Family cars don't have to be fun to drive, but they should be, shouldn't they? The idea of rewarding shoppers for nixing the dulled-down dynamics of an SUV sits well with me, but alas, functionality and appliance-like reliability are more endearing catchwords to those shopping for a daily commuter. Fortunately, there are a few exceptional automobiles out there that straddle the divide between practicality and joie-de-vivre at a still-affordable price point, and their number includes the 2016 Mazda6.
More Than Skin Deep
The 2016 Mazda6 makes its initial play for mid-size shoppers by way of its elegantly-sculpted sheet metal. Especially as seen from the rear, the Mazda6 strays far from the 'boring is better' mantra that defines too many modern sedan design languages, and the car's flowing curves found outside the automobile are matched by its pleasingly simple, yet still elegant interior trappings. Complementary to the car's roomy cabin and spacious rear seat, 2016 brings a number of updates to the table, including the availability of LED headlights, a new front grille, LED taillights, a redesigned console, and a new dashboard treatment.
Through A Glass, Darkly
Unfortunately, the Mazda6's revised centre stack houses the company's Mazda Connect infotainment and communications system, a feature shared with the compact Mazda3. During my time with the fully-loaded test vehicle I was loaned, I had a number of issues with the stereo system and Bluetooth features, which frequently dropped the connection with my mobile device and on one occasion completely rebooted, freezing me out for a long period while it gathered its ones and zeros together. I also must admit that the Mazda6's stereo system was underwhelming in its tonal quality.
The most frustrating aspect of the sedan's new gear, however, was its head-up display. Part of the Technology package, the system comprised a tinted, transparent rectangle that folded up from the dash in front of the driver. On this panel was displayed an LED readout of vehicle speed, along with data provided by the lane keeping management and forward collision warning system. Unless you are seated ramrod straight in front of the wheel, it's difficult to see the entirety of the display, which isn't exactly located in your field of vision. Even worse: you can't turn it off. Although there's a menu selection that disables the LED projection, the screen can't be folded down, and every time you start the car the projection is back regardless of how many times you try to disable it.
Now that I've covered the most disappointing aspects of the Mazda6 - all of which can be avoided by sticking with the entry-level model, thankfully - it's time to sing its praises. I'll start with the car's chassis, which is taut, willing, and matched with an electric power steering system that is surprisingly nimble for a family sedan. There are few cars in its class that can match the Mazda entry for road feel, and I genuinely enjoyed every kilometre I spent behind the wheel of the vehicle.
Not to be forgotten is the Mazda6's 180 horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder motor. Also capable of generating 185 lb-ft of torque, the unit was matched with a six-speed automatic gearbox in the model I drove (although a six-speed manual transmission is also available). Power was adequate for the majority of the situations I encountered while piloting the Mazda6, although it's worth noting that its major competitors from Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Hyundai all offer more robust drivetrain upgrades whereas the Mazda does not.
What the Mazda6 does make available that can't be found in a cross-town rival is the i-Eloop system, which uses energy recaptured by the sedan's brakes to charge a capacitor where it is then stored for later use by the vehicle's various systems. In theory, i-Eloop's ability to power its air conditioner and lighting systems reduces alternator load and contributes an additional five percent to the vehicle's fuel efficiency. In actual driving, mostly in a city environment, I found that the Mazda6 offered good, but not sparkling consumption statistics.
Avoid The Digital Traps, Enjoy The Solid Engineering
The 2016 Mazda6 is an example of both the Japanese automaker's technological prowess as well as its shortcomings in the digital arena. An impressive family sedan by all traditional measures, the Mazda6 also manages to leverage the brand's extensive investment in drivetrain efficiency by way of its Skyactiv engine and transmission and its novel i-Eloop energy recapture system. Sadly, that same high tech execution that makes the four-door Mazda such a delight under the skin hasn't quite reached the same level of execution when it comes to the ergonomics of its top-tier features and infotainment system. Stick with the entry-level Mazda6 and you'll reap the benefits of the former without being saddled with the frustrations of the latter - and you'll save some money to boot.