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2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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One of the most engaging midsize sedans. At the premium Grand Touring level, it’s a worthy alternative to a more-expensive luxury-brand sedan

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS


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Mazda's flagship Mazda6 sedan embodies the Japanese manufacturer's passion for the automobile in a class filled with notably non-passionate machinery. If you’re looking for a midsize sedan, preferably one with a first-rate driving experience, but don’t have the budget for one of the European examples, think Mazda6. It has gotten awards from enthusiast publications, accolades missing from the resumés of its more popular rivals -- yet it is not just a car for the automotive enthusiast. With its fine combination of style, space, driving dynamics, and fuel efficiency, the Mazda 6 can work for anyone in need of a midsize sedan.

The current generation dates to model year 2014, but continuous updating keeps it ahead of the competition. 2016 saw a redesigned instrument panel, while further interior enhancements and higher levels of standard equipment across the line are new this year. Trim levels are standard Mazda: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Power for all is from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Direct fuel injection allows for high compression, which means maximum efficiency -- 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque on unleaded regular. The Sport is available with a six-speed stick; optional there and the only choice above that is a six-speed automatic. No V6? No problem — while competitors offer V-sixes, the bulk of sales are four-cylinder cars. The Mazda6 might give up a bit in acceleration compared to a V6, but it won’t take second place in the driving experience or ability to safely and comfortably deal with any road. “Balance” is the word here.

I first met the current Mazda6 back in 2013, with opportunities to drive a stick-shift Sport on the street and around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (MRLS). With vast elevation changes, tricky turns, and a distinct shortage of straight and level roadway, MRLS is a challenging track that rewards handling. It’s also Mazda USA’s test track, so no surprise that all Mazdas work very well there. The Mazda6 certainly did. More recently, I’ve driven Grand Tourings for weekly reviews. The automatic is not really a drawback for the driving experience, and even though it’s priced near the top end of the middle-class midsize sedan market, it’s still a very good value as it has more in common with entry-luxury cars than mass-market transportation appliances. This week’s example came with the GT Premium Package, meaning fancier interior trim, Nappa leather seating surfaces, and heat for both the steering wheel rim and outboard rear cushions in addition to the fronts, plus the i-ELOOP energy regeneration system, which stores energy recovered during deceleration in a capacitor to lessen the load on the alternator a bit during subsequent driving for a slight improvement in fuel economy. That didn’t seem to make much difference compared to earlier examples without it, but then every drive is different. And in a Mazda6, every drive will be above expectations.

APPEARANCE: Long, sleek, and fluidly flowing, the Mazda6 is distinctly Mazda, with its rounded five-point grille emphasized by a chrome strip underneath, prominent fenders and a long, purposefully-sculpted hood. "Cab-forward" not spoken here, even though the Mazda 6 has a transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive drivetrain. The near-fastback passenger cabin is long and graceful, and the arched rear edge of the trunk is a long-time Mazda styling cue. It's elegant and cohesive, and well above class standards. There are minor changes to the outside mirrors for 2017.

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COMFORT: After a redesign last year, with a revised instrument panel that moved the central information screen from in-dash to protruding from the top of a lower top dash line, changes for 2017 are minimal. There is a new steering wheel and front seatback pockets for rear passengers, and more sound insulation. The info screen is high enough to be easily but non-distractingly visible, and does not impede vision. As before, control for audio, navigation, and information systems is by direct touch or the multi-function Commander rotary knob and hard buttons on the console. At premium Grand Touring level, the Mazda6 is close to entry-luxury in design and content. Styling is as cohesively flowing inside as out, and materials are first-class. Textured soft-touch synthetics are used for the upper surfaces of the doors and instrument panel, where they eliminate glare. Matte-silver trim is used around the vents, instruments, and shifter, and on the IP and doors. Leather covers the seating surfaces, and here both front seats are power-adjustable and heatable. They are among the best in class for comfort and support. The leather-rimmed steering wheel adjusts manually for tilt and reach and has controls for audio, information, cruise, and Bluetooth phone systems. A heatable rim is a new GT feature, as is a color heads-up “Active Driving Display”. A tilt-and-slide moonroof lets light in when desired. There is a 12VDC power point and open space at the front of the console, bottle holders in all doors and some storage in the fronts, a moderately large glove box, and a deep console box with audio attachment and power. Rear passengers get a contoured bench, but its width and the low central tunnel make the center position more useful than in some other cars. The seatback folds 60/40. The trunk is usefully large and there is a space-saver spare tire under the load floor.

SAFETY: The Mazda 6 was designed and built with safety in mind, and has received a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS and a 5-Star rating from the NHTSA. Standard safety equipment includes a full complement of airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, dynamic stability control, and traction control. All trim levels have a backup camera. At Touring and above, the Blind-Spot Monitoring System with cross-traffic alert and Smart City Brake Support System are standard. The Grand Touring gets standard Smart Brake Support System with Collision Warning and Lane Keep Assist, and radar cruise control as standard equipment.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A strong and rigid unibody structure ensures excellent suspension response, and allows enough well-damped suppleness for comfort and fine manners in the corners -- even pushed harder than would be legal or sane on the road. With its well-tuned MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension, the Mazda 6 feels more like a $40,000+ German sports-luxury sedan than a $20-$35,000 Japanese family car. The steering is electrically-assisted, and while a bit numb at low speeds (more assist for easier low-speed maneuverability, not necessarily bad), it's well-weighted once underway. Brakes are excellent. It's comfortable around town and on the highway and very capable around MRLS, a venue noted and loved for its challenging corners and lack of straight, level ground.




PERFORMANCE: If the Mazda 6's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine sounds at first like a generic modern powerplant -- a dual overhead cam, 16-valve unit with block and head of aluminum alloy, careful design and attention to detail, and use of direct fuel injection, which allows a high 13:1 compression ratio on unleaded regular, make it stand out. It makes 184 horsepower (at 5700 rpm) and 185 lb-ft of torque at a low 3250 rpm. Low-end torque is more than adequate, and there is a good high-end punch when needed. But the engine is wonderfully flexible and doesn't have to be redlined for a quick trip down the road. Which means that performance is not degraded by the automatic, and fuel economy is actually slightly improved. I got 29 mpg in a manual 2014 Touring, and beat that with 32 in an automatic 2015 Grand Touring. This time, 27 mpg, with minimal highway. Every tank varies, and direct comparison is dubious because of changes in traffic and road conditions, but figure 30 mpg as a realistic average. Some credit goes to the i-ELOOP ("intelligent Energy Loop") system, which generates electricity under deceleration, whether the brakes are applied or not, stores it in a capacitor, and feeds that power back into the electrical system, decreasing use of the alternator and hence a bit of power-sapping drag on the engine. The six-speed automatic has standard and sport modes, with manual shifting via paddles behind the steering wheel spokes. D is fine. Sport holds gears longer so improves acceleration a bit. Manual shifting is typical for a torque-converter automatic, a bit slow. And never really necessary.

CONCLUSIONS: In any trim, the Mazda6 is one of the most engaging midsize sedans. At the premium Grand Touring level, it’s a worthy alternative to a more-expensive luxury-brand sedan.

SPECIFICATIONS

2017 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring

Base Price $ 30,695

Price As Tested $ 34,530

Engine Type DOHC aluminum alloy 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 184 @ 5700 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 3250 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 111.4 in. / 191.5 in.

Curb Weight 3305 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.0

Fuel Capacity 16.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline

Tires P225/45R19 92W Dunlop SP Sport

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock, EBD, BA, DSC, TCS standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 27 / 35 / 27

0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

GT Premium Package — includes: iEloop regenerative engine braking system, active grille shutters, shifter LED accent lighting, bright-finish interior trim, Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery, heater rear seats and steering wheel, black headliner $ 2,500

Cargo Mat $ 75

Gray Paint $ 300

Door Sill Trim Plates $ 125

Destination Charge $ 835