First Drive Review
A 10Best Cars and comparison-test winner, the Mazda 6 is our pick of the current mid-size sedan litter. It’s a solidly built, well-executed, and fun-to-drive vehicle that delivers a level of satisfaction well beyond what’s expected in a family sedan. The car recently was refreshed for 2016, and while Mazda wisely kept the updates to a minimum, the 6 is nonetheless even more enjoyable. Plus, thankfully, Mazda didn’t axe the sweet six-speed manual transmission installed in our subject for this review.
We previously evaluated the Mazda’s midcycle changes in a test of an automatic-only 2016 Grand Touring model. Although the various nips and tucks made to the shapely body are barely noticeable, the changes inside are significant. A resculpted dash with a slimmer center stack and console brings the 6’s cabin in line with other Mazdas, such as the compact Mazda 3 and the CX-5 crossover, as does the seven-inch, tabletlike color screen mounted high on the dash. The functions on the display can be operated both via touch and by using Mazda’s central control knob that sits neatly on the console next to the new electronic parking brake.
The overall aesthetic is more contemporary and easier on the eyes than before, and it comes with the added benefit of improved usability. Even in the mid-grade Touring model—the toniest version offered with the stick shift—the 6 feels a cut above its competitors in terms of interior haptics and fit and finish. Although the GT exceeds 30 grand, the manual Sport version starts at $22,315 and the manual Touring at $24,765. (Mazda’s six-speed automatic costs an additional $1050 or $1500, depending on trim level.) The manual Touring version we drove for this review stickered at $25,265 with a few minor extras; standard equipment included 19-inch wheels with all-season rubber, proximity key, sport seats with leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, blind-spot and rear-cross-traffic alerts, and more.
The highlight here, though, is the manual gearbox, which lends the 6 an extra sense of playfulness with its well-placed pedals and excellent shifter. Heel-and-toe downshifts are encouraged, and the 6 definitely emerged from the same gene pool as the MX-5 Miata. Regardless of transmission, all 6s pack the same Skyactiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, which is merely adequate in terms of output. At least it allows the manual 6 a respectable EPA city/highway rating of 25/37 mpg.
We weren’t able to test this particular Touring model, but a handy set of scales revealed it to be 170 pounds lighter than the 2016 GT with the automatic and roughly 70 pounds heavier than the last manual car we evaluated, a 2014 Sport. That Mazda reached 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 16.1 at 90 mph. It also could stop from 70 mph in 172 feet and stuck to the skidpad with a respectable 0.87 g of lateral grip. Expect those numbers to basically hold for this newer version.
While the stick offers the extra measure of driver involvement we cherish, even with the automatic, the 6 is still fun and has the same high-quality cabin. Mazda smartly programmed the six-speed automatic to be both efficient in casual driving and engaging on a back road with its Sport setting activated. There’s basically no way to go wrong with the 6, which is exactly why we keep giving it awards.