As the Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want. But if it’s a manual transmission in a midsize sedan you can. It’s just that the selection is very small, only three models from three carmakers. And of them, not all trim levels, the manual restricted to the base model as a way to keep the “from-this-price” lowball low. That’s not the case with the 2016 Mazda Mazdat6.
But even then then zoom-zoom manufacturer doesn’t extend the manual gearbox to the top trim, just the base level and Touring. No can do with the Grand Touring. But we drove a 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Touring a couple of years ago, and like the Touring that was our tester for this report, it also had a manual gearbox.
To be honest, not a lot has changed since then. One of the more obvious alterations is a new grille. The new grille gains another crossbar, and the leading edges have a bright strip. But it comes only on the 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring (see road test on 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring), and on the Mazda6 Touring with the Tech Package. But Touring and Tech Package don’t mix with the manual transmission. Because as a Mazda representative pointed out, not very many people would buy a Touring/Tech/manual combination. That still doesn’t explain, however, why all trim levels couldn’t get the grille.
More is the pity that the manual can’t be had across the range, however, because the Mazda6 with the manual transmission is a pretty slick piece of work.
Speaking of which, the Mazda6 is one of the best looking models in the mid-size sedan class, if a sporting edge is what’s desired. The aggressive grille positioning with the pencil-thin chrome line, sleek headlights and especially the arching front fender line blended with one of the most coupe-like rooflines in a coupe-like sedan world. The car doesn’t have a bad angle. Mr. DeMille, it’s ready for its close-up.
The interior is business-like without as much flair as the exterior, but it’s well laid out, with three large dials under a visor with genuine stitched leatherette covering. The interior, surprising for a mid-trim level sedan, is really quite plush, with a lot of soft-touch leatherette and bright trim.
Per current fad, the multi-information screen sits atop the dash, mounted in a cutout of the dashpad. In our trim and equipment level, the screen colors are limited to white and red on black though with different shading and fading so it’s terribly stark. Features using the screen for operation are controlled by a twist-and-tilt knob on the center console. Included are apps for fuel economy history. It’s a neat feature to track fuel usage with bar graphs and data without having to reset the average fuel economy on the main trip computer.
It’s also where the navigation system would display, if a Mazda6 were to have a nav system. Which ours didn’t. Instead, we were given a pictorial representation of a compass, below which was a paragraph explaining how if we weren’t so cheap, we could get navigation from our dealer as a Genuine Mazda Accessory.
Other than that minor bit of discomfort, the 2016 Mazda Mazda6 Touring is comfortable front and rear, though front and rear entry and exit is hampered by the fast A-and C-pillars. It’s duck or bump.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata set the standard for manual gearshift feel and action, and although the manual gearbox of the Mazda6 isn’t directly connected to the gearshift lever as it is with the Miata, shifting lives up to Mazda’s reputation. And it’s not just the feel of the stick, but the clutch take-up is smooth and the pedals are close enough that if you know how, you can still heel-and-toe.
In other words, it’s a driver’s car.
Except, as we’ve noted before, the engine, for all of its technology, still makes only 184 horsepower, whereas others in this class make up to 100 horsepower more. The “Skyactiv” combustion chamber, with the well in the piston face, yields exceptional fuel economy, but for those who wish to exploit the erstwhile driver friendliness of theMazda6, it’s a little short on punch.
On the other hand, the engine is remarkably smooth and quiet, regardless of rev range. After accelerating onto an Interstate highway, gotten up to speed and settled in for the cruise, a mile or so later we’ve looked down and saw the tach needle much higher than it should be, with an LED display on the tach face showing 4-6. Rather than just an upshift light, as many manual shift cars as a way of satisfying the federal fuel economy regs do, the Mazda6 tells you what gear the transmission is in, and where it should be.