First the Koreans upped the ante with the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. Now the Japanese are back with brand new models, the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima fresh out the door and Toyota's Camry only a year old. The U.S. is right in there with the just-minted Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, while Chevrolet's redone Malibu now has its full line of engines.
Enter one more, the Mazda6.
Mazda's mid-size sedan has always been a decent car, but a machine more to be liked than loved. Not this time. For one thing, the exterior design now has presence. It sits firmly on its wheels, leading with a larger, prominent grille that flows smoothly from flared front fenders to prominent haunches. Out back what looks to be a chrome mustache links the taillights...and we mean that in a good way. In the wind tunnel the shape earned a drag coefficient of 0.26.
There's a sense the interior was done for those who like to drive. No overt eye-off-the-road distracting controls. Straight ahead are hooded gauges, and the center stack can be had with a 5.8-in. touch screen for the Tom Tom nav system. Thankfully the heating/vent/ac system is operated via real knobs, not anything like capacitive touch buttons. Comfortable seats front and back have enough honest room for six footers at each corner.
Gas or Diesel
While other mid-size makers go the hybrid route, Mazda offers both a direct-injection 2.5-liter gas and 2.2-liter turbo diesel. The former cranks out 192 bhp and 189 lb-ft of torque, while the latter has 175 bhp and 309 lb-ft of torque. (Those are Euro specs, but U.S. numbers would be close...though the diesel has not yet been confirmed for the U.S. market.) What makes the pair interesting is that while the gas engine has a healthy compression ratio of 13:1, the diesel's is remarkably low for its type at 14:1. The diesel does not require any urea-type after treatment and with the low compression ratio has an aluminum block and generally lighter weight components than most diesels. We wouldn't be surprised to see the Mazda6 with a turbo diesel racing in the Grand Am's GX series in 2013.
Mazda will offer the gas engine with a 6-speed manual or automatic, the diesel will be auto only. Figure on 0-60 times of around 7.5-8.0 seconds depending on the drivetrain. Fuel economy numbers to come.
Under It All
As with most all-new cars, the Mazda6 manages to be lighter than its predecessor and yet in its case some 30 percent more rigid torsionally. MacPherson struts are used at the front with a multi-link design in back. Steering is electric and there will be disc brakes all around.
Mazda in the U.S. is still finalizing the car's various trims, but the Mazda6 could be available with all sorts of electronic aids from lane departure control to anti-collision to Radar Cruise Control in which the radar function can be turned off...thank goodness.
Mazda will also offer . Like systems from other automakers, i-Eloop will recover energy from braking to help power the car's electrical systems. Unlike the others, Mazda doesn't use at battery to store that power, but a capacitor and DC/DC convertor to temporarily run such elements as the radio and a/c. Any excess energy is sent to the battery.
Driving the New Mazda6
Of late, almost all the mid-size sedans have made impressive progress in such areas as interior noise levels or ride and handling. Ditto with the Mazda6. We drove the cars on smooth French roads, so can't comment about road noise on, for instance, a California grooved highway. Ride is smooth enough you'd risk drinking a hot cup of coffee minus the lid (passenger only, of course) while the handling is confident enough it would be best left to a race track to explore.
Diesel or gas? If the price difference is not too great, the diesel would be the trick. There's that effortless torque oomph off the line and as with most modern diesels the matter of interior engine noise...well it just doesn't matter anymore.
It will be late January/early February when the Mazda6 first hits dealerships. Being price competitive, figure a starting cost around $21,000 and up. And plan on putting the Mazda6 on your list if you're hunting for a mid-size sedan. This time around it's a lot more than just likeable.