The Mazda 6 has every excuse to be a phoned-in, forgettable car.
Instead, it's absolutely brilliant. The Mazda 6 Grand Touring model we reviewed was pleasing to look at, fun to drive, comfortable to spend time in — and jam-packed with every gizmo and feature you might want in a car.
Taken as a whole, it's easily one of the best buys on the market today. Here's why.
Mazda has the most coherent and consistently stellar styling languages in the automotive market. While competitors tend towards soap-bar blob shapes or angular, death-machine aesthetics, Mazda walks a different path.
That's evident on the Mazda 6 Grand Touring, where the flowing lines that define Mazda's corporate design visually lengthen the car and give it a fantastic, athletic look. It's not easy to make front-wheel drive cars look sporty with their awkward, nose-heavy proportions. Yet Mazda nailed it, again.
The only real problem reveals itself at night. There's an LED strip that frames the lower lip of the grille that lights up with the headlights.
I know what you're thinking: A lighting element that exists purely to show the shape of my grille at night sounds preposterous and idiotic. And you're right.
Any grille-related tomfoolery is quickly forgotten once you're inside. Mazda has created a class-leading cabin, with a design that mimics Audis of late. Hey, if you're going to steal, steal from the best.
The lower half of the dash is minimalist, with important climate controls and seat heaters mounted easily within reach. The rotary controller for the infotainment system is placed right where your hand would naturally fall, and is flanked by the equally-critical volume knob.
The screen for the command center is placed at eye level, pasted on top of the dash. It's a touch screen and you're welcome to use it as such, but the rotary knob is the primary method of entry, and the system is designed around it.
While the design is certainly fit for a luxury car, the materials used are more fit for the Mazda's price point. That's not at all to say the materials are cheap — they're fantastic for the class — but don't expect the high-dollar leathers, metals and woods you'd find in a luxury car. Instead, there's lots of soft-touch black plastics.
Finally, Mazda added a heads-up display to show navigation, speed and other information directly to the driver. It's the first I've used that works with polarized sunglasses. It's a little detail, but it shows that Mazda pays attention.
Recall that Mazda is the same company that makes the Miata, the epitome of the "slow car fast" mantra. That is, the idea that it's more fun to drive a slow car at the absolute edge of its performance than it is to drive a fast car on public roads, where you can't explore the limits of its grip.
That's the way you drive the Mazda. Its engine is 2.5 liters and naturally aspirated, making 184 horsepower. In a car of this size, that puts it firmly in the "slow car" category. Not too slow, in my opinion, but slow enough that if you're used to a V6 or a turbo mill you should hold off until the turbocharged version of the Mazda 6 hits showroom floors in 2018.
As per usual, Mazda has crushed the competition when it comes to steering feel and chassis composure. To be sure, it's still a midsize sedan and won't fool you into thinking it's a canyon-carving monster. But it's still more of a driver's car than the midsize cars that Toyota, Ford and Chevy will sell you.
Surprisingly, the chassis engineers didn't sacrifice comfort to make this happen. On the road, the Mazda 6 feels as compliant and soft as the class leaders. Team that with a surprisingly long cruising range, and you'll be able to knock out massive road trips without feeling uncomfortable or needing to fill up.
The Mazda 6 comes with the usual slew of active safety equipment like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking. These systems fall a step behind the cutting edge, though.
The adaptive cruise control, for instance, doesn't work below 20 miles per hour, and the lane keeping assist only nudges you into the lane if you drift out, rather than the more advanced lane-centering systems that Subaru, Honda and others offer.
It's worth noting that the 2018 model will also include improved driver assistance tech, so if that's important to you it may be worth waiting.
At $34,695 as tested with the Grand Touring trim, there isn't much question that the Mazda 6 is an incredible value. The ride-handling balance could embarrass some luxury cars, the styling is elegant, and the car is whisper-quiet — even with noisy winter tires for shoes.
It also comes with everything you could conceivably need: blind-spot monitoring, rear-view camera, LED lighting, heated steering wheel and seats, a solid Bose-branded audio system and automatic high beams.
You're also welcome to explore the lower end of the Mazda 6 lineup, all of which come reasonably well-equipped. They'll all have the same great road manners and driving dynamics, shoved into the same lovely body. I'd recommend splurging on the $300 "Soul Red Metallic" paint, because a great car deserves a great color.
You might not be able to fit your entire family into a midsize sedan. Maybe you have to haul stuff often, or you need four-wheel drive with your snow tires to survive your area's winter. Maybe the $22,995 entry price for a Mazda 6 is outside your budget.
But for the rest of you, let me offer the most ringing endorsement I've ever given a car. The Mazda 6 Grand Touring is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and fantastic cars on sale today.
If you can make one work for your life you'd be absolutely bonkers not to give it a serious look.
Driving Experience: 4.5
Price as configured: $34,695