Strengths and weaknesses:
- exterior looks
- comfort for four
- big flat floor trunk
- cluttered instrumentation
- rear seat armrest
Mazda6 competes effectively against elite field
"Any of them can top the others on any given day, and each has characteristics all its own that make it better than the others."
Being in the segment it is, the 2012 Mazda6 probably feels something like a 100 metre sprinter at the 2012 London Olympics, where excellence is measured in 100ths of a second and sometimes a placing is determined by 1,000ths.
Think about it – the 100 metre sprint final features eight guys all of whom have the potential to set a world record any time they settle into the starting blocks. To get there, these eight will have beaten other guys who could easily race in the final and finish within 10ths of a second from the winner.
The Mazda6 races a field that includes the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry (they’d be the guys in the middle of the track), the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion, the Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima, and that leaves just two more lanes up for grabs from it and the Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Suzuki Kizashi and Volkswagen Passat.
Any of them can top the others on any given day, and each has characteristics all its own that make it better than the others.
For the Mazda6, that premium comes in the form of exterior styling. It’s got a look that is thoroughly modern and makes it seem smaller than it really is, yet it’s also a bit timeless in its presentation with well balanced proportions. Inside, it’s a bit more cluttered and, as a result, confusing; but, it’s still something that’s easily adapted to and offers a comprehensive array of instrumentation and controls.
It’s maybe a bit too comprehensive with the view from the driver’s seat showing 64 different rocker-switches, buttons and knobs (and some, such as the temperature and fan controls, double up on functions).
So, it’s important to keep the driver comfortable when having to deal with this amount of concentration to decide at an instant what button to push or knob to turn, to do what needs to be done. To that end, seats are well contoured for seat padding and lateral support … for four. The centre rear passenger doesn’t get the same level of support, and even if you leave that person out and pull down the armrest, it doesn’t add comfort to outboard passengers – with the amount of technology and benchmarking done by manufacturers these days, you’d think Mazda people would be able to make an armrest that sits flatter and would be more functional in terms of storage solutions.
As one of the last bastions of the family-car’s golden era, the Mazda6 still gets a choice of four-cylinder and V6 engines (most of today’s new introductions are going to the duet of naturally aspirated and turbocharged powerplants) - it can be had with a 272-hp 3.7-litre V6 or a 170-hp 2.5L “four” in both GS and GT trims, with the four-cylinder models available with both six-speed manual or five-speed automatic (the only transmission available in GT models).
Our test GS features the largish 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that grants decent power for most everyday driving needs without too many of the drawbacks of the V6 alternative (most notably, economy). However, it is a fairly large four, so economy is not as good as it would be with some competitors’ smaller fours … and also not matching the power of some others’ turbocharged fours.
With shift control provided by a sequentially-shiftable five-speed automatic, it offers good power to get away quickly and to pass. If you want to short shift, you can also get better around-town economy, but the computer often thinks it knows what’s better for you than you do.
It sounds pretty good, too, exhibiting a nice-enough exhaust note far removed from the whiny four sound you associate with many Japanese small engines. That said, it’s not enough to make you want to enter motorsports events, which is just as well, since the suspension isn’t as firm as it might be for a more sporting drive.
But then again, this trim of Mazda6 is not meant to be raced, even though it’s got the blindingly-fast sleek profile that makes passers-by think it can.