My introduction to a test car usually takes place on the dirt road that separates our house from the highway below.
You learn a lot about a car that way. You learn which colors look best under a layer of dust. And you learn which cars best isolate riders from the rigors of raggedy road surfaces.
As a rule of thumb, spendy cars are usually smoother, quieter and better behaved when the going gets rough.
An exception to the rule
But Mazda’s Mazda6 family sedan is an exception. Despite its everyman cost of admission ($21,950), the midsize four-door exhibits near-luxury levels of comfort and composure.
On my first trip down the hill, the vault-like silence of its cabin caught me unawares. So did the near-absence of the vibrations that rough surfaces often transmit into the cabin.
This tranquility is not accidental; Mazda has updated the 6 three times in the past five years, each time with the intent of boosting refinement.
This year, the effort includes chassis and suspension upgrades that produce a smoother ride and better handling. A round of sound-defeating measures cut cabin noise. A redesigned dashboard reflects a Japanese-influenced less-is-more aesthetic.
The best-looking family sedan?
A mild facelift brings a new grille, LED headlights and rear fascia revisions. The new 6 is arguably the market’s best-looking family sedan.
The 2018 Mazda6 also adds a new engine option, a turbocharged 2.5-liter four that makes 227 horsepower on regular fuel and 250 hp on the 93-octane stuff.
It joins the existing, naturally aspirated 187-hp four, which powers the Sport and Touring ($25,700) trims.
Neither engine is the quickest or most efficient in the class but both are smooth, quiet and responsive.
Unavailable on lower trims, the turbocharged engine is standard on Grand Touring ($29,200), Grand Touring Reserve ($31,700) and the new-for-18 Signature ($34,750) trim.
Spirited and responsive
In all its trims, the Mazda6 is spirited and responsive. Steering is quick, direct and accurate, though I’d like a heftier feel at speed and a more robust on-center channel.
This year, new dampers and revised spring rates produce a flatter ride, with well-controlled body lean in the corners.
The 6 is the rare front-drive car that doesn’t plow when driven hard into a corner. Credit
Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which tweaks front-axle loads in response to steering-wheel inputs.
Cabins finished in high-quality materials
All Mazda6 cabins are upgraded this year with higher-quality materials; Signature models are trimmed in Nappa leather and fine-grained Japanese Sen wood.
The Mazda6 cabin is less roomy than its prime competitors, with rear-seat legroom and headroom falling short of the class leaders.
There are plentiful cabin storage opportunities, though, and newly redesigned front seats grow thicker, wider and more supportive. For the first time, they are available with ventilation.
Keeping eyes on the road
To reduce the time the driver looks away from the road, Mazda places its 8.0-inch display screen within easy eyesight atop the dashboard. When the Mazda6 is stationary, the display functions as a touchscreen; in motion, a rotary knob and a handful of hard buttons provide instant and intuitive access to the MazdaConnect infotainment system.
MazdaConnect includes Bluetooth, a USB port and a six-speaker sound system. A high-end Bose system is available, as are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The base Mazda6 Sport is equipped with LED headlights, push-button start, 60/40-split folding rear seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Standard safety features include blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera and rear cross-traffic alert.
A pair of gearboxes
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on Sport but unavailable on other trims, which get a six-speed automatic.
Sport models can be ordered with the automatic, which makes them eligible for the i-Activsense safety and driver-assist package ($625). It includes forward collision warning, with automatic emergency braking; adaptive cruise control; and lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist.
Most buyers will gravitate to the Touring trim ($25,700), which brings i-Activsense as standard and adds proximity keyless entry, automatic wipers, automatic high-beams, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver seat and a sunroof.
Fortunately, there’s no need to search out a dirt road to realize the Mazda6’s competence or its refinement; you will likely find that any old road will do.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2018 Mazda Mazda6 Signature
Vehicle base price: $21,950
Trim level base price: $34,750
As tested: $36,140
Options included floor mats, Machine Gray paint, scuff plates.
EPA rating: 26 combined/23 city/31 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified