With the demise of the Mazda5, the Japanese brand has only three cars left in its Canadian portfolio: the MX-5, Mazda3 and Mazda6. The writing was on the wall, as car sales continue to nosedive in favour of SUVs. The Mazda6, the brand’s flagship, is in a segment that has been hit hard by this trend.
And yet, paradoxically, there have never been such good midsize sedans. Despite weaker sales, we have always thought highly of the Mazda6, mainly because of its design and amusing driving dynamics. Barely two years after undergoing a few modifications, the model will get another makeover for the 2018 model year and, this time, the changes are a little more significant. The addition of a turbocharged engine and change in philosophy are garnering most of the headlines.
An upscale Mazda6
To remain competitive, Mazda decided to make the 6 a little more prestigious and high-end, in the same vein as the recent changes made to the CX-9. This represents a rather striking change of direction for a brand renowned for its sportiness. The idea is to get luxury-car buyers interested in the more affordable and equipment-laden Mazda6.
Accomplishing this meant first tweaking the silhouette. The new front fascia draws inspiration from the CX-9 and it’s a little lower to the ground overall. The grille is also bigger and features a different pattern. The car’s flanks are practically unchanged, but the wheels, rearview mirrors and tail end have been modified somewhat. The lights, for example, are a little more slender. The car is very elegant and esthetically pleasing, but in this segment, design has never been a key to a vehicle’s success.
Good-bye Mazda6 GX, hello Mazda6 Signature!
Mazda’s elimination of the GX base version, priced at under $25,000, is further evidence that they want to make the model upwardly mobile. Moreover, sales of the pared-down version were rather weak, as buyers prefer a more loaded sedan. The entry-level variant is now the Mazda6 GS ($27,000 before shipping and preparation), while the GS-L offers a bit more equipment, including power-adjustable leather seats and adaptive cruise control.
The Mazda6 GT is back, too, but at the top of the food chain, the manufacturer borrowed the name of the most posh CX-9—“Signature”—to make the best equipped version of the Mazda6. However, you’ll have to fork out a little more than $38,000. That’s pretty steep, but still competitive when you compare it with clearly more prestigious cars that offer less equipment for a similar price.
The crux of the stylists’ mission was to pare down the cabin, and almost everything has been tweaked. The dashboard seems thinner, mainly due to the stretched-out air vents that blend better into the dash. The instrumentation has also been stripped down and, in the case of the Signature, a digital centre screen helps you customize the display. The contours are more harmonious and the design flows from front to back. If you choose two-tone trim and suede-trimmed door panels and lower dashboard, the cabin is simply magnificent and conveys luxury.
A new turbocharged engine
Our test drive began with a 2018 Mazda6 equipped with a 2.5-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Sound familiar? It should, since this mill was already offered in the car, but a cylinder deactivation system that optimizes fuel economy has been added to it. With 187 horsepower, the engine is not uninteresting, but it has to rev high to deliver sufficient power. Everything takes a little longer, but if you’re not in a hurry, this won’t be a problem.
Gone is the manual transmission, although shockingly, it’s still offered in the United States. The only available gearbox is the six-speed automatic. Although the competition prides itself on having slightly more sophisticated gearboxes, the Mazda6’s is efficient and never lags.
The big news is the arrival of the turbocharged, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine also found in the CX-9. Producing 227 horsepower—or 250 if you fill up with super—this engine gives credibility back to the vehicle. It’s hard not to recommend it, since its 310 lb.-ft. of torque make the car a lot more responsive. On the road, this ride picks up where the previous model left off, and its handling remains the most dynamic of the lot with only the Ford Fusion Sport coming close. Speaking of the Fusion Sport, it takes top honours in terms of output with an impressive 325 horsepower.
The steering remains ultra-precise—you can send the car exactly where you want it and it feels agile. The wide tires and suspension calibration enhance performance, and if you prefer a soft and ultra-comfortable car, you will not like this one.
Still, the engineers improved soundproofing by reducing the amount of exterior and engine noise that gets into the cabin, in particular by enhancing the insulation level and by optimizing several mechanical components. We drove on some reasonably damaged sections of road and the manufacturer’s claims turned out to be spot-on.
The Mazda6 does not come with all-wheel drive. This certainly plays in its rivals’ favour and could turn luxury-car buyers away.
Basically, the 2018 Mazda6’s mission won’t be easy to accomplish, but it does have several solid attributes. You’ll have to take it for a test drive to be able to discover them.