Out in the supermarket parking lot, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish this year’s Mazda6 from last’s.
Changes to its grille, headlights and taillights are so subtle casual observers won’t notice. It’s a different story inside, though, as Mazda fits the 6 with a new dash and center console, improves materials quality and tightens fit-and-finish.
The new set-up not only looks better, but also enables implementation of Mazda’s Heads-up Cockpit, a suite of tools designed to minimize the distractions of modern cabin tech. It allows drivers full access to controls and information, with eyes up.
A 7-inch tablet-sized touchscreen sits atop the dash, where it can be quickly scanned. The driver may touch the screen or access it via a console-mounted knob that’s accompanied by three hard buttons. The buttons (Home/Entertainment/Navigation) allow direct access to top-level menus; the knob is used to drill down into them
One quickly learns by feel the location of the hard buttons, so making menu choices requires only quick glances at the screen. Redundant steering-wheel controls supplement screen and knob, and, for anyone with the patience to wait for its responses, the system can be voice-operated.
Other Heads-up Cockpit elements include the Active Driving Display, a notecard-sized panel that rises on ignition from the dash, directly within the driver’s direct line-of-sight, and displays vehicle speed, navigation directions and other data.
An electric parking brake replaces the old hand-brake in the center console, making room for a large storage bin. All 6s also get the newest version of Mazda Connect, a smartphone-based connectivity system.
Though it’s not the most powerful car in the family sedan segment, the 6 might be the most athletic. Steering is precise and communicative, the chassis stiff and responsive and braking action firm and linear.
The trade-off is a firm ride. The 6’s suspension doesn’t erase the bumps, but dampens vibrations and hints of harshness before they reach the cabin. Seats are exceptional, both front and rear, and more effective insulation cuts road noise by an estimated 10 percent on rough roads and 25 percent on the highway.
The 6’s 184-horsepower direct-injected four-cylinder engine is refined, smooth and efficient.
In two of its three trims, the 6 can be ordered with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic (the top-of-the-line Grand Touring is auto-only). The stick is the enthusiast’s choice, but even the automatic is programmed for performance. Rather than boosting mileage by shifting into a higher gear at the first opportunity, it’s programmed to maximize engine output. A Drive Select mode allows the driver to alter the aggressiveness of the shift points.
Its performance cred aside, the 6 is one of the market’s most efficient mid-sizers. It runs the 0-60 sprint in a competitive 7 seconds-plus, while earning 31 mpg combined (26 city/38 highway) when equipped with the automatic, and 29/25/37 with the stick.
A regenerative engine-braking and energy-storage system, called i-Eloop and available only on the Grand Touring, bumps mileage to 32/28/40.
If you’re shopping midsize sedans, consider this your heads-up; the Mazda6 should be on your list.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
2016 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring
Vehicle base price: $21,495
Trim level base price: $30,195
As tested: $33,395
Options included navigation; satellite radio; intelligent cruise control; i-Eloop regenerative engine braking system; Smart Brake support; lane-departure warning; active grille shutters.
EPA ratings: 32 combined/28 city/40 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified