Mid-sized sensibility, with a touch of engagement
Though circumstances sometimes necessitate making practical choices, the Mazda6 is proof we don't have to sacrifice all the fun to be sensible.
The Mazda6 doesn't seem to resonate with a lot of buyers in their quest for a reasonably priced midsize car. Which is funny, given that there's much to like about this oft-overlooked sedan.
In a segment dominated by the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata, the Mazda6 offers something a little different: a touch of driver engagement. The well-known purveyors of "Zoom-Zoom" haven't neglected to imbue their sensible four-door with some of the lively character that makes Mazda's sports cars such a joy to drive. Though circumstances sometimes necessitate making practical choices, the Mazda6 is proof we don't have to sacrifice all the fun to be sensible.
Redesigned in 2009, the Mazda6 is a larger, more sculpted car than its previous incarnation, yet it still manages to look lean and a touch racier than most in this segment. There's a hint of RX-8 in the muscular wheel arches and grinning front fascia flanked by swooping foglights. The sloping roofline tapering off to a pert rump lends it a sporting air and it's finished off nicely with a sharp set of taillights.
While far more stylish and youthfully aggressive than the Camry or four-door Accord, the Mazda6 still faces some serious design challenges from the Korean entries. Hyundai's Sonata with its Fluidic Sculpture is a carved head-turner, as is the sharply modern Kia Optima, penned by ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer.
The cabin too, is sportier than most of its competitors, which tend towards the conservative. Those who've driven Mazdas will recognize the curved gauge binnacle hood, round air vents - and of course the familiar red display.
Compared with some of the ultra-modern interiors offered by Korean, and even domestic, competitors these days, the design is a bit long in the tooth perhaps, but it's fairly user-friendly and by no means unattractive. Silver finish on the gauge rings and dark faux-wood trim on dash and centre console are nice touches, but there are some hard plastics that detract from the overall sense of quality.
This week's tester, a GT-I4 (denoting inline 4-cylinder) offersleather seating surfaces, heated up front, that remain comfortable on long road trips, while providing support for more spirited driving. There's plenty of head and legroom up front, and the sunroof adds to the overall sense of airiness. Passengers in back have generous legroom, although the sloping roofline does cut slightly into their headroom.
The trunk offers 470 litres of cargo space - among the largest in the segment - and that's expandable by dropping the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.
As well as the leather upholstery, standard equipment on the GT-I4 includes traction control, Dynamic Stability Control, keyless entry, HID headlamps and heated mirrors. Our GT-I4 tester wasn't equipped with navigation or backup camera, but they are available as options.
The leather-wrapped wheel feels good in the hands, features tilt/telescope and, like most Mazdas, is connected to sharp and accurate steering. It's a little on the light side though, and minus the chatty feedback so loved by owners of the MX-5 or RX-8.
Underhood, the 2.5 litre, 4-cylinder engine puts out 170 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. While those are hardly extraordinary numbers, it's well matched to a quick-shifting five-speed automatic (a $1,200 option) and the Mazda6 moves briskly enough in town and on the highway. The 4-cylinder does tend to get buzzy when pressed, however.
The Mazda6's taut suspension provides surprisingly good handling for this segment. Well-balanced and composed, there's very little body roll in the curves. The ride might be a bit firm for some, but just right for those who value the fun-to-drive factor. We're not saying that it's a serious sports sedan, but the Mazda6 does a really nice job of blending comfort and athletic handling.
As far as fuel economy goes, the Mazda6 rates 9.4L/100 km in the city and 6.5 on the highway, which puts it about mid-pack. The GT-I4 averaged about 9.7L/100km overall during the test week, which isn't stellar but a lot depends on how you much you can resist dipping into the throttle. The consolation is that it takes regular fuel.
The Mazda6 is a dark horse in the tough mid-size segment, but for those who want a mainstream car with a bit of pizazz, it's well worth a second look.
This 2012 Mazda6 GT-I4 review was originally published on Auto-Venus.com.
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