When the four-cylinder Mazda 6 i Touring showed up to our office, I had my doubts that the 170-hp engine could keep up with the larger body style of the 6, especially when mated to the automatic transmission. But 120 miles later, I can say that I was wrong. The Mazda's engine is more than capable, and the five-speed automatic transmission isn't lazy. As a result, the Mazda6 is actually a peppy car.
This Mazda 6 was a bit of a letdown for me. When Mazda launched its newest-generation 6, the company didn't bother trying to hide that this American-specific model was a bigger, softer car tuned more for the masses. But bigger and softer are quite the opposite of the Zoom-Zoom mantra we appreciate in Mazda cars. Predictably, then, there are shortcomings.
The Mazda 6 is one of the car world's great unsung heroes. Shoppers fixated on Accord, Camry, and Malibu would do well to give this low-profile mid-size family sedan serious consideration. Powered by a smooth but strong 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the 6 runs as smoothly and quickly as some of the larger, heavier, V-6-motivated alternatives. Mated to a five-speed automatic, it delivers the magic 30-mpg number in EPA highway tests along with enough punch to run at the front of the traffic stream and full manual control over gear changes. Crisp steering response, well-damped body motions, and a supple ride hurdle the line distinguishing boring transportation from rolling entertainment. There's ample room for five thanks to a well designed back seat and easy entry under the sleek roofline. My only gripes are the tacky antenna stuck to the decklid when you opt for Sirius satellite radio and the lack of interior releases for folding the rear seatback.
The Mazda 6 is a very nice, slightly sportier alternative to most players in the vast phalanx of mid-size cars. Like my colleagues, I was pleased by the performance of the four-cylinder/automatic pairing, but the powertrain still requires some extra planning and lots of throttle for highway-merging exercises. Cruising down the road, the 6 provides a very comfortable ride, although it felt a bit oversprung and harsh at times.
Mazda may bill the 6 as its midsize sport sedan, but don't let the advertising fool you. As my colleagues have noted, the new 6, at least in this four-cylinder guise, seems to trade in its racing shoes for a pair of comfortable loafers.
It's not really a surprise that this Mazda 6 doesn't have the same enthusiast appeal as its predecessor, because it is aimed squarely at Toyota Camry and Honda Accord shoppers, who have signaled their preference for utility over performance. And this particular vehicle, the 6i with the 170-hp four-cylinder, is the economy model of the Mazda 6 lineup. So, while it may be a little underwhelming performance-wise, it definitely stands up as a good value. For less than $25,000, you get a nice-looking sedan with a well-designed interior, seating for five people with a roomy back seat, and a good-sized trunk. Any buyers who need a little "zoom zoom" from of their Mazda 6 need to opt for the 6s with the 272-hp V-6.
I understand why Mazda plus-sized the 6 for our market, but doing so sacrificed most of the car's distinctiveness. No doubt, the 6 remains a comfortable, nicely-appointed, efficient, and decent-driving sedan that provides great value for its sticker price. But I could say the same about the Accord, Malibu, Fusion, and several others. Like all those cars (with the possible exception of the Accord), the 6 could do with a bit more direct, heavier steering and a more aggressively tuned chassis.
2010 Mazda6i Touring Plus