Mazda6 — Taking it up a notch

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Prior to the 2018 refresh, the Mazda6 came with only one engine choice, a first-rate 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Today’s base engine gets cylinder deactivation for 2018†that improves fuel economy now measured at 27 mpg city, 36 highway and 29 overall. It's capable of 0-to-60 in just a tick over 7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 15.5 seconds.

The addition of a performance-oriented 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder gives the Mazda6 new Zoom-Zoom capability for the 2018 model year and puts it on a more level playing field with the top sellers in the segment — the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

If you value that new capability the new turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter should prove an excellent choice. It knocks about a second off 0-to-60 time and about three-quarters of a second off the quarter mile time — in other words, it provides better performance that can be felt behind the wheel. Gas mileage is respectable at 23/31/26.

Here's the thing about the new turbocharged engine — if you want to take advantage of its maximum 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, you will need to burn more expensive premium gas, but Mazda says the engine will run just fine on regular if you don't mind cutting the horsepower to 227. Either way, the engine gives the Mazda6 more urgency driven through a 6-speed automatic transmission while retaining its fun-to-drive nature, able to engage the driver with controlled body roll in the twists and turns of a mountain road. At the same time the suspension offers a supple, pleasing ride while soaking up road imperfections.

But the 2018 refresh has deeper roots. A revised interior features a new dashboard design including new climate-controls and higher-quality cabin materials. And Mazda says the seats have been redesigned for better comfort, and we would agree.

Perhaps even more importantly, Mazda has gone to great lengths to quiet the cabin. Body reinforcements, thicker sheet metal in the rear wheel-wells, reinforced chassis bracing and even thicker suspension trailing link mounts help improve interior conversation sound quality, according to Mazda. On the outside the Mazda gets a new grille treatment and standard LED headlights.

The Mazda6 comes in five trim levels — Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. It's the top two trims that put the sedan close to entry-level luxury status with higher-quality materials and more features. The top of the line Signature models such as our test car get stitched synthetic suede and Japanese Sen-wood inserts. The leather-bound seats are wider than before, comfortable and supportive, and now include a cooling feature. Interior passenger space is good. Both front and rear doors open wide and trunk space is adequate although slightly less than the segment average at 14.7 cubic feet.

The Mazda6 offers more technology than the outgoing model with a bigger heads-up display showing more information. The infotainment screen in the center console for audio and navigation grows to eight inches. Safety systems like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive front-lighting
which "bends" the headlights around corners in the dark come with the Signature package.

The Mazda6 starts at $22,840 for the Sport trim with manual transmission and $23,890 for the automatic. Although the base model comes with a fair amount of equipment, we recommend moving up to the Touring model to get a nice selection of additional amenities for $26,590.

The base price brings such things as push button start, LED headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, the aforementioned 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, one USB port up front, a six-speaker sound system, and dual-zone climate control. Standard safety includes a rearview camera with rear cross-traffic alert and blindspot monitoring. The Touring adds most of the good stuff people desire these days including 19-inch wheels, proximity keyless entry, power-adjustable driver's seat, automatic wipers, automatic high beams, simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sunroof, a Bose 11-speaker surround sound system, and two rear-seat USB ports.

Advanced safety on the bottom trims can be added for $625 and includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist.

Our Signature trim level test car contained virtually everything in the Mazda6 arsenal for $36,435. The only option was Soul Red paint for $695. Included are such things as a 360 degree view monitor with front and rear parking sensors, a windshield-projected full-color Active Driving Display, a windshield wiper de-icer, and a reconfigurable 7-inch gauge display.

Base price: $22,840; as driven, $36,435
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 250 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 310 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.4 inches
Length: 192.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,560 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons
EPA rating: 23 city, 31 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 6.4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord

The Good
• Freshened exterior and interior design
• Quiet interior
• Entertaining handling
• Energetic turbocharged engine

The Bad
• Turbo engine only on top two trim levels

The Ugly
• Retains old 6-speed automatic