Mazda6 — Delightful family car

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If this was a perfect automotive world, the Mazda6 mid-sized sedan would be a sales leader besting the biggest names in the industry. Those were our thoughts after driving the refreshed 2016 version of this delightful family car that features pleasing exterior styling, strong and dynamic performance, outstanding fuel economy, and one of the best interiors outside of the luxury ranks.

The Grand Touring trim gets revised front and rear styling along with new LED headlights that replace the previous xenon headlights. There is now a much-needed larger seven-inch touchscreen although the infotainment unit is a bit pesky, and a Sport mode for the automatic transmission.  And every Mazda6 receives an electronic parking brake and upgraded trim on the dash, center console and armrest.

This car has personality, a kind of winning charm. Its shapely appearance draws you in, but beyond the styling, the new sedan offers an athletic feel on the road, a rewarding driving experience, especially on the twists and turns of rural-roads and through mountain passes. While it won't run away from the competition on the straight-aways, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque acquits itself quite nicely. It accelerates briskly, can merge into fast-moving traffic, and pass a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road without drama and without the usual cacophony of a four-cylinder working hard. Additionally the power steering is communicative and well weighted sending the car in exactly the direction intended.

By the numbers, the Mazda6 has been measured from 0-to-60 in 7.2 seconds and 15.6 seconds at  90 mph in a quarter mile. That stacks up well against the competitive Accord clocked at 7.5 seconds and Altima at 7.7 seconds. For Toyota Camry fans, its 4-cylinder runs in the mid-eight-second range. Mazda also joins the leaders at the top of the class with an EPA rating of 26 city, 38 highway and 30 mpg combined.

The six-speed automatic transmission seems to be perfectly matched to the engine with imperceptible shifts and instantaneous downshifts when demanded. The Mazda6 can also be purchased with a six-speed manual for those who like to shift for themselves.

The new i-Eloop — available as an option on the top Touring trim and included on our test car — is a system that can store energy to a capacitor during deceleration, which is then used to power air conditioning, lighting and accessories for about a minute when the start-stop system shuts down the engine at a stoplight. The goal is to lighten the charging load for the alternator thus lessening drag on the engine that could affect mileage. And it does, rising the Mazda6's highway mileage to a lofty 40 mpg.

The i-Eloop system comes as part of a technology package for $2,180 that also includes radar cruise control, smart brake support, high beam control, lane departure warning, and active grille shutters.

The interior offers plenty of passenger space for both front and second row riders. Leg room is decent and most will find head room adequate. And there's decent luggage space available, measuring 14.8 cubic feet.

Our test car came with rich-looking almond-colored leather upholstery that features cross stitching, something you would expect on a luxury car, but a pleasant surprise on the Mazda6 Grand Touring edition. Overall material quality is best in the segment and fit and finish impeccable. It was not surprising that the 2016 Mazda6 received a 10 -best interior award from Ward’s Auto magazine among a competitive set of 42 all-new interiors that includes cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers at all price points.

Controls are generally easy to use and the gauge cluster is easy to read. We enjoyed the optional 11-speaker Bose audio system found in our test car. On the downside, the new head-up display that accompanies the optional adaptive cruise control has tacked-on-at-the-last-minute look, rather incongruous with the well-done interior.

The Mazda6 is offered in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels starting at $22,315 for a manual transmission model. The most popular trim is the mid-level Touring with automatic starting at $25,815 including great-looking 19-inch alloy wheels, premium vinyl (leatherette) upholstery, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry/ignition, rain-sensing wipers, navigation and the upgraded Bose audio system.

The Grand Touring model begins at $31,015. Some interesting standard features on the Grand Touring trim include hill launch assist (to keep the car from rolling backwards), cross traffic alert on the backup camera system, and an excellent blind spot monitoring system. Our test car with a couple of options — adaptive cruise control, forward obstruction warning and i-Eloop — carried a bottom line of $33,395.

Base price: $22,315; as driven, $33,395
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 185 foot-pounds @ 3,250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.4 inches
Length: 191.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,250 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 40 highway, 28 city, 32 combined
Also consider: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima

The Good
• Sporty handling
• Excellent fuel economy
• Quality, well made interior

The Bad
• Ride slightly harsher than some competitors

The Ugly
• No engine option available