Just as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are synchronous with “vanilla midsize sedan,” the Mazda6 has established a reputation for being the unique, athletic member of the midsize sedan segment. With that reputation, it comes as little surprise that Mazda has doubled-down on the attributes that yield it such a reputation with the 2019 copy.
While reputations in the midsize sedan segment may be long-standing, the Mazda6’s status as the cool kid of the segment is being challenged. It’s being challenged not by negligence on Mazda’s part, but rather vast improvements from its competitors, as noted in our recent review of the 2019 Toyota Camry XSE.
Nonetheless, the Mazda6 is still an attractive car. This third-generation car has been around since 2012, but Mazda has done an effective job keeping it fresh with refreshes, including the most recent update for the 2018 model year. The all-new front and rear fascia give the Mazda6 a more upscale appearance; a trend permeating all Mazda products as the brand’s Kodo design language evolves.
Our grey Signature tester looked like it was valued more than its window sticker affirmed with luxury touches such as LED headlights, but this Mazda design lacks the presence of some of the brand’s newer products, such as the Mazda3.
Stepping inside the Mazda6 is when the luxury quotient is upped significantly. Visually the revised-for-2018 dash panel could easily look at home in a vehicle costing significantly more. Layer on the fact said dash is wrapped in a leather-like material and the front thrones are upholstered in real Nappa leather, and it becomes apparent this is a grown-up version of a midsize sedan. Mazda has even gone to the length of using real Sen Wood trim and Ultrasuede accents in this cabin.
Throughout our testing the interior proved to be one of the car’s best attributes. Buyers seeking the roomiest midsize sedan will opt for the Accord, but the 6’s interior is spacious enough for five. Adding in the exceptional material quality and it becomes a very tough call which midsizer has the best interior; it’s ultimately purely suggestive based on your specific needs.
During the 2018 refresh Mazda slotted in a larger eight-inch infotainment screen as part of a broader decluttering of the interior. As previously mentioned, the aesthetics are significantly improved, but the software housed on the display–now angled toward the driver–is a bit of a downer within the Mazda’s innards.
Like other Mazda’s we’ve tested, the infotainment system software proves difficult to use and offers up a poor response time. Its navigation is limited to a directional pad in the center console since Mazda is one of the last holdouts to implementing touchscreens. The only bright side is the fact that the system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meaning buyers can avoid the system a majority of the time.
Infotainment issues aside, the equipment level of our Signature tester matched the quality of the interior. Features such as ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a knee pad on the center console morph with this high-quality interior to really give the 6 a luxury car vibe. Meanwhile, Mazda has thrown in nearly every active safety feature, from adaptive cruise control to a traffic sign recognition system.
It’s difficult to find a sedan in this segment that offers more features than the Mazda6, and mind you, it is all standard fare on the top-tier Signature trim level. Gadgets such as a surround view camera, heads-up display and a premium Bose audio system are part of the standard feature list on Signature.
Naturally the Signature trim level also features the best engine of the 6 lineup. All trim levels from Grand Touring on up are equipped with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that hammers out 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. This power flows through a six-speed automatic transmission and serves as a solid foundation for the Mazda6’s drivability.
Acceleration from the 2.5-liter is quite good off the line. This engine makes the bulk of its grunt at the low-end, so off-the-line acceleration gives the Mazda6 an athletic pose as it sprints to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. That said, it is about mid-pack to its competitors from Honda and Toyota when it comes to sheer speed. Particularly when its revving above 4,000 rpm, the engine starts to lose a bit of luster, but midsize sedans aren’t above 4,000 rpm too often, so it’s not a significant hindrance
Regardless of where in the rev range the engine is, the six-speed automatic consistently proved to be a great fit for the engine. Shifts were generally when we wanted them–particularly with the car in Sport mode–and each gear change was smooth. Our only feedback on the transmission is that we wish it had a couple more gears to keep that turbo mill in its sweet spot as often as possible.
This no-fuss powertrain serves as an accompaniment to a fantastic chassis. Like most vehicles with a Mazda badge on the back, the Mazda6 is an exemplary handler. It never hesitates on a swift turn-in or exhibits body roll that’s common from today’s oversized midsize sedans. In nearly every road condition the 6 proves to be a formidable player.
The car’s athletic ability is aided by a steering feel that’s quite heavy for the midsize sedan segment, which may turn off some buyers, but those who value driving will find it pleasurable. Likewise, the car’s brakes like an initial grab some mainstream buyers like, but prove to be formidable for the car under nearly all conditions.
In total, Mazda has successfully maintained the 6 as the athlete of the midsize sedan segment. They’ve managed to maintain this title while arguably giving the car additional luxury appeal and at a time with the competition at Toyota and Honda are hardly standing still. Those seeking the best midsize sedan in America will find it a tough choice between the 6 and the Honda Accord, but those seeking something slightly different will find themselves signing paperwork at Mazda.