Disclosure: Travel to Austin, Texas, accommodations, drinks, and one of the best BBQ meals I’ve ever had were provided to the writer by the automaker.
If you’re one of the few lucky enough to be a consumer these days, you’ll know how excruciating it is. So much choice, and yet it all seems pretty much the same. But you don’t want to buy the inferior thing, because everyone around you will peg you as a moron.
And so you go online to find the best deal, and cross-reference specs, and research update cycles and user reviews and market data and then you’ve become a total bore to talk to because you know everything there is to know about the current and future range of countertop four-slot toasters.
WHY CAN’T I JUST BUY ANY BLOODY TOASTER AND MAKE TOAST. I DON’T WANT THE BEST ONE. I JUST WANT TOAST.
Anyway, that’s basically a Louis C.K. joke without any of the funny. Point is, the current range of mid-size sedans was making me very depressed. The more I researched, the more everything felt not quite right and all the same, and the less I cared. It was almost an existential crisis, this overwhelming infinite freedom to choose.
But then the Mazda6 came along, and it made the choice easy.
The hills near Austin, Texas and its surrounding rural counties are pickup-truck territory. Which is a pity for those pickup drivers, because these glorious twisting roads deserve a machine that handles. And so while you wouldn’t think Texas would be the right place for a mid-size Japanese sedan, it absolutely is.
The all-new Mazda6 handles brilliantly: light and direct. The quick-ratio steering rack provides good feedback, and the chassis holds the road well. Initially, the front end could be just a touch sharper but then the car settles into a nice neutral balance. It inspires confidence. And if the need to really drive strikes you, the Mazda6 will be happy to play along. It’s easily as good if not better in terms of handling than the Ford Fusion, the current class-leader.
The new 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine is a peach. It’s part of Mazda’s SkyActiv family, meaning it’s super efficient. Despite the high displacement, the engine officially manages 7.6 L/100 km in the city, and 5.1 on the highway. (That’s with the automatic. The manual is a touch worse.) Power is rated at a decent - but not class leading - 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. In my opinion, this is all the motor you’ll need – thanks in large part to all that torque. There’s no turbo here, remember.
I could write pages about how Mazda made this engine so awesome (super high-compression ratio, ingenious pistons, clever valve control, trick fuel injectors, race-car style headers) but I’ll spare you. Mostly. Let me just add that I can’t wait to see this engine technology put towards a sporty motor rather than an economical one.
In addition, a diesel engine option is arriving for the Mazda6 in the second half of 2013, which should give the VW Passat something to worry about.
As mentioned, there are two gearboxes. Again, both new. The six-speed auto is a clever hybrid between a torque-converter automatic and a single-clutch automated manual. It’s a no cost-option on all but the base model A six-speed manual is also available and it’d be my choice. The shift action is short, light and feelsome and the clutch won’t give anybody any grief.
Driving position is spot on. Interior space is surprisingly good, especially considering that lovely swooping roofline and rakish A-pillars. Even in the rear there’s plenty of room for two adults to sit comfortably. And the fit and finish of the dash, seats and trim is impressive for the segment.
So far, you’re thinking: okay, sounds about as good as the Ford Fusion or Kia Optima. All good looking, all handle nicely. What’s different about the Mazda though is its no-BS interior (pardon the language.) The Ford’s touch-screen, button-less interior must’ve sounded like a good idea in some focus group, but in reality it stinks.
The Mazda6 on the other hand, is endowed with a simple, clean interior. The buttons are intuitive, the layout is un-cluttered. It’s almost BMW-like. If I have one complaint it’s that the navigation system is maybe a little fiddly.
What’s amazing about the Mazda6 is that it really is all-new. I mean, clean-sheet of paper, new factories, new process. Mazda engineers must be the envy of the automotive world, getting to simply figure out the best way to do everything.
Like they were ending a bad relationship, Ford and Mazda agreed to make a clean split. So this new platform under the new 6 is all-Mazda: it doesn’t have to fit Ford engines or Volvo bodies. After a brief drive, it seems like Mazda was left better off from the breakup.
The starting price is $24,495 for the base GX with a manual ‘box. It comes standard with 17-inch alloys, and honestly I think it’s the pick of the litter. You’ll pay $25,695 to get an automatic transmission. The GS adds a moonroof, backup camera, blind-spot monitor, standard automatic gearbox and other bits for $28,395. And the top-spec GT adds more luxury features for $32,195.
The only rivals worth looking at are the VW Passat, Kia Optima, Honda Accord and maybe the top-spec Fusion if really want more power.
Enough research. Sorry about all that depressing talk in the beginning there. I’m better now. Surely you saw this coming, but the Mazda6 is at the top of its class.
PS – Get the metallic silver-blue one. Looks killer.