manual; $25,245, automatic); and our Grand Touring, which comes only with the automatic.
There is room for up to five adults, and the trunk has 14.8 cubic feet of space.
The Mazda6 is one of only a few midsize sedans still offering a manual transmission, which is standard on the Sport and Touring models. As noted with the prices above, the automatic is $1,050 extra on those trim levels.
Industrywide in the U.S., fewer than 5 percent of new-car buyers choose manual transmissions over automatics, where they’re available. The main reasons used to be cost and fuel economy, as automatics generally add money to the sales price, and manuals in the past were more fuel-efficient.
That’s not true for the most part these days, as automatics now use lockup torque converters and computer-controlled electronic shifting coordination, which give them better fuel efficiency than most manual gearboxes provide. Also, very few young drivers – even many already into their 30s – even know how to drive a stick-shift vehicle with a clutch these days.
But Mazda may be the exception. There is another reason some people prefer manuals, and that’s the additional driver control and improved performance they offer. And because Mazda vehicles have a longtime reputation as driver’s cars, many people who choose these vehicles are looking for that fun-to-drive factor.
As a longtime fan, I’ve had a variety of Mazda vehicles over the years, including some really fun ones, such as the Cosmo, one of the brand’s pioneering Wankel rotary-engine cars. And most of my Mazdas have come with manual gearboxes, which added to the fun.
For 2017, even the base Mazda6 Sport model offers a lot of standard features for the price. Those include an electronic parking brake, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, pushbutton start, 17-inch alloy wheels, a backup camera and the Mazda Connect infotainment system.
Mazda Connect brings such features as Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing and audio streaming, USB ports and pairing, and a seven-inch full-color touch-screen display that works with a Commander control knob or voice commands.
Midlevel Touring versions come with 19-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (plastic) seating surfaces, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, and a six-way power driver’s seat.
Added for 2017 on the Touring model were Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
Options for the Touring version include an 11-speaker Bose premium audio system, power moon roof, satellite radio, adaptive LED headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated front seats.
Standard amenities on the Grand Touring model include navigation; perforated-leather seats; an upgraded, full-color Active Driving Display (head-up); an eight-way power driver’s seat and six-way power passenger seat; security alarm; steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the automatic transmission; LED fog lights and lighted signature grille; 19-inch dark-alloy wheels; a rear lip spoiler; Mazda Radar Cruise Control; and Smart City Brake Support.
The Grand Touring models have some new standard features for 2017, including Lane Keep Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition, High Beam Control and a memory seat that’s coordinated with the height of the head-up display.
A new Grand Touring Premium Package ($2,500), included on our tester, added the Nappa leather seats (available in black or parchment color with contrast piping); rear outboard seat heaters; LED accent lighting around the shifter; black headliner; a heated, hand-finished, stitched-leather-wrapped steering wheel; and new brightwork interior accents. We had the parchment interior.
Included with the premium package is the i-ELOOP regenerative braking system for the engine, which also brings active grille shutters. This system boosts the EPA fuel-economy ratings to 27 mpg city/35 highway/30 combined, up from 26/35/29 for the automatic transmission without this feature. Mileage ratings are slightly lower for the manual-gearbox models, at 24 city/34 highway/28 combined.
Three premium paint colors are offered for the Mazda6: Machine Gray Metallic (new for 2017 and included on our tester for $300), Soul Red Metallic and Snowflake White Pearl Mica.
Additional sound-deadening features were included for 2017, such as better insulation and improved door seals. Grand Touring models have laminated front side windows to cut out more road and wind noise.
The front bucket seats are slightly bolstered to allow for spirited driving without the driver sliding out of the seat. The rear seat offers adequate legroom and enough width for three people, but the middle position is more comfortable for a child than an adult.
Besides the Grand Touring Premium Package and the special paint, our test vehicle also came with doorsill trim plates ($125) and a cargo mat ($75). Total sticker price, including freight and options, was $34,530.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2017 Mazda6 sedan
The package: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder, gasoline-powered, front-wheel-drive sport sedan.
Highlights: Mazda’s midsize sedan entered its newest generation three years ago with all-new exterior styling, a completely revised interior, and a new Mazda four-cylinder engine, among many improvements.
Negatives: No optional turbo or V-6 engine for better performance.
Engines: 2.5-liter inline gasoline four-cylinder, normally aspirated.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 184 HP/185 foot-pounds.
Length: 191.5 inches.
Base curb weight: 3,240 pounds (manual transmission); 3,305 pounds (automatic).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Trunk volume: 14.8 cubic feet.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows, standard.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 16.4 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city/34 highway/28 combined (manual); 26/35/29 (automatic); 27/35/30 (i-ELOOP engine, automatic).
Major competitors: Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy.
Base price range: $21,945-$30,695, plus $835 freight.
Price as tested: $34,530, including freight and options (Grand Touring model).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.