For 2018, the Mazda6 is gaining a turbo and losing its stick. The change is part of an upscale shift to Mazda’s flagship sedan, its third facelift in five years.
That turbo engine – which puts out 250 horsepower on premium gas and 227 on regular – was the biggest news in Mazda’s exhaustive 90-minute explanation of the dozens of changes for 2018.
Along with offering a more powerful engine, the goal was to make the car quieter and a little less stiff on the road. That’s to appeal to buyers who might also be checking out entry-level luxury sedans. Sedans in general are struggling to resist the SUV tide, although luxury sedans are holding their own in the marketplace.
With the new Signature trim, Mazda’s aim is to deliver a car that’s better-equipped – the Japanese sen wood trim on the dash is Mazda’s first stab at real wood – and has more power than most rivals’ base versions, for less cash.
“I think what is going to happen is that you will see Mazda, [with] a penchant for making fine-driving cars, come to market with a very competent entrant and they will increase their share of sales, probably taking away from the [Nissan] Altima and [Honda] Accord to some extent,” Robert Karwel, senior manager, J.D. Power’s power-information network, said in an e-mail. “But, overall, that new Mazda6 will do little to stem the direction the segment is going.”
At nearly $39,000, the Signature is priced under the entry-level BMW 330i ($45,900), Mercedes C300 ($44,700), Infiniti Q50 ($39,995) and Audi A4 ($39,600), although it’s also taking on customers who might be looking at the Acura TLX ($35,990).
“We believe that our value proposition is unique – we refer to it as ‘Mazda premium,’” says Mark Peyman, Mazda Canada’s product manager. “We provide core competitors’ equipment but also strive to deliver more.”
Research shows luxury buyers care more about looks and performance, while consumers of lesser trims focus more on room, fuel economy and value. Sometimes, the same buyer may be looking for all those features. “It’s the old emotional-versus-rational split,” Peyman said.
As with many sedans these days, manual transmission is no longer an option, at least in Canada.
“We had a deep discussion about the manual; it’s being offered in the U.S.,” Peyman said. “It’s certainly not something we want to walk away from in our other cars.”
More importantly, all-wheel drive isn’t being engineered into the Mazda6, and there are no immediate plans to offer it.
“AWD is one of the reasons people buy premium, but we’re not trying to turn this into a full-blown premium car, either,” Peyman said.
So buyers can clearly figure out exactly what they’re getting for their money, Mazda has ditched packages and options and is, instead, offering just four trims – GS, GS-L, GT and the Signature.
The GS gets the upgraded base engine only – while in the GS-L, the turbo is a $2,000 add-on.
That base is up to 187 horsepower – three more than last year. To improve fuel economy, it has cylinder deactivation that shuts off two cylinders if you’re driving at a steady speed between 40 and 60 km/h. The overall fuel numbers are the same as last year.
“The lines are blurred between this being an ‘all-new’ and a ‘refresh,’ ” Peyman said. “Technically, we don’t have an all-new car as defined by all-new sheet metal, but we think we have something that’s easily as competitive.”
Mazda expects 60 per cent of buyers to choose either the GT or premium versions.
Mazda could woo some buyers who are also considering luxury cars — as long as they’re not looking for premium-brand prestige.
“In terms of whether or not the new Mazda6 can go toe-to-toe with vehicles like the BMW 3 series and the number of amenities offered, I would say unequivocally yes,” Karwel said. “But the problem is with the badge on the hood, and aspiring luxury buyer’s desire to have a no-questions-asked luxury car brand in their driveway.”
Base price/as tested: $27,000/$31,600 (GSL trim)
Engines: 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder, 2.5-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder
Transmission/drive: 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode/front-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 city, 6.7 highway (base engine), 10 city, 7.5 highway (turbo); regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Toyota Camry, Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes C300 and BMW 330i
It’s the automotive version of running into an old pal and seeing that they look better than they’ve ever looked – but you can’t quite figure out exactly what’s different. The new front and rear – including a new grille, new standard adaptive LED headlights and new LED taillights – are striking, but not startling. It just looks better – and like it was always supposed to look this way.
If you’re doubting Mazda’s ability to draw buyers who are also considering a BMW or Mercedes, you might think twice after checking out the interior. The instruments and controls are now simpler and the dash wraps into the doors. You could write a dissertation on all the changes Mazda has made to make it quieter – including a thicker windshield and more insulation – and it wasn’t noisy. The new seats are comfortable and a power-adjustable driver’s seat is standard. All trims above GS have leather seats, with Nappa for the Signature. Heated front and rear seats are standard. The top two trims get a heads up display that projects directly onto the windshield, replacing a plastic version. One gripe? The dash in the Signature gets Ultrasuede trim that Mazda says has been rubbed smooth using two traditional Japanese techniques. It doesn’t quite fit with the otherwise clean look.
Mazda makes cars for people who like to drive, and the Mazda6 doesn’t disappoint. The steering was quick and sharp on the narrow, twisting roads around Vernon. After driving the turbo, the base engine was definitely missing oomph in comparison, but both engines are quick and had plenty of power. It’s not a sports sedan, but for a family-hauler, it gets pretty close.
There’s a standard eight-inch touch screen (up from seven inches). It works with Mazda’s controller-based infotainment system, which can be a little tricky to figure out. The volume knob is in the centre console. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are coming later this year. The CD player is gone for 2018. It comes standard with blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic monitoring and automatic braking when too close to the car in front while driving up to 30 km/h. Higher trims add more safety tech – but lane-keeping assist isn’t available.
It’s not all-new, but doesn’t need to be. Mazda’s made the 6 better inside and out – and you get plenty of car for the money, especially with the new turbo.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.