Overall, the Mazda 6 is impressive for a car playing a bit beyond its league. It has a lot of style considering that, in its most basic trim, the 6 starts at less than $20,000. Our Grand Touring V-6 cost nearly $33,000, but there were clues to its humble origins. Tire noise is pronounced, some interior elements are rather basic, and the leather feels industrial grade. But the Mazda won points for practicality, with the most accommodating back seat and the roomiest trunk - neither a surprise, given that it has to slug it out with practical transport like the Camry and the Accord. Dynamically, the 6 is always competent but rarely excels, at least in this company. The Mazda may be a standout in its class, but perhaps not to the degree that it rises a class above.
We like this version of the Maxima more than the overtly sporting example we drove a few months ago. The mellower suspension tune and the slightly smaller wheels help ride quality more than they hurt handling. The Maxima puts up game-winning numbers and can be loaded with a full-on luxury sedan's worth of equipment. But for $38,000 as equipped, we couldn't help feeling that we'd rather be behind the wheel of an Infiniti G37, which is a far more natural sport sedan than the Maxima will ever be.
The CC is far from perfect, and Volkswagen's pricing philosophy - which seems to be something like, "It's German, so of course it costs more" - means that its turbo four goes up against competitors' sixes, and its own six costs several thousand dollars more. That puts the CC at the bottom of the price/performance matrix. Interestingly, though, we might have liked this car less if it had been equipped with a V-6. If the turbo four is quick enough for you, going that route pays real handling dividends for a front-wheel-drive sedan. And its fuel economy is impressive. If you can live without leather - and VW's two-tone vinyl is nicer than you might think - you can get the base model and a six-speed manual transmission that makes the turbo four even more lively. (That combo also drops the price to $27,480.) As it is, the Luxury version we tested had the richest leather and an impressive interior overall. The suspension upgrades over a Passat are subtle but welcome, and the exterior style proved to be a real head-turner, literally stopping passersby in their tracks. The CC makes a convincing upgrade over a conventional sedan, one that stands apart from the mid-size multitudes.