Sensible mainstream sedans are usually as exciting as cold oatmeal, but the Mazda6 just may be an one of the few exception. Yes, it's ironic that Mazda's "zoom-zoom" tagline doesn't quite square with the Mazda6's fuel-economy-focused, four-cylinder-only engine – but in the looks, technology and handling departments, the Mazda6 pleases.
The Mazda6 and the Ford Fusion are undoubtedly the two beacons of visual flair in this segment's common silhouette of three-box body proportions. The two actually used to be half-siblings back in the mid-2000s when Ford owned up to a third of Mazda. But unlike 10 years ago, when the Mazda6 was basically the only pretty mid-size four-door in town, today there are also some additional more-restrained-but-still-emotional lookers from others in this group, such as the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and even the Chevrolet Malibu.
Instead of depending solely on its sultry looks, the Mazda6 offers some substance inside. It has slightly less overall passenger room than many of its mid-size rivals, due mainly to its lower, slinkier roof height. However, there's still plenty of room – front and rear, and that's with the power sunroof that is comes standard in this tester's top-line GT trim, which starts at $32,195, and tops out after freight, fees, options and Ontario taxes at an out-the-door price of $38,640.
It was a six-speed manual in this tester, but if you don't want a third pedal, the six-speed automatic is a no-cost option.
Still, it's pricey for a mainstream mid-size sedan, and notably higher than in the U.S., where the top Mazda6 trim starts at $29,895 (U.S.).
At that price, you're swimming awfully close to a luxury pool crowded with entry-level BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class compact sedans, as well as Acura and Lexus mid-sizers – a place where the Mazda6's leather-lined and very functional cockpit starts to look just a little plain.
One unique technology offered in the Tech package is the Mazda6's i-ELOOP regenerative braking system, which uses a capacitor to capture energy produced under braking, and then uses that energy to power various accessories and systems within the car. This lightens the power and fuel-sapping requirements of the battery and alternator, although after driving two Mazda6s with and without this i-ELOOP, system, the bigger advantage seems to be at the pump, rather than any acceleration boost. Mazda says this system alone reduces fuel consumption by about 5 per cent, or 10 per cent in city traffic, and will extend the life of the car's battery by up to 50 per cent.
Even without this system, which costs $800 extra but is only available with the top GT trim's Tech package, the Mazda6 is a fuel economy leader in its class. The automatic transmission is more efficient on paper than the manual, with city and highway ratings of 8.8 and 6.2 litres/100 km, respectively, compared to the manual's 9.4 city and 6.4 highway numbers. Those figures are from the Canadian government's recently released and more stringent 2015 five-cycle fuel consumption tests, landing notably higher than the 2014 model's 7.6 and 5.1 that Mazda is trumpeting on its Canadian consumer website.
Overall , Mazda's largest sedan gives up some practicality to some rivals, and some power to thirstier ones, but it is among the best-looking and best-handling mainstream sedan on the market. Its price can be mitigated somewhat by going easy on the options, though safety-minded folks will want to give the Tech package a close look.
8.5 - Sensible mainstream sedans are as exciting as oatmeal, but the Mazda6 is an exception. While the company's "zoom-zoom" tag line doesn't square with a four-cylinder engine and top-of-the-class fuel economy, the ride is firm and relatively flat through corners and highway ramps.
9.0 - The curvaceous fender sculpting, aggressive lower front lip and ready-to-pounce stance outshine others in the class.
8.0 - While the exterior is crafted more artistically, the interior features a leather-lined, functional cockpit. It has slightly less overall passenger space than some rivals due to its lower roof height and slinkier design. However, there's still enough headroom.
8.5 - The Smart City Brake Support system acts to either avoid or lessen the impact of low-speed (up to 30 km/h) crashes. Offered in the GT trim's Tech package for $800, the i-ELOOP regenerative braking system captures and converts energy to power various accessories and systems. Mazda says it reduces fuel consumption by about five per cent, or 10 per cent in city traffic, and extends battery life by up to 50 per cent. Without the option, the Mazda6 remains a fuel-economy leader in its class.
8.5 - Arguably the best-looking and best-handling mainstream sedan on the market, the car does everything expected of a family hauler, then piles on relatively more style, handling and tech than others in the segment. Mitigate cost by going easy on the options.
Base price: (GX) $24,495; as tested (GT with tech package) $38,190
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, front-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/6.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat