The refreshed Mazda6 is another midsize sedan among many excellent contenders. For 2018, the Mazda6 model range was extended with the addition of the top Signature model and a new turbo 2.5L engine.
Mazda sells the Mazda6 in five trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature. Both the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims are new for 2018, with additional standard equipment. Pricing starts at $23,000 for the base Sport, and ranges to $34,750 for the Mazda6 Signature. We tested the top Signature model ($34,750 MSRP). Options included Machine Gray paint ($300), cargo mat ($75), and scuff plates ($125). Notable standard equipment includes Nappa leather upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats, navigation, rearview camera, LED headlights, adaptive front headlights, and Bose audio system. The total with the $890 delivery charge added up to $36,140.
Mazda designed a conservative, yet classy interior for this midsize sedan. Dark gray and parchment are the predominant interior colors, with glossy black and satin aluminum accents as contrasting elements. The simulated suede dash and door armrests feel expensive. Behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the driver faces an instrument cluster with a centrally-mounted digital speedometer, flanked by a tachometer and smaller fuel and coolant temperature gauges. A dash-mounted screen displays audio, navigation and phone functions. Below the center vents are the rotary knobs and buttons for the climate control system. Behind the shift lever are duplicate controls for the audio and navigation system. Dual cupholders are on the center console and a storage bin is under the center armrest.
Most manufacturers choose to equip their midsize sedans with flat, unsupportive seats, but Mazda chose a different path by designing front seats fitted with substantial thigh and torso bolsters. The driver's seat gets 8-way power adjustment, plus manual lumbar support; the front passenger also has a 6-way power seat. Choosing the Signature trim level upgrades seating surfaces to perforated Nappa leather. Rear passengers benefit from supportive seats and good thigh support, and even the center seat occupant is reasonably accommodated. Rear seat legroom is also generous, enhancing occupant comfort on longer journeys.
The normally-aspirated 2.5L Skyactiv-G inline-4 is now complemented with a turbocharged variant, standard equipment on the Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature models. The Skyactiv-G 2.5T is an all-aluminum turbo four with dual overhead cams, variable valve-timing and direct injection. Power output peaks at 250 hp @ 5,000 RPM and 310 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2,000 RPM using 93-octane fuel. Mated to the 2.5T is a 6-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. Both fifth (0.707:1) and sixth (0.600:1) are overdrive gears with 4.09:1 axle ratio. Fuel consumption is rated at 23/31 MPG (city/hwy.). According to Mazda, the vehicle maximum speed is 149 MPH.
As with most front-drive sedans, the front suspension uses MacPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. At the rear is a multi-link setup with coil springs, dampers, and a stabilizer bar. Brakes are discs all around, with ventilated front rotors. ABS, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), and Traction Control (TCS) are standard. Steering is via an electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion setup with 2.81 turn lock-to-lock. All Mazda6 models are equipped with 17-inch or 19-inch diameter alloy wheels shod with either P225/55R17 or P225/45R19 all-season tires. Due to the winter weather during our test, Bridgestone Blizzak tires were substituted for the standard all-season tires. Curb weight ranges from 3,326 lbs. for the Sport with the manual gearbox to 3,560 lbs. for the 2.5L turbo/automatic transmission combination.
Mazda's Skyactiv-G 2.5T engine is typical of large displacement inline fours: smooth and refined up to 4,000 RPM, and somewhat rough-edged as it approaches the conservative 6,300 RPM redline. Despite the torque peak at 2,000 RPM, the turbo takes a couple of seconds to spool up and deliver significant forward thrust. Throttle response is livelier at highway speeds where the turbo is always ready to boost acceleration on demand. On city streets, using the steering wheel paddles to downshift was more effective for passing slow traffic. Mazda has optimized the shift algorithms for reduced fuel consumption, which is fine for relaxed cruising, but we often selected Sport mode for faster acceleration.
Mazda's engineers managed to adapt the electrically-assisted power steering to be essentially indistinguishable from a hydraulic system. Road surface textures are accurately transmitted via the steering wheel, and effort builds naturally, without excessive boost or off-center dead spots. Although the turbo four generates substantial torque at low revs, the Mazda6 shows no evidence of torque steer. The Bridgestone Blizzaks winter tires on our test vehicle ensured that traction was rarely an issue on snow-covered streets. On a winding road, the chassis exhibits moderate body roll, but tracks accurately. Full throttle acceleration causes significant rear suspension squat, more than we expected from Mazda. Equipped with non-standard Blizzaks, braking performance on slush and snow was exceptional, as expected from dedicated winter tires. A progressive, easily-modulated pedal also prevented ABS intervention in most slushy roads, a welcome relief from the pedal pulsation that occurs with all-season tires.
Although the midsize sedan market is shrinking, Mazda chose to expand its midsize sedan model range with the addition of luxury equipment, accompanied by a substantial pricing increase. Mazda's outstanding interior design is markedly superior to its mainstream peers, rivalling that of substantially more expensive luxury sedans. The turbo engine finally addresses the power deficit that kept this Mazda behind its Japanese competition. Driving enthusiasts considering the Mazda6 should look at the Grand Touring as the most affordable path to getting the 2.5L turbo under the hood.