Maybe Mazda doesn’t really need fine lines and sensuous curves just to sit on dusty grocery-store lots.
I mean, why put on a Brooks Brothers suit to pick up a greasy bag of fast food at the Burger Doodle?
At least, that’s what I keep telling my dates when we meet at the Doodle for intimate late-afternoon dinners. (I also maintain that rubber sandals are perfectly acceptable footwear.)
I guess Mazda dresses to impress, particularly with the 2018 mid-size 6 sedan, a dazzler in a segment once filled with forgettable transportation appliances.
Ironically, the slick new 6 – fortified now with a turbocharger – joins a handsomely restyled Honda Accord and Toyota Camry just as the segment slides into what could be a prolonged decline.
Who knows, though: the segment’s new Japanese style triumvirate just might be good enough to prompt some people to reconsider leaving sedans for boxy, graceless crossovers and SUVs.
I credit Mazda with getting the mid-size makeover rolling five years ago and it gains momentum with this year’s 6, a car that can rival some near-luxury sedans. (Compare a Mazda 6 to an Acura TLX, for instance.)
The wine-colored 6 I had recently sported lines and proportions as good as any mainstream sedan costing less than $50,000.
The blacked-out grille on my 6, for example, was large but nicely shaped – not big, toothy and seemingly dragging on the street.
Slender horizontal headlamps sliced cleanly back into the fenders, capped by a long, slightly sloping hood raised on the edges.
Likewise, a sleekly curved top added visual spice along with taut sides made more distinct by well-placed curves and character lines.
Moreover, everything on the 6 settled onto good-looking 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped with 225/45 tires.
The big news this year, though: Finally, Mazda added some much-needed muscle – more than 40 horsepower – to the 6’s soft 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
I admit I’ve never been a fan of Mazda’s so-called SkyActiv engines, the weak link, I think, in the automaker’s otherwise commendable vehicles.
Though smooth and refined, the SkyActiv four-bangers tend to go flat above 4,000 rpm – just when you might need some serious merging or passing power.
The new turbocharger changes most of that, pumping up horsepower to 227 on regular gas and 250 on 93 octane.
Spinning the front wheels through a six-speed automatic, the turbo motor delivers a fairly muscular surge of power from stops and pulls well to about 5,000 rpm.
Sixty miles per hour arrives in 6.4 seconds, about a half-second quicker than the old engine, according to Car and Driver, and seems faster than that if getting Junior to the soccer field on time is a priority.
In addition, the turbo doesn’t cut deeply into the economy of the 2.5-liter engine, rated at 23 miles per gallon in town and 31 on the highway.
Still, the 6 with the new engine remains slower than the turbo four in the Honda Accord and the V-6 in the Toyota Camry, but hey, it’s a start.
Like previous 6s, however, the new car feels agile and lighter than its 3,600 pounds, turning into corners eagerly with modest lean and quick, well-weighted steering.
Actually, it felt way too planted and balanced at moderate speeds to be dismissed as a grocery-getter.
More important to most buyers, though the 6 provided a well-controlled ride – no flop, no bounce, no harshness – and is considerably quieter than last year’s car, Mazda says.
In all honesty, I never noticed that previous 6s were loud, but then, I may have been distracted by those cars’ finely crafted interiors – a growing Mazda strength.
The black interior in my $36,000 Signature model didn’t disappoint.
A graceful dashboard in smooth, flat-toned plastic, for example, curved down onto a second dash tier in suede that protruded slightly and was highlighted by a thin strip of dark-wood trim above it.
Although Mazda avoided marring the dash with a clunky center stack, the 6’s audio system had to be tuned through a six-inch iPad-shaped display screen at mid-dash – a needless distraction, I say.
Stylized door panels, though, shone with suede centers trimmed with more dark wood and sleek door-handles that disappeared into surrounding chrome trim.
Meanwhile, smooth Nappa black leather covered the seats, which also featured perforated centers and, more significantly, good leg- and head-room in back.
As a high-end Signature model, my 6 had less than $800 in options, including a cargo mat ($75); the slick wine-colored paint ($595); and door-sill scuff-plates ($125).
Leave those off and you’ll still have an exceptional mid-size sedan.
Now if Mazda can just get a few buyers to notice.
2018 Mazda 6 Signature
- What I liked most: Essentially, the whole package.
- What I would change: Now that the engine has finally got a little power, tune it to be competitive with the fleet 2-liter Honda Accord.
- MSRP: Base price, $34,750; as equipped, $36,435.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 23 miles per gallon in town, 31 on the highway and 26 mpg overall with filler on the left
- Official color: Soul Red Crystal.
- Odometer reading when tested: 1,763 miles.
- Weight: 3,563 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 191.5 inches long/72.4 inches wide/57.1 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 16.4 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds.
- Spare tire: Compact.
- 2018 Mazda6 in a few words: One of the better mid-size sedans in the segment – and possibly the best -- in terms of styling, refinement and driving dynamics.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Hofu, Japan.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.mazdausa.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle)