There's no easy or subtle way for me to say it, so here it goes: The Mazda 6 is the most exciting car from Mazda (is that redundant?) in a long time. And I'm even counting the would-have-been, could-have-been but sadly overpriced MX-5 (née Miata) in the consideration. I'll even go out on a limb and say it's one of the most interesting cars you can get in its price bracket, especially if you're pining for a sports car but are constrained by company rules or spousal, er, considerations.
Falling into the realm of "executive-level" midsize sedans, where they will likely be snapped up by successful businessmen and VP- and higher-grade corporate peeps, the 6 takes all the usual requirements for a midsize car. It has room for five, good power and features, and it ratchets up the excitement level with a look and feel that copy from the Euro stars, but adds its own flavor of that catchy "zoom-zoom" slogan.
I knew the car was a hit not only with me but with everyone else when I rolled up to the parking lot for our Saturday team bicycle ride--everyone came up to go "ooh" and "ahh" over the car. And they hadn't even driven it yet. Even in corporate gray, the car looks suave and sexy, the BMW-esque silhouette complemented by Mazda's own take on sexiness with the sweeping fenders and jet engine intake-style grille. I love the proportions, especially how the swept-back A-pillars accentuate the length of the hood.
The cockpit similarly apes the 5-Series with retro-style, satin chrome bezels for the instrument panel, a hooded binnacle for the touchscreen stereo, and rotary dials for the climate control. The steering wheel is gorgeous, wrapped in soft leather, complemented by slivers of aluminum alloy, and a tad smaller in diameter than the usual midsize car's. The black leather upholstery even gets red stitching. Apart from that very subtle flourish, everything about the car is an understated form of sporty.
The Philippine market only gets one variant of the Mazda 6, as opposed to the US market, where you can spec a manual or an automatic, fabric or leather seats, and a combination of modcons and upgrades. Priced at P1.705 million--same as the old model--it's not cheap and just about in the same price point as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The big difference is that the 6 has an undeniably sporty persona that makes the rest look conservative at best and stodgy at worst.
Mazda is talking up the "Skyactiv" technology--which, in a nutshell, means very efficient fuel-injection technology, lightweight high-tensile steel, and advanced chassis engineering methods to lower the curb weight. A discussion of Skyactiv technology is worth another column entirely and is very interesting stuff for engineering types who like to talk about things like compression ratios, piston head designs and exhaust systems, but suffice to say that everything works beautifully in the 6.
The 2.5-liter, direct-injection, high-compression engine has a distinctively metallic rasp at idle that's a little off-putting, but it quiets down once you're underway and is a willing revver. My indicated fuel consumption was a reasonable 8-9km/L of mostly city driving. The "i-ELOOP" system of regenerative braking helps power the engine accessories and remove some of the engine load. The six-speed automatic has all the right things to make a proactive driver happy: manual gate, paddle shifters that can be used even when in "D," and a kickdown switch under the accelerator.
The car gets up to speed quickly with a nice, mellow exhaust note, and is complemented by arguably the best-handling chassis of its class. The Mazda 6 is front-wheel-drive, but it feels very light and nimble. It feels about as neutral as a FWD car can get, with minimal understeer, modest body roll, sharp steering, and a tail that can be gently drifted on a curve if you know what you're doing. It definitely is not nose-heavy, a benefit to having a relatively light in-line-four under the hood. If you're the type to spar with the young pups in their sporty little compacts in the hills, an aggressively driven 6 can give them a spanking.
The engine is also equipped with an "i-Stop" engine start/stop system to help minimize idling time. It was sizzling hot weather during my test drive in stop-and-go traffic, and presumably because the "i-ELOOP" system couldn't fully charge the capacitors as the A/C was on full blast, I only detected an automatic start/stop cycle once over five days. As the weather gets colder and reduces the engine load, I presume the "i-Stop" system will be more active.
Still and all, not all Mazda 6 customers may like to stay in the driver's seat all the time. The rear seat is a pleasant place to be in, too. There's good thigh and back support, with just enough rake to relax without slouching. Legroom is very good unless you're over 6ft tall, with plenty of space under the front seats for your feet without scuffing your leathers. One thing that's missing are C-pillar-mounted reading lights, however.
How else might Mazda improve this car? Well, the stereo sounds decent, but the touchscreen display isn't sensitive enough and can be distracting to use. The trunk is wide and long but not necessarily deep; golf bags will fit easily, but larger, bulkier items will not. Personally, I wouldn't mind skipping the leather if I could opt for sporty fabric. Like all leather-wrapped cabins, the car is an oven when left under the sun for even just a few minutes.
Apart from those, I have a feeling a lot of midsize-sedan buyers will lose sleep the moment they come across this car in a showroom. It took awhile to get the car here, but the all-new Mazda 6 is worth the wait.
Photos by Andy Leuterio