AP NEWS

THE JOY OF 6

July 14, 2018

When it comes to the class of 2018, the Mazda6 earns my vote for most-improved player.

Already graced with attractive, flowing lines and engaging driving dynamics that made the 6 stand out among mainstream mid-priced sedans, Mazda has redesigned the interior, fine-tuned the chassis and added a snappy new red to its color palette. But Mazda’s best move? Hanging a turbocharger on the four-bangers of its upper-crust trim levels. The recipe pays off with 310 lb.-ft. of torque that that can’t help but be entertaining in day-to-day driving.

For 2018, the Mazda6 is offered in five versions to suit a range of tastes and budgets. The Sport, Touring and Grand Touring grades carry over, but are joined by the new Grand Touring Reserve and Signature.

Ponying up for the Grand Touring or better gets you Mazda’s turbocharged “SKYACTIV-G 2.5T” four that serves up that 310 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,000 rpm. It makes 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm on regular gas. (On 93 octane, it’s good for 250 horsepower but it’s the torque that matters most in the Mazda6’s normal operation.) The math backs up what your seat-of-the pants dyno will tell you: the new 2018 turbocharged Mazda6 has to propel 14.24 pounds per horsepower while the 2017 lugged around 17.66 pounds per pony.

The Sport and Touring Mazda6s also receive an update to their normally aspirated 2.5-liter fours: for cars with automatic transmissions, Mazda has added cylinder deactivation, which shuts off the two outboard cylinders under ideal cruising conditions between 25 and 50 mph. The 13:1 compression ratio, direct-gas injection fours are rated at 187 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Mazda puts torque output at 186 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm.

For maximum fuel economy, the normally-aspirated Mazda6 with automatic transmission is the way to go: it’s listed at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway and 29 overall. If you prefer a manual gearbox, you’ll have to forgo the turbocharged engine since the manual is only available in the Sport. Fuel efficiency also drops a bit to 24/33/27 mpg.

Thankfully, all 6s get what Mazda labels “g-vectoring control,” which integrates engine, transmission, and suspension controls for more responsive and confidence-inspiring cornering. Keeping the occupants’ heads steadier is a side benefit and Mazda says the g-vectoring technology’s quick, subtle interventions also aid the Mazda6’s stability in dicey conditions such as rain and snow. (For a visual demonstration go to: http://bit.ly/gvectoring)

A big improvement that you can literally see is a new, sharper 8-inch color infotainment touchscreen all 2018 trims. Previous displays had a limited color range and tended to get washed out under bright sunlight. We hope the resolution of the 2019 6’s back-up camera will be upgraded to match. Also standard across the lineup is dual-zone automatic climate control.

The expanded model range accommodates a wider spectrum of options and has the Mazda 6 skirting luxury-car territory. Here’s the rundown.

The most affordable Mazda6, the Sport with 6-speed manual transmission, starts at $21,950. (MSRPs here don’t reflect $890 shipping charge.) The Sport’s roster of standard features and equipment includes auto-leveling and automatic-off LED headlights with integrated (non-LED) fog lights, daytime running lights and taillights, that 8-inch infotainment display and HD radio with Pandora, Aha and Stitcher integration, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift handle, 17-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry and pushbutton start. As you’d expect, the manually adjusted seats are cloth-covered.

Also standard on the Sport are blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and smart city brake support (SCBS). The latter is a tool to help prevent frontal collisions and uses a windshield-mounted laser to detect vehicles, obstacles — and that can include pedestrians — and applies braking to prevent or at least lessen damage or injuries. It works at speeds up to about 18 mph. (Of course, the driver is still fully responsible and should never consider these safety systems a form of auto pilot.) The 225/55R17 all-season tires are mounted on 7.5-inch-wide alloy wheels.

The $25,700 Touring version adds 19 x 7.5-inch alloy wheels and low-profile 225/45 tires, dynamic cruise control with “stop and go,” a power moonroof, vents in the center console for rear passengers and a center armrest with two USB ports for the rear seat. Leatherette replaces the cloth upholstery and the front seats have three-level heating. The Touring and higher trims also get an updated driver information display and rain-sensing wipers.

On the safety front, Touring and above have standard “smart brake support” that works from about 9 to 90 mph, dynamic radar cruise control with full-stop capability, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and high-beam control.

Moving up, the Grand Touring (or GT) starts at $29,200. In addition to the turbocharged engine, additional content includes a rear-view mirror that has HomeLink and automatically dims, body-colored heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, navigation, paddle shifters and a Bose surround sound audio system with 11 speakers and four months worth of SiriusXM satellite radio. The Grand Touring also gets you power seats for driver and front passenger that adjust six ways.

If you’ve got to have leather sport seats, click the box for the Grand Touring Reserve. Mazda’s “GTR” rolls on the same size alloy wheels as the Touring and Grand Touring but have a bright silver finish instead of gray. Eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar support and memory, six-way power passenger seat and windshield-wiper de-icer are also included in the Grand Touring Reserve’s $31,700 starting price. Other standard niceties are a proper head-up display, adaptive front headlights, full-color driver information display with traffic-sign recognition, ventilated front seats and heated outboard rear seats.

As the only car Mazda offers except for the Miata MX-5 two-seater, the Mazda6’s new top-of-the-food-chain Signature grade pulls duty as the zoom-zoom brand’s luxury sedan.

The $34,750 Signature gets its own grille, full-feature steering wheel with exclusive stitching and paddle shifters, nappa leather seats, 360-degree monitor, front and rear parking sensors, 7-inch TFT LCD featuring reconfigurable gauges, overhead console with LED courtesy lighting, and wood trim or ultra suede for dash and doors.

But every Mazda6 benefits from Mazda’s attacks on noise, vibration and harshness. The more civil 2018 sedan has thicker floor panels and rear wheel housing walls, tighter body panel gaps, quieter tires with softer compound.

Combined with redesigned, more comfortable seats and a tastefully minimalist monochromatic interior, the cabin is more serene — at least until you crank up the stereo. (One note: CD players have been phased out in this 6.)

The midsize market is fiercely competitive. Our best advice for shoppers who appreciate design, a tailored look and/or who are young at heart: don’t buy before you try the revamped 2018 Mazda 6.

AP RADIO
Update hourly