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PowerSteering: 2016 Mazda 6 Review

PowerSteering: 2016 Mazda 6 Review

By Christian Wardlaw, November 11, 2015

Introduction
Just two years after a complete redesign for the 2014 model year, Mazda freshens the 2016 Mazda 6 with subtle exterior styling changes and interior surface refinements. A new Mazda Connect information and entertainment system debuts this year, addressing the most significant complaint that Mazda 6 owners voiced in the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM in which it ranked highest among 12 midsize cars in overall appeal.

For this review, our expert evaluated two different versions of the 2016 Mazda 6: the Touring with a manual transmission and no options and the Grand Touring with the optional Technology package. The price for the Touring version was $25,065, including $300 for the extra-charge Soul Red paint. The price for the Grand Touring version, also painted Soul Red, came to $33,495.

What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the refreshed 2016 Mazda 6, it is helpful to understand what owners said about the 2015 Mazda 6 in the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study and who those owners are.

According to the study, owners of the 2015 Mazda 6 said that their favorite things about the midsize car were, in descending order: exterior; interior; seats; driving dynamics; and engine/transmission. Owners also reported that their least favorite things about the Mazda 6 were, in this order: audio/communication/entertainment/navigation; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; storage and space; fuel economy; and visibility and safety.

According to APEAL Study demographic data, 74% of the buyers who purchased the 2015 Mazda 6 were male, compared with the midsize car segment average of 61% male buyers. They were younger and more affluent, too, with Gen Y1  the second largest demographic group buying the Mazda 6, after Boomers.

Additional significant differences exist between Mazda 6 buyers and midsize car buyers as a whole, including:

  • A higher percentage of Mazda 6 owners consider themselves to be Price Buyers (38% for Mazda 6 vs. 29% segment average) or Performance Buyers (18% for Mazda 6 vs. 10% segment average)
  • A lower percentage of Mazda 6 owners prefer to buy a vehicle from a U.S. company (7% for Mazda 6 vs. 24% segment average)
  • A higher percentage of Mazda 6 owners prefer to drive a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (41% for Mazda 6 vs. 27% segment average)
  • A lower percentage of Mazda 6 owners agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (10% for Mazda 6 vs. 15% segment average)

What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert discusses how the 2016 Mazda 6 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study.

Exterior
People notice this car. Certainly, the glowing Soul Red paint helps, but even without Mazda’s signature paint color, the Mazda 6 has an undeniably attractive and beautifully balanced design. Impressively tailored, the Mazda 6 exudes character and commands attention without resorting to visual bluster and loud, discordant styling details.

The Grand Touring and the Touring with the optional Technology package have different front styling than the Sport and Touring trim levels. The differences are subtle, and the car looks good either way. Mazda installs 19-in. aluminum wheels for the Touring and Grand Touring, in silver finish for the Touring and in dark silver for the Grand Touring. Again, either wheel finish is appealing.

Interior
For 2016, Mazda replaces the Grand Touring’s available Sand leather color with a new Parchment color, which is a creamy white. Set against the black carpets, black interior panels, and piano black trim elements, the result is an upscale 2-tone appearance that looks terrific. However, I question how long it might take for fashionable dark-rinse blue jeans to discolor the leather, or for children to make a mess of the back seat.

The Touring test vehicle had perforated Black leatherette seat upholstery, with silver metallic detailing and a gray headliner providing enough contrast to keep the cabin from feeling like a cave. Sand-color leatherette is also available for the Touring.

Mazda says it has refined the Mazda 6’s interior for 2016, and in many respects, the additional attention to detail is evident. However, the Grand Touring test vehicle, an early production model, suffered a couple of quality issues related to plastic pieces popping out. Specifically, the console trim in the front passenger foot well area and the trunk’s interior handgrip came loose during the evaluation period.

No such problems cropped up later in the model year, when evaluations of the Touring test vehicle took place.

Seats
Slip behind the Mazda 6’s steering wheel and you’ll find the car to be a snug fit if you’re wider or taller than the average person. The driving position is perfect, though, and the feeling is one of intimacy and a connection with the road, entirely aligned with Mazda’s “Driving Matters” advertising and brand tagline.

The Touring’s man-made leatherette upholstery is a convincing alternative to the real thing, but does not breathe well on hot days. The Grand Touring’s genuine leather is soft and supple, but this top-of-the-line version of the Mazda 6 is unavailable with ventilated front seats or a heated steering wheel, fairly substantial oversights in a vehicle that otherwise performs an Oscar-worthy impression of an entry-luxury sedan.

Adults will find adequate space in the rear seats, which display the same sense of intimacy as the front seats. The car’s rakish roofline requires some care when entering and exiting, but impressive thigh support, softly padded front seatbacks, and decent legroom and foot space contribute to acceptable comfort levels. The Mazda 6 is not offered with rear seat heaters, as are some competitors.

Climate Control System
Located beneath the center air vents in the center of the dashboard, the Mazda 6’s dual-zone automatic climate control system is standard for the Touring and Grand Touring. It combines large, well-marked buttons with temperature adjustment knobs and a simple, clear display screen showing airflow mode, fan speed, and temperature settings. Like the rest of the Mazda 6’s controls and displays, it is blessedly simple and straightforward in terms of operation.

As mentioned in the previous section, where Mazda can best improve this midsize car’s comfort level is to offer ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Infotainment System
In 2015, the element owners liked least about their Mazda 6 sedans was the infotainment system, comprised of the radio, Bluetooth communications, and navigation system. With the debut of Mazda Connect technology, that changes for 2016.

A larger, 7-in. touch-screen display with modern graphics represents just one example of how Mazda Connect improves the Mazda 6 for 2016. When the car is underway, the display’s touch-sensitivity is turned off to help eliminate distraction, in turn requiring the driver to use appropriate steering wheel controls, the commander control knob on the center console, or to wait to access certain functions until it is safe to do so.

While this approach might frustrate some owners, it reflects Mazda’s philosophy that driving matters and that when the Mazda 6 is driven, the driver should be focused on the task at hand. Therefore, it is best if owners spend time getting Mazda Connect set up to specific preferences prior to driving the car. Once this task is complete, and with practice, Mazda Connect is easy to operate by touch using the center console’s commander control knob.

Storage and Space
Despite changes to the car’s center console design, storage space is conservative. However, the trays, bins, and holders that Mazda provides are usefully sized and shaped, and are lined with felt or rubber in order to quell unnecessary rattles and buzzes.

Similarly, the trunk measures 14.8 cu. ft., on the small side for a midsize car. The space is properly shaped, though, and handled a long weekend trip for a family of four without difficulty. Notably, a compact folding stroller fits wheels-first or lengthwise, giving parents flexibility in how they pack the trunk.

A standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat expands the Mazda 6’s utility, and the trunk includes a slot for closing the lid without touching the car’s dirty exterior with your hand.

Visibility and Safety
Large side mirrors and thin windshield pillars translate into an excellent view to the front and sides of the 2016 Mazda 6. A tall trunk and fast roofline make rear visibility more challenging, but a standard reversing camera resolves this issue when backing the car out of a driveway or parking space.

Mazda Connect includes automatic text-message reply capability, letting people know you’re driving and will respond later. It also has an E911 feature, which automatically calls 9-1-1 following a collision, helping to speed rescuers to the scene of the accident. An Active Driving Display is standard for the Grand Touring, representing a unique approach to a head-up display. Though it works well, this solution does not completely eliminate the problem of casting odd reflections into the windshield, a common trait of head-up displays.

The Mazda 6 Touring includes a standard blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert technology, and as is true of most of the technologies aboard the Mazda 6, Mazda allows the driver to calibrate the blind-spot warning system to specific preferences. Choose a Touring with the optional automatic transmission and a Technology package installs Smart City Brake Support, an automatic emergency braking system that works at low speeds to avoid collisions with objects ahead of the car. An adaptive front-lighting system is also included with this package, and works well to improve visibility when driving at night.

The Grand Touring includes these features and is exclusively offered with a Technology package containing an adaptive cruise control system, forward-collision warning system with an automatic emergency braking system that works at a greater range of vehicle speeds, lane-departure warning system, and more.

Thoughtfully, Mazda allows the owner to decide if the lane-departure warning system should provide an aural alert or a tactile alert, the latter calibration delivering a vibration through the steering wheel that is similar to lane markings such as the Bott’s Dots that are common in California. During the Mazda 6 Grand Touring evaluation, this configurability encouraged the driver to keep the lane-departure warning system engaged.

The adaptive cruise control system could benefit from greater subtlety when adjusting vehicle speed, but as an unexpected safety consideration automatically slowed the car to a more appropriate speed while taking some of the bends on the Pacific Coast Highway.

As far as crash protection is concerned, the Mazda 6 gets the highest-possible ratings in all tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), including for front crash prevention when the Grand Touring is equipped with the Technology package. This performance reflects an improvement in the small overlap frontal-impact test. Last year, the 2015 Mazda 6 received an “Acceptable” rating in this regard.

In federal government testing conducted by the NHTSA, the 2016 Mazda 6 earns a 5-star overall crash-test rating.

Engine/Transmission
Employing a direct-injection, 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 2016 Mazda 6 is one of the few midsize cars available with a manual gearbox. Mazda supplies this choice in both base Sport and mid-level Touring trim levels as standard equipment. It is a terrific gearbox, too, boasting short, fluid shifts and a light, easy clutch.

A 6-speed sport-tuned automatic transmission is optional for the Sport and Touring, and is standard for the Grand Touring. Select the Sport driving mode and the transmission responds to throttle application with greater enthusiasm and holds engine revs higher in anticipation of more spirited driving. Turn the Sport mode off and the transmission upshifts rapidly to conserve fuel, yet remains fairly responsive when the driver makes sudden requests for added power.

Weighing 3,250 lbs. with the automatic transmission, the Mazda 6 is a relatively light car, so the 4-cylinder engine proves adequate the vast majority of the time. However, given this car’s engaging driving dynamics, it is easy to wish for a turbocharged engine option.

Paddle shifters make it enjoyable to manually select gears, or the driver can use the gear selector to achieve the same result. Because Mazda uses a counterintuitive manual shift pattern when using the gear selector—the driver must push forward to execute a downshift, and pull backward to perform an upshift—it is best to use the shift paddles when driving with gusto. Know, however, that the transmission’s Sport mode has a tendency to hold revs too high and for too long before it figures out that you’ve rounded the last curve in the road and entered a sleepy little burg, so the car’s loudly revving engine clearly announces your shenanigans to residents living near the edge of town.

Fuel Economy
According to the EPA, the Mazda 6 Touring with a manual gearbox should return 29 mpg in combined driving, while the Mazda 6 Grand Touring equipped with an automatic transmission and the optional Technology package should get 32 mpg in combined driving.

During the course of weeklong evaluations, the Touring averaged 28.2 mpg, within reason when compared with the official EPA estimate. The Grand Touring averaged 29.3 mpg, an appreciable shortfall in comparison to the EPA rating. In its defense, the Grand Touring was frequently driven with the automatic transmission in Sport mode.

Equip a Mazda 6 Grand Touring with the optional Technology package and it includes an Intelligent Energy Loop (i-ELOOP) brake-energy regeneration system. The i-ELOOP system is designed to convert the kinetic energy generated during braking activity into electricity that can power the car’s accessories in order to reduce the load on the engine. The goal is to conserve fuel, and this is how the car earns its EPA rating of 32 mpg, compared with 31 mpg for Mazda 6 vehicles with an automatic transmission but without i-ELOOP.

Driving Dynamics
Magnified largely by the near absence of other dynamic faults, the brake pedal’s minor lack of refinement upon initial application of the brakes could use extra attention from Mazda engineers. Most noticeable when slight braking is necessary, such as when reducing speed ahead of a corner, the pedal can feel a little sticky, making it a bit harder to smoothly modulate the brakes, in turn distracting the driver.

In all other respects, from the crisp, precise electric steering and the light, nimble handling to the perfectly tuned suspension, the Mazda 6 is, according to our expert, “almost ethereally entertaining compared to other midsize sedans.”

Both test vehicles had 19-in. aluminum wheels wrapped in 225/45 Dunlop SP Sport 5000 tires, which delivered impressive grip even if they communicated too much road noise on textured pavement surfaces. Despite a fairly thin sidewall, the ride quality was excellent, the car almost gliding across imperfections in the road.

Final Impressions
For 2016, Mazda faces new competition in the midsize car segment. Redesigned versions of the Chevrolet Malibu and Kia Optima are on sale this year, along with updated versions of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Volkswagen Passat. Compared with these models—and others in the segment—the Mazda 6 offers relatively little choice in terms of powertrain selections, and remains one of the smaller midsize cars you can buy.

Nevertheless, with the introduction of the new Mazda Connect infotainment system, Mazda addresses a key owner complaint, and the automaker has also improved safety ratings for 2016. Those aspects of the car that owners enjoy the most are likely to continue to delight buyers during the coming year, leaving the ongoing omission of ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel as the main opportunities to improve upon the Mazda 6 before a complete redesign can address storage and space concerns.

Mazda North American Operations supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Mazda 6 review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.

1J.D. Power defines generational groups as Pre-Boomers (born before 1946); Boomers (1946-1964); Gen X (1965-1976); Gen Y (1977-1994); and Gen Z (1995-2004).

Additional Research:

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