Editor's note: This review was written in December 2009 about the 2010 Mazda Mazda6. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2011, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Mazda redesigned its midsize sedan just last year, but the radical new styling failed to bring in a legion of buyers. In fact, sales of the 6 slipped after the redesign, which rarely happens. Perhaps it was the troubled economy that kept buyers away, because after a week of testing a fairly well-equipped Mazda6, I can't for the life of me figure out what family-sedan shopper wouldn't be tempted by this car.
The ride is extremely comfortable, there's plenty of power, it looks great and, oh yeah, it packs a ton of features at a price that beats the competition. You can read a review of the 2009 Mazda6 that features an optional V-6 engine here. My impressions of the 2010 four-cylinder are below.
How could Mazda not get attention with a sedan this good-looking? My Sangria Red test car didn't necessarily draw stares, but it stood out when parked in my driveway on a suburban street. It looked like it came from another planet compared with the other family-haulers in my neighborhood.
The bulging headlights and radically curved front fenders are undoubtedly the features that most set the 6 apart in its class. Unlike a lot of recent designs, the 6 isn't a polarizing vehicle. It's more handsome than jaw-dropping, and I prefer the look to Ford's new Fusion sedan or the Chevy Malibu, let alone more staid imports like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.
If you were shopping this class on looks alone, I think the Mazda6 might win outright.
Inside, I can see fewer people loving the two-tone color scheme and sport-oriented layout of the dashboard. It screams more tech-geek-friendly than family-friendly, but the quality is certainly on par with others in its class. My only issue when it came to interior feel was with the controls in the middle of the dashboard. They weren't as nice or substantial as those you'll find in Nissan and Honda right now, but they're not cheap, either. The red lighting around the gauges and buttons is a bit jarring at night; I had to turn the brightness down quite a bit.
The midrange i Touring Plus trim level I tested featured cloth seats that were extremely comfortable during my hour-plus commute to work. The seats' good thigh support was a big factor in that, and that's something often overlooked.
The Mazda6 is also extremely spacious inside. How big is it? It beats even the large Accord in rear legroom, so a family of four shouldn't outgrow this sedan. I fit both a rear-facing infant safety seat and a large, front-facing convertible child safety seat in the back, and there was plenty of room for the front passenger seat to move back. We even tested the infant seat behind the driver, because a reader wanted to know which sedans would be good for twins. Trying to put an infant seat behind the front seat of a car, rather than in the middle of the bench seat, usually requires sliding the front seat far forward, making its location uncomfortable. If you have twins, that means both the passenger and the driver would have to move into uncomfortable seating positions, which I wouldn't advise for safety reasons. The Mazda6 — and the Accord — pass the twin test well.
At 16.6 cubic feet, the Mazda6's trunk is the biggest in the class. It's positively huge.
When the Mazda6 debuted last year, I drove a powerful V-6 version called the "s." That car handled like a true sport sedan, with relatively heavy steering and a pretty rough ride. It was fun, but I didn't think the gains in performance were worth the sacrifices in everyday comfort.
I was expecting a similar experience with the four-cylinder model, minus all that power, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a sedan that nearly matches the Camry in terms of ride comfort. While it wasn't quite as cushy as the Camry — which is so cushy some drivers find it unappealing — I would put it alongside the Fusion and Malibu in terms of offering a good combination of comfort, handling, noise isolation and acceptable acceleration. This is the version of the Mazda6 that's a terrific daily driver.
The Mazda6's mileage isn't as great as some of the competition, at 21/30 mpg city/highway for the automatic, four-cylinder model I tested (20/29 mpg with the manual transmission). The V-6 s trim gets 17/25 mpg. After filling up at the gas station, I calculated my mileage at less than 21 mpg after commuting in heavy traffic for more than 300 miles. The trip computer registered 21.5 mpg over the same distance.
Automatic, four-cylinder versions of the 2010 Accord, Fusion and Camry return 21/31, 22/31 and 22/32 mpg, respectively.
While EPA gas mileage figures are important, a 1-2 mpg difference isn't enough for me to sway a buying decision from a car I want because of its looks or its comfort to one with marginally better mileage.
When you test cars for a living, it's easy to fall for them from the driver's seat. Testing a new Mercedes or even a new Toyota can be great — until you see the price. Yes, we get sticker shock, too, especially because the test cars we get are often loaded with every option.
The i Touring Plus trim is interesting because it's not offered with any options. For $23,750, you get an automatic transmission, a moonroof, a power driver's seat, 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth, a backup camera, a USB port, and a blind spot monitoring system. That's a heavy dose of features, especially the blind spot system, which can be a $1,500-plus option on other cars — and they're usually of the luxury variety.
The Mazda6 features the normal array of airbags, including side-impact airbags for the front seats and side-curtain airbags. Stability control is also standard. The sedan received a top overall rating of Good in front and side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it received a Marginal overall score for rear-impact whiplash protection and an Acceptable rating in IIHS' new roof-crush test. Because of that roof-crush rating, the Mazda6 isn't an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2010 — as the Chevy Malibu, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger, Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat are — but apart from its whiplash rating, its scores are good.
Mazda6 in the Market
It's rare to get through a review with few negative things to say about a car. Is the Mazda6 flawless? No. It could get better mileage, and it could have better acceleration and maybe some nicer buttons. In the end, though, the flaws are minuscule when compared with the overall value you get with the right trim level. Good looks and lots of interior room are also pretty hard to argue with.
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