2012 Mazda 6 Review

2012 Mazda 6 - Mazda keeps pace with mid-size 6.


With the U.S. economy continuing in recovery mode and the Euro Zone fine-tuning its own bail out recipe, it's nice to know durable goods sales of some ilk are on the mend; mid-size sedan sales continue churning, ranking as the top auto segment in the industry.  The family-friendly four-door is at the heart of the U.S. automotive turnaround and every mainstream automaker has a stake.

Debuting in the 2003 model year, the Mazda6 sedan took a slightly different direction than established segment leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord; Mazda added a dash of pizzazz. When the outgoing 626 sedan took its final bow in 2002, Mazda saw a niche opening up and filled it competently with an affordably-priced, sporty alternative for families on the go. The concept worked well enough that others started following the formula.

Mazda6 is strictly a four-door; some rivals offer two-door variants or five-door hatchbacks.  Although mid-size, Mazda 6 rates as the largest sedan in Mazda's U.S. lineup. It's a Michigan-built car with a hint of European handling.  

Little changes from a 2011 mid-cycle refresh save for exterior color choices.  A second-generation makeover arrived during the 2009 model year. Since than, worthy rivals including the Kia Optima, and Hyundai Sonata have been smartly revamped while new entries including the low-priced Suzuki Kizashi have debuted. All 2012 Mazda 6s are front-wheel drive.  No all-wheel or rear-drive variants are available.

Several trims and an assortment of factory options are available for mix and matching, so sharpen your pencil before shopping. Four or six cylinder power is available. Four cylinder models, designated with the letter "I" include a 2.5-liter, 170 horsepower inline four-cylinder engine. Trims include iSport, iTouring, iTouring Plus  and iGrand Touring. Six-cylinder models with a 3.7-liter V-6 engine and 272 horsepower include sTouring Plus and sGrand Touring. Both engines feature multi-port electronic fuel injection.

All engines utilize 87 octane fuel filling a 18.5-gallon tank. Four-cylinder models break the 30 mile per gallon highway barrier with both available transmissions.  Our test six-speed manual entry iSport registered 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.  When mated to a five-speed automatic, fuel mileage actually increases to 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.  The 3.7-liter V-6 with standard six-speed automatic generates 18 /27 mpg respectively.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard only with the four-cylinder iSport.  All other four-cylinders include a five-speed automatic standard.  The V-6 engine is available with a more advanced six-speed automatic transmission.

Mazda currently offers no gas-electric hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles and retired its lightweight yet powerfully potent, piston-free rotary-engined RX-8 coupe at the end of the 2011 model year. The mid-1970s energy crises all-but-doomed the fuel-unfriendly rotary (or Wankel) engine and nearly derailed Mazda altogether. Its simplistic, yet powerful design may yet have a future.

Inside, the dash with vertical center stack possesses spots of soft-touch materials, but by in large contains too much hard plastic when compared with rivals. Two circular air vents adorn the ends while rectangular styles are found near the center stack. A three-spoke steering wheel includes secondary left-side audio functions and cruise control functions right.  The large, easy-to-view-at-a-glance instrument panel has two good-sized, circular analog gauges flanked by smaller three quarter circles with a digital message board towards the bottom. At night, the dashboard and instrument panel delve into hot red backlighting contrasting with the mostly black interior.

Just about all functions are within reach and intuitively positioned. The iSport's single-zone ventilation on the lower portion of the center dash stack are controlled by three large, easy-to-grab dials. At top is a second digital window listing radio frequency, time of day and 'good-bye' messages when exiting. The illuminated ignition column resides on the right side of the manually-adjustable tilt-and-telescoping steering column. The remote trunk latch release lever is on the far left dash, a friendlier location than the floor left of the driver's bucket, although that's where Mazda places the fuel release latch.

Front buckets, manually traveling fore and aft, are a pinch lower than Camry or Accord, but not as far down as some higher-end German two doors.  Between are a hand-operated parking brake, in-line dual cup holders and storage bin/arm rest with 12-volt outlet and auxiliary port for portable electronics.  An additional 12-volt outlet is found at the bottom of the center stack. Four side doors and large rear window minimize blind spots. Doors swing open with average leg room entry. Rear seats fold with a 60/40 split gaining access to the trunk. Two adults fit optimally for long treks. Head room in front, generous; in back, average.

All trims include air conditioning, compact disc and MP3 players, cruise control, power windows, power locks and rear window defroster as well as front-seat mounted air bags, full-length curtain side air bags, dual front air bags, traction control, anti-lock brakes and satellite radio pre-wiring. Touring Plus models add a power moonroof and folding side mirrors with blinker bands. Grand Touring models add leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, dual front temperature zones and rearview dashboard camera display. Rear seat entertainment systems are not available.

Two Option Packages are available only in Grand Touring trims.   A DVD-based Navigation Package ($2,000) includes a seven-inch in-dash touch screen with built-in rear camera display while a  Technology Package ($1,785) features push-button start, front passenger power seat, heated outside mirrors, rain sensing wipers and a four-month Sirius Satellite radio trial.

Our four-cylinder, manual transmissioned iSport started at $20,240. If ordering a iSport with five-speed automatic, add $1,000. The only extras were pearl paint ($200), Sirius Satellite radio ($430) and a $795 delivery charge for a bottom line of $21,665. The lowest, priced, V-6, a sTouring Plus starts at $27,300 while the most-opulent trim a sGrand Touring checks in at $29,570.

By comparison a 2012 Toyota Camry sedan starts at $21,955 with Chevrolet's Malibu starting at $21,995. Suzuki's 2012 Kizashi checks in at $20,999.

Arched front wheel wells merge into the hood's top side with a hood narrowing towards the front. The diminutive front grille features Mazda's winged M logo front and center. Side mirrors incorporate an aerodynamic, arrowhead-like design, but all trims should feature secondary blinker bands. Chrome molding frames side windows. Four cylinder models include single exhausts while V-6 editions sport double tubing.  Smaller 16-inch steel wheels adorn iSport modes. All other trims sport 17-inch alloy varieties expect V-6 Grand Touring which gets 18-inch alloy wheels. The trunk smartly incorporates strut-style hinges outside the cargo region.  A temporary spare stows under the flat floor.

While not the most fuel efficient or least expensive of the bunch, the Mazda 6 has developed a loyal following and a well-deserved reputation as an attractively-priced, sporty alternative in a conservative genre.

2012 Mazda 6

Price as Tested: $21,665

Engine:  2.5-liter inline four cylinder

Horsepower:  170

Length: 193.7 inches

Wheelbase:  109.8 inches

Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway

Curb Weight:  3,272 pounds

Powertrain warranty: 60,000-miles or 60 months

Built: Flat Rock, Michigan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.