40 MPG, No Batteries Needed
There’s a gaggle of midsize family cars to choose from, 18 if you include hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. Buyers want a family sedan that can do many things well. It should hold five adults and their luggage with room to spare. It should ride comfortably and quietly and handle safely. It should be frugal with gasoline. And, it should be reliable.
That pretty well sums up most of the offerings, many of which perform their daily tasks in a banal manner. But there is a sporty alternative to the blandness of many midsize sedans, the 2015 Mazda6.
The Mazda6 is a jalapeño to the others’ Anaheim, a shot of adrenaline to their dose of Geritol. It has youthful good looks and enough spice in the engine room to make things interesting, yet has a
fuel economy rating that the makes competitors green with envy, and it does so without the help of batteries or electric motors.
Equipped with 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (the sole powerplant) and a six-speed automatic transmission, the Mazda6 has an EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 40-mpg highway/28-mpg city/32-mpg combined. That beats every gasoline-powered midsize sedan plus its highway rating even equals a couple of gasoline-electric hybrid models.
Priced on par with other popular family sedans, the 2015 Mazda6 comes in four models beginning with the i Sport Manual that starts at $21,190 plus $820 destination charges. Enthusiasts may prefer a manual transmission, but will pay a fuel economy penalty: the i Sport Manual is rated at 37-mpg highway/25 city/29 combined.
Sporty handling and excellent fuel economy come with the i Sport Auto with a sticker price of $22,895. Added features come with the i Touring at $24,895, while the top i Grand Touring starts at $29,895.
How Did Mazda Wring Out That MPG?
Mazda is a small-size auto manufacturer, but like everyone else, it must meet the rising federal fuel economy standards. Because of its size, Mazda lacked the resources to develop fuel-efficient hybrids, so the company’s R&D tackled the issue with insightful, creative engineering. They used a holistic approach and innovative engineering that benefited not only fuel economy, but also performance, handling and safety. The result is what Mazda calls “Skyactiv Technology.”
I covered Skyactiv Technology in some detail in an earlier 2015 Mazda CX-5 review, but here are some highlights, starting with the engine.
The 2.5-liter four pushes out 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 pounds-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm, which ranks with the best in its competitive set. It incorporates several fuel-sipping goodies: high-tech direct fuel injection, sequential intake valve timing and a high 13.0:1 compression ratio.
Add to that improved transmission efficiency, a lighter car overall and a new technology dubbed i-Eloop. It’s a capacitor-based system that harvests energy during regenerative braking, then feeds power to electrical accessories such as power steering and air conditioning. This lessens engine drag to improve efficiency.
All together, these innovations contribute to excellent power and performance while delivering exceptional fuel economy and running on 87-octane fuel.
Often times a four-cylinder engine in a car this size and weight (3,232 pounds) is a dismal choice, but not here. Our i Grand Touring handled the up and down topography of western Washington quite handily. The engine was smooth and relatively free of the noise and busyness normally associated with high-revving fours.
Pressed hard using full throttle, the delightfully lively engine delivered acceleration that was above acceptable. There was always plenty of power available for merging or passing.
The eager engine is matched with a well-tuned suspension, MacPherson struts up front and a multilink independent setup out back. Driven aggressively, the 6 is more than willing and able to
handle sharp turn-ins and felt tighter through turns than the typical family car, while being able to maintain a reasonably smooth ride in the process. It was an agility that recalled, yes, the Zoom Zoom Miata.
Fun driving on backcountry twisty roads was aided by using the manual-shift mode of the six-speed automatic. It gave rev-matched downshifts and held lower gears—for a while anyway. The transmission was often times in a hurry to up-shift to maximize fuel economy.
While firm, the ride is far from punishing. The sedan acquitted itself well on lumpy streets while also soaking up all but the most immoderate bumps.
The electric power steering was quick and precise and provided plenty of two-way communication between the driver and the road surface. Brakes always responded promptly with a good firm pedal feel.
We totally enjoyed our week driving the 2015 Mazda6. When Mazda picked the car up, the odometer had ticked off 249.2 miles. The miles driven were the usual errand and grocery store runs, a 150-mile Olympia to Seattle round trip and a 32-mile fun-run on a favorite rural two-lane road.
A glance at the fuel mileage readout showed 32.9 mpg. Skyactive worked as advertised, with fuel economy that proves the internal combustion engine won’t die off anytime soon.
Distinctive Styling, Superb Interior
The Mazda6 has striking good looks that does anything but blend in with the rest of the midsize crowd, especially when wearing the premium Soul Red paint of our test driver. This sleek, somewhat muscular sedan may be the best rendition of Mazda’s Kodo, or “soul of motion,” design theme.
From any angle, the car outlooks its price point. The front-end is almost sinister looking with the five-point chrome “signature wing” grille announcing that this is a sporty car. Fluid, yet muscular lines tapering to the rear and an arcing roofline that has a coupe-like rake to the rear window combine to give a dynamic look that stands out. Backside, the dual exhaust is a nice touch.
Sliding in behind the steering wheel of the Mazda6 the first time, I was pretty impressed. The cabin had clean lines, nice shapes and textures with touches of a high-end sedan. The leather
upholstery was markedly supple and perforated for ventilation.
The dashboard will strike some as uncomplicated, others as antiquated, but interior trim is a return to the high-quality plastic surfaces that were a Mazda hallmark some years ago. Instruments are sports car serious with a three-pod gauge cluster that has a large tachometer left, speedometer center, and an information display on the right.
Among its assets, the Mazda6 has plenty of interior space and comfort for both front- and backseat riders with more rear-seat head- and legroom than most competitors. I was especially comfortable in the driver’s seat that had great thigh support and bolstering.
Like most “five-passenger” sedans, rear seating is best suited for two adults with the middle position being a short-drive situation. If little ones are part of your family, installing infant, child or booster seats is pretty much hassle-free.
When it comes to Costco shopping, the trunk’s 14.8 cubic feet of space is a couple of cubes less than the top competitors. But the opening is wide and it’s no fuss to fold the 60/40 split rear seats to almost flat.
As much as the Mazda6 impressed me, the infotainment system was a let-down. It was agonizingly sluggish and outdated with a small screen.
That little disappointment aside, the 6 is well equipped for its price. Standard on the base i Sport Manual are the expected power accessories, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel with mounted audio and cruise control functions, air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD/MP3-compatible audio system and ports for an auxiliary audio jack and USB.
Stepping up to the automatic transmission i Sport adds a rearview camera, a 5.8-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth, HD Radio, voice-activated audio controls and hands-free text messaging capability. Other available features include leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a moonroof and an 11-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system.
Premium features included in the Technology Package of our test driver made me question the point of a “luxury” car, The $2,080 package included radar (adaptive) cruise control (keeps the car a set distance from the car in front), forward obstruction warning, lane-departure warning, automatic braking at low speed to avoid rear-ending the car ahead, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high beams.
The Family Midsize Sedan For You?
If you are looking for a new midsize family sedan, you’ll find the category is overflowing with some of the best-selling cars in the country. It starts with the Toyota Camry, which has been America’s No. 1 selling car for nearly two decades. Then there’s the second best-selling Honda Accord, followed by the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima.
Nisssan’s Altima comes closest to the Mazda6’s fun-to-drive personality, but still falls short. Seductive European styling is one of the Ford’s assets, but options can push the price close to $40,000. As for the Honda, well, repeat Accord buyers are not likely to even consider another make.
What makes the Mazda6 a compelling alternative to the others in the crowd is its combination of fuel economy, Zoom-Zoom driving personality, evocative styling, and a competitive price with good value for the dollar spent.
Don’t overlook the Mazda6; have some fun and take it for a test drive.
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