It is, in a word, sensual. In a lineup of mass market sedans there are those that deliver very little visually, like Honda’s super-competent Accord. And then there are those that try entirely too hard; think various versions of Toyota’s Camry and Nissan’s just-introduced Maxima. Occasionally there is the sweet spot, one most manufacturers rarely find. And if they do find it they invariably screw it up with the refresh. A notable exception is Mazda. With its newish Mazda6 but a few seasons old they’re introducing the refresh, one that is more cosmetically seductive than ever. Its looks are to die for, but what’s it like to drive for?
The sheetmetal, of course, deserves more than just an opening paragraph. As Mazda’s marketing copy puts it, the Mazda6 incorporates forward-thinking design…centuries in the making. That, of course, is a reference to generations of Japanese craftsmen creating art with an obsessive attention to detail. The 2016 Mazda6, with prices ranging from the low $20’s to mid-$30s, is so obsessively classy it becomes almost classless, rather like the actress Diane Lane. You can dress her up or dress her down, classy or sassy, but in whatever guise she’ll always be the one you’d like to have on your arm. Or, for that matter, Selma Hayak (rhymes with ‘kayak’). But we digress…
The Mazda6 design is closely related to Mazda’s Takeri concept, and is described by Mazda as a pure expression of Mazda’s KODO design. From the 4-door’s still-smiling face (if you’re this attractive, why not smile?) to its arched fender, raked windshield and coupe-like greenhouse, the Mazda6 evokes a price point well above its paygrade – or, for that matter, my paygrade. And to its credit the base versions don’t look stripped, while the loaded trims avoid the pimped-out, tart-type look some manufacturers continue to apply.
For the new model, Mazda added texture to the front grille, updated the headlamps and incorporated illumination of the Mazda6 ‘signature’ wing. Mazda suggests this gives the 4-door a stronger presence as Mazda’s flagship, and we wouldn’t disagree. Our test vehicle, finished in Titanium Flash Mica (really!), was nothing short of stunning, and wouldn’t come up short in a lineup featuring Jag’s XF or a Merc E-Class. And with the $20K difference in window stickers the Mazda owner can buy a late-model Jag…or Miata.
Inside, Mazda designers pursued a beauty born of the “fine mating and unification of carefully produced parts.” Again, really. And while we didn’t have an opportunity to contrast the ’16 with the 2015 in a side-by-side comparison, our test vehicle’s off-white leather served as a beautiful complement to the revised instrument panel and floor console. Gaps have been minimized, and with that more unified appearance the Mazda6 interior conveys the same upwardly mobile impression as the outside sheetmetal. That, in combination with a driver-centric cockpit and relatively intuitive ventilation and entertainment controls, allows driver and passengers to assume their respective positions both quickly and comfortably.
Regrettably, it’s when you hit the ignition that the anticlimax begins. At present the Mazda6 comes with but one powertrain; it’s Mazda’s 2.5 liter four, which Mazda engineering’s creative team dubs SKYACTIV-G. That, of course, is a nod to Mazda’s SkyActiv menu, intended to provide Mazda with hybrid-like efficiencies without the excessive engineering associated with most hybrid applications.
Functionally, Mazda’s 4-cylinder, with an almost-symmetrical 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, seems to work. Acceleration impresses as adequate (although not actually impressing), while cruising at highway speeds is reasonably relaxed. But when starting this thing up you’re reminded of the diesel Mazda has under development but has not yet introduced; it groans and it moans. To channel Will Shakespeare, it doth complain too much. Between 30 and 80 everything smooths out and quiets down, but getting to the small ‘3-0’ is like listening to Gilda Radner doing Roseanne Roseannadanna…SHUT UP! already.
This, of course, is in stark/vivid contrast to the Mazda’s on-road demeanor. The ride is compliant while the handling is beautifully controlled. We won’t autocross a Mazda6, but neither will we embarrass ourselves when traversing two lanes requiring some degree of automotive athleticism. The Mazda6’s all-independent suspension, 4-wheel discs and rack-and-pinion steering are every bit as unified as the Mazda6 interior; the only disappointment comes when mashing on the right pedal. To be sure, that disappointment can be softened with judicious use of the car’s paddle shifters, but that interaction is more appropriate to an auto-equipped Miata than the ‘halo’ sedan in the Mazda lineup.
The fix is probably as easy as a 2.0 liter, EcoBoost-like turbo four, but we’d prefer Mazda build a 3.0 liter V6 with a SkyActiv ethos. Design it to deliver an honest 250 horsepower, source someone’s 8-speed automatic, and consider an all-wheel drive option. For well under $40K you could have an Audi A6 spec, the A7’s seductiveness, and a monthly payment that remained some distance from the bucks you spend on housing.
As attractive as the refreshed/revised Mazda6 is, it’s a visual suckerpunch, one desperately in need of more punch.
Price and specifications on next page…