By Derek Price
The Mazda6 has only received minor, incremental updates since its new generation debuted in 2014.
What’s remarkable is that, even after six years of competitors getting stronger, it remains one of the very best mid-size sedans you can buy this year.
Whether that’s a credit to Mazda’s brilliant designers or an indictment of its long list of apathetic competitors is a matter of debate. Most car companies are pouring their resources into crossovers and trucks, giving up on sedans spiritually if not physically.
A quick drive in the Mazda6 is all it takes to see this sedan is an exception. It’s built by people who care deeply about the driving experience, something I can’t say about most affordable cars today, which tend to be rolling infotainment boxes rather than exercises in passion and feeling.
Handling, steering and braking are so precise that a blindfolded driver could confuse it with a BMW. The 2.5-liter turbocharged engine in my tester is rated for 227 horsepower and, more importantly, 310 pound-feet of torque, which makes it feel like a rocket in everyday driving.
That leads to this car’s only obvious downside: the sporty ride isn’t ideal on the highway. It leads to a bit more bumpiness and road noise on long, straight-line road trips. But that’s the sacrifice you make for a car that’s dramatically more rewarding on twisty roads.
Better cabin insulation in the higher trim levels helps to solve that.
My tester, with the top-level Signature trim, makes me wonder why people pay more for a luxury brand, other than the prestige of the badge. The content, materials, quality and overall look of this car is spectacular, from the supple Nappa leather to the sophistication of its digital interface.
At every price point, the Mazda6 delivers a lot of value. The base model comes with radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist, while the step-up Touring trim adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration along with leather-feel seats.
Grand Touring and Grand Touring Reserve raise the bar further with better materials and more content, while the Signature model tops the lineup with its pull-out-all-the-stops approach. The almost-white colored interior that Mazda calls Parchment was easily one of the nicest looking and feeling cabins I’ve driven in a car under $50,000. It’s cool and sleek while still feeling welcoming.
Pricing starts at $24,000 for the Mazda6 Sport and $26,600 for the touring. The Grand Touring starts at $29,700, while the spectacular Signature version is priced at $35,300.
Buyers who don’t mind sacrificing some space can find a lot of the same sophistication and passion for driving in the newly redesigned Mazda3, which starts at $21,500.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Mazda6 Signature ($35,300). Options: Carpeted cargo mat ($100), premium paint ($300). Price as tested (including $920 destination charge): $36,620
Wheelbase: 111.4 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (227 hp, 310 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 23 city, 31 highway
Why buy it?
It’s fun to drive and sophisticated for the money. The top-end trims rival luxury cars in content and appearance, and all versions offer thrilling, engaging feedback to the driver.