Mazda's current vehicle lineup consists of competitively priced, largely front-wheel-drive cars and crossovers boasting above-average fuel economy. Don't expect an array of pickups or heavy, body-on-frame sport utilities in the product mix.
And Mazda turns conventional marketing wisdom topsy-turvy with the diminutive MX-5, more commonly referred to as Miata here in the States. This affordable, two-seater performs double duty as the brand's halo vehicle. Highly desired 'halo' cars generates buzz around a specific brand, usually displaying a high price tag with equally high engine displacement. Mazda's halo car generates street cred with its approachable-price, 'everyman' strategy to roadster fun. And while the MX-5 Miata debuts an all-new fourth-generation redo in 2016, our Mazda tester this week sports seating for five.
In 2003, Mazda6 replaced the outgoing 626 as the company's mid-size sedan, offering an eye-catching exterior design when compared to many of its conservative-minded competitors; borrowing mobile mojo from its MX-5 Miata sibling.
Mazda6's third-generation redesign debuted in the 2014 model year. While additions were minimal in 2015, the 2016 model year adds a host of new appetizers including an electric parking brake, upgraded center console and in upper trims: 'sport' driving mode and upgraded infotainment system. Gen Three drops the once-offered V-6 powertrain, focusing instead on a reengineered four cylinder. The mid-size Mazda6 measures in as the largest sedan in Mazda's 2016 lineup.
Strong U.S. retail numbers in the 2014 calendar year (53,224) bodes well for Mazda6 as sales jumped an impressive 22 percent from the previous calendar year. Through first half of 2015, sales measure 19 percent ahead of the first six months of 2014 thanks in part to a loyal customer following. Mazda's total 2014 U.S. retail sales ended at 278,880 units, the company's best showing in 20 years.
Three trim levels, all front-wheel drive, return in 2016: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Many of Mazda's other offerings, including CX-9 and CX-5 crossovers, utilize this same trim trio. The sole pepped-up engine powering all three trims since the 2014 redo: an impressive 2.5-liter four-cylinder encompassed under Mazda's 'SKYACTIV' umbrella.
Rather than pour limited research funds into low-volume gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids or pure electrics, Mazda chose to tweak it's already existing four-cylinder internal combustion powertrains and transmissions to maximize fuel numbers. Utilizing a higher-compression design with minimal backfiring or knocking blowback, Mazda increases fuel numbers and low-end torque (helping this mid-sizer take a quick first step). Mazda introduced its first SkyAcitv assembly, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, in the 2013 compact Mazda3 sedan/hatchback duo.
A six-speed manual transmission (a rarity in mid-sized competitors) is standard in Sport and Touring trims. Six-speed automatic transmission comes standard with Grand Touring while optional in the other two. Starting price for a 2016 Mazda6 Sport with manual checks in at $21,495.
Entry Sport trims offer no packaged options, with automatic transmission as the stand-alone decision. Touring with automatic transmissions add a factory-available moon roof/satellite radio combo and a Technology Package. Grand Touring adds an available Technology Package with regenerative engine braking.
Our 2016 Grand Touring tester included a $30,195 starting price ending at $33,395 after factoring in destination charge and Technology Package with radar-sensing cruise control (automatically slowing and speeding Mazda6 depending on distance from the highway vehicle ahead), active grille shutters and fuel-extending regenerative braking.
Mazda's i-ELOOP regenerative braking system helps seamlessly pump up highway mileage to the highly coveted 40 miles per gallon plateau. Without i-ELOOP, estimated mileage drops by two in both city and highway categories when coupled with automatic transmission.
Influencing performance is a new-for-2016 'sport' mode selection. Available in many competing cars of all shapes and engine sizes, this mode slightly delays automatic transmission shifting to the next gear, in effect revving the engine higher and harder, creating a snappy zero-to-60 response.
The mid-size build allows three adult riders to enjoy row two's comforts, thanks in part to 38.7 inches of leg play, among the segments roomiest. When two riders are present, a center arm rest folds down. All trims offer 60/40 split rear seats allowing trunk access when carting long items, once trunk-located pull-tabs activate with a gentle yank.
The easily interpreted instrument panel features circular, separated, medium-depth gauges with speedometer front and center. The far-right gauge incorporates digital message scrollable via a steering wheel button. Metered lighting allows minimal eye strain during dark times and bright sunshine. All three trims offer black interiors. Sport and Touring also feature a second Sand interior color option while Grand Touring opts for a unique parchment leatherette, new for 2016.
While not exactly a traditional 'in-dash' design, the seven-inch multi-function color window (up from 5.8 inches) resembles a scaled-down wall-mounted flat screen TV. Rather than built 'into' the car's dash, the flat-backed screen rises up from the low-set center dash area. Mazda6 smartly locates the electronic start-stop push button (standard in all trims) higher on the dashboard left of the display screen; a better local than lower down, where the leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel may impede action.
Grand Touring trims exclusively feature Mazda's Connect Infotainment system, with a medium-sized multi-purpose twist dial and three push buttons between front bucket seats. Working in tandem with the larger flat center screen, the design allows one click access to navigation or audio screens. The dial also allows quick scrolls through various icons within each screen, and a push-down motion for selection. A narrow, tall 'volume' knob is nearby.
Dials control dual temperature zones while push-buttons monitor speed and fan direction below the multi-function screen. Visual icons alert occupants to settings and mode levels within a small rectangular window between dials. Remote fuel, trunk and hood release levers are found on the lower dashboard's left side below a small, retracing bin. Auxiliary connection jacks accommodating portable electronics are found inside the arm rest/center console along with a 12-volt outlet.
Mazda's 'active driving display' is the next leap forward in heads up display and standard in Grand Touring. Rather than projecting digital factoids onto the inside front windshield, digital speed readouts and other info illuminate with a green glow on a retracting, Plexiglas-like plate on the top dash behind the steering wheel. Height and brightness adjustments are made through the flat screen display's infotainment system.
The attractive profile includes a large sweeping character line starting near the front and sweeping down to slightly below side-view mirrors, visible on both front fenders. Mazda's updated front grille includes an encircled winged 'M' logo centering the front grille surrounded by horizontal slates and narrow headlight housing connecting with side fenders. Grand Touring now features in-vogue LED headlights, replacing the Xenon type. Dual exhausts come standard across all model lines. Two new 2016 exterior colors include sonic silver and titanium flash.
The impressively potent base engine and nimble chassis allows for spirited turns in a sharp-looking product producing excellent fuel economy numbers utilizing regular, 87-octane fuel.
At a Glance2016 Mazda 6
Price as tested: $33,395
Wheelbase: 111.4 inches
Length: 191.5 inches
Width: 72.4 inches
Height: 57.1 inches
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder
Curb weight: 3,250 pounds
City/Highway economy: 28 mpg city/ 40 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five-year or 60,000 miles