Mid-size cars are often boring, but they don’t have to be, and Mazda’s is anything but: The 2016 Mazda6 excites with its dynamic looks, sophisticated interior and agile road manners.
For 2016, the Mazda6 sedan gets a mild exterior face-lift along with a revised control layout and upgraded cabin materials. Compare the 2015 and 2016 models here.
The Mazda6 competes in a large class of midsize sedans, including the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry; compare them here.
When I spotted the Mazda6 in Cars.com’s parking garage, it happened to be sandwiched between two late-model midsize sedan competitors, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It easily out-styled them both.
The 2016 model wears a wider, deeper version of the brand’s shield grille, as well as LED-accented headlamps with a more upswept design. Bulging front fenders and a more sculpted body combine to create a taut, ready-to-launch look.
I own a Mazda5 minivan, and the fact that Mazda can make it relatively fun to drive should give you an idea of how well the sedan handles. A sporty on-road experience has been a Mazda6 hallmark, and the 2016 version continues to deliver. It’s fun to drive overall, with firm, precise steering and a nimbleness around corners that’s unmatched by other midsize sedans. Excellent around-town maneuverability makes it feel like a smaller car.
Quiet, however, it is not, especially on the highway. Noise was a problem with the previous generation, and it’s still an issue now; the cabin could use more isolation from the road, wind and the engine.
The sole engine, a 2.5-liter making 184 horsepower, is no powerhouse from a stop, but midrange muscle is strong. The six-speed automatic downshifts promptly and smoothly for extra oomph as soon as you need it; a six-speed manual is standard. A selectable available Sport mode alters engine and transmission settings for quicker downshifts and brisker acceleration from a stop.
The Mazda6’s EPA-estimated fuel economy is class-leading, thanks in part to their Skyactiv-Drive technology. When equipped with Mazda’s i-Eloop brake energy regeneration system, the sedan gets a 40 mpg highway rating. The i-Eloop system captures and stores lost braking energy and then uses it to help power electric systems in the car that would otherwise put a load on the engine (which in turn uses fuel). But the option package isn’t cheap at $2,180. Because the i-Eloop design is different from the regenerative braking systems found in hybrid and electric vehicles, the brakes themselves feel normal, with a solid, linear feel rather than dull, bricklike responsiveness.
Fuel economy is still impressive without the system: 26/38/31 mpg city/highway/combined with the automatic. That beats the competition’s comparable base models: the 2.4-liter Accord with a continuously variable automatic transmission (27/36/31), the 2.5-liter Fusion (22/34/26) and the 2.5-liter Camry (25/35/28).
The standard manual transmissions in the Mazda6 and Accord sacrifice 2-4 mpg combined versus their automatics.
Inside, Mazda combines a classy design with upscale materials, and the effect is nothing short of lovely. Upgrades for 2016 are obvious: Padding was added to key touch points, and the new glossy black and aluminum-look trim pop against the black-and-cream color palette. High-quality leather and dashboard stitching in my top Grand Touring trim added an air of luxury. I question how well the cabin in the Touring will age, however. With only 2,000 miles on the odometer of the car I drove, there was a sooty layer of grime on the cream leather door armrest — and that was before my kids got in.
Room in both rows of my Grand Touring is just right, and Mazda said it’s improved the seats, front and back. Comfort in front is excellent thanks to great thigh support and cozy bolstering. In back, the seats have long bottom cushions and supportive side bolsters. The middle spot isn’t a real option, however. It sits higher, it’s hard and legroom there is cramped by the floor hump.
Mazda wisely gives the user choices when it comes to controlling its multimedia interface. Front and center is the latest version of Mazda Connect, with its 7-inch touch-screen riding higher on the dash this year; a console-area knob can also control the screen. The system’s menu structure is logical, and I appreciated the controller knob’s buttons: Clearly marked “back,” “home” and “star” buttons (for favorite presets) flatten the system’s learning curve.
One big annoyance: The touch-screen doesn’t work while the car is moving. That’s counterintuitive, given, in my estimation, using the knob pulls more focus from the road and requires extra steps to do some functions. Another: The audio volume dial is next to the control knob, which is an awkward reach from the driver’s seat. Steering-wheel audio controls help, however.
The climate controls also got bumped to a higher, handier position. Also new for 2016 is a head-up screen called an Active Driving Display. It sits directly in front of the driver, and while you can control the information it displays, you can’t fold down the thin gray screen, which is distracting. It powers up when the car is turned on and only flips down once the car is turned off.
The center console bin offers a decent amount of room, but it’s awkwardly placed. It’s set too far back to comfortably rest an elbow on the padded top, and opening it is an awkward maneuver. In the back of my Grand Touring, a flip-down center armrest holds the only cupholders back there, though there’s a bottleholder in each door.
Trunk space is small for the class. With 14.8 cubic feet of room, it trails the Accord (15.8), Camry (15.4) and Fusion (16.0). The opening is wide, however, and pulling two levers in the trunk easily folds the 60/40-split seat almost flat. Two shallow, plastic-lined bins on the side of the trunk came in handy for carrying a plant home from the grocery store without a mess.
As of this writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had not yet tested the 2016 Mazda6. The Camry is a Top Safety Pick Plus, while the Accord and Fusion are Top Safety Picks, disqualified from the “Plus” designation because their optional frontal-crash prevention systems earned basic ratings instead of advanced or superior. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-testing, the 2016 Mazda6 earned five out of five stars.
We were able to comfortably fit two child-safety seats in the Touring’s backseat, but accessing the Latch anchors was challenging due to the stiff leather seat cushions; for details, see our Mazda6 Car Seat Check.
A backup camera is standard on all models except the base, manual-transmission trim; its placement high on the dash is especially helpful.
Optional safety equipment includes two automatic braking systems. Smart City Brake Support automatically applies the brakes to stop a low-speed crash. Smart Brake Support works at higher speeds as a forward-collision warning system that alerts the driver of an impending crash then automatically applies the brakes to prevent or reduce the severity of the crash. Other optional safety features include a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and a lane departure warning system. Click here for a full list of safety features.
A base Mazda6 starts at $22,315, or $23,815 with an automatic transmission. That’s slightly lower than the base, manual Accord but slightly higher than the Camry and Fusion, which have standard automatics, and the cheapest automatic Accord (all prices include destination charges). With the automatic, the 6 is well-equipped with standards like the Mazda Connect multimedia system, a backup camera, Sport mode and HD Radio.
The Mazda6 almost sounds too good to be true, delivering an excellent blend of value, fun-to-drive sportiness, knockout styling and family-friendly practicality. But will the updates for 2016 be enough to move its sales needle? I hope so. Competitors handily outsell it month after month, but this overlooked sedan really deserves some attention.