For those wanting to buy a competent midsize sedan this summer or fall, the number of choices has never been better. From Accord and Altima to Fusion and (recently redesigned) Legacy, consumers enjoy a veritable smorgasbord of options, although most of those options are written from the same monochromatic script. Offering – typically – longish wheelbases, increasingly aero styling and four-cylinder powerplants, a category that at one time suggested sport sedan is – increasingly – merely sedan. Even Mazda, whose penchant for ‘zoom-zoom’ created a Mazdaspeed 3 and a Mazdaspeed 6, is left with a quietly competent midsize Mazda6 with expressive sheetmetal, a competent platform and – regrettably – the visceral/mechanical appeal of Wonder Bread.
A recent drive in a 2015 Mazda6 confirmed the sedan’s overall goodness, while wishing there was simply more ‘more’. In top ‘Grand Touring’ guise the vehicle wasn’t lacking in amenities, giving you all you’d expect from an MSRP of $33K. With the aforementioned sheetmetal sitting on 19-inch alloys and 225/45 rubber, Mazda’s new sedan is a styling statement capable of clearly stating its case as well as anything this side of fifty LARGE. Inside, its almond leather buckets easily hold you in place while still ensuring easy access. And once seated, you’re treated to a sense of informed control rarely bettered at this particular price point. With all of that, however, it lacked the charismatic tug for which great sedans, coupes and grand touring cars are known. We need – in point of fact – to build our own.
We’ll start with the highest spec Mazda6 still available with a manual transmission, the Touring. Base (and well equipped) Monroney is $23,845, destination adds $795, and with a rear bumper guard and door sill trim plates (really…) we’re still under $25K. So, let’s get started.
I know, at this point, Mazda’s SkyActiv menu hasn’t included turbocharging, but it’s about time we get one. And to that end, let’s flush Mazda’s still-competent 2.5 liter DOHC four and its 184 horsepower and think 2.0 liters of turbocharged four. The recipe employed the last time ‘Mazdaspeed’ was affixed to a ‘6’ (launched in 2006) the 4-door used 2.3 liters of turbocharged four, generating 274 horsepower in its U.S. variant. We’re impressed by the Fusion’s 2.0 liters and 240 EcoBoosted horses, even when connected to Ford’s automatic. Bump the Mazda’s output to a wide-ranging 250, connect it to six well-spaced, manually selected ratios, and we think the performance/efficiency ratio should be just about perfect.
If this addresses what’s under the hood, take a look at what’s under the body. MacPherson struts up front and a fully-independent multi-link in the rear do exactly what they’re supposed to do for the great unwashed; in point of fact, they’ll probably exceed the expectations of those coming from Accords and Altimas. So while the Mazda6 platform combines comfort with composure, it doesn’t – in Touring or Grand Touring guise – supply ‘crisp’, an almost intangible quality that makes a midsize sedan feel smaller than it is. In Mazdaspeed 6 guise I’d dial up the firmness, dial down body roll, and keep wheel diameter around 18-inches, as aggressive driving – on marginal pavement – shouldn’t come with a buy-a-wheel-a-week penalty.
As this is written I’m not sure you need the additional weight supplied by a performance-oriented all-wheel drive system. Notably, many reviewers of Audi’s new A3 prefer its front-wheel drive variant – it’s lighter and more crisp. If Mazda could supply an all-wheel drive system for less than $2K and 200 pounds, I’d say do it.
So we have the powertrain tweaked and suspension untwisted; what, then, of the cosmetics? To paraphrase the product manager of Plymouth’s Roadrunner some forty-five years ago…not much. Make – if you must – the aero adds (wings, spoilers and diffusers) that have made the Fast & Furious franchise so visually ‘interesting’ an available option, but leave this particular Mazda6 offshoot alone. The sheetmetal is as expressive as it needs to be, and there’s an entire audience out there – including me – that would rather understate the purpose than oversell the mission. Outwardly, less is infinitely more, and if you’re not convinced, consult the design team at Ferrari or Aston Martin, where appendages are worn on the hands and toes, and not – notably – on most body panels.
What we’ll call a MazdaSport 6 eschews the boy racer visual goods, and delivers in their stead a ride-and-driver that might just work on the occasional track day. It’s masculine in its demeanor, but not so far removed from its Grand Touring roots that it can’t get in touch with its feminine side – or your feminine partner. It possesses, in short, everything we so enjoy in the 2015 Mazda6, but ups the performance ante enough to put BMW’s 328 easily within its performance purview. And will do it for less than $30K…
Also read CarBuzzard’s full review of the 2014 Mazda Mazda6 i Sport.