2012 Mazda Mazda6
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    $20,480 - $29,810
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    2012 Mazda Mazda6 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Sedans that look like coupes and go zoom-zoom.

    Introduction

    The Mazda6 is a midsize sedan that looks like a coupe. On the road, it acts like a coupe with sporty driving dynamics and sparkling acceleration performance. The Mazda6 delivers good fuel economy and it's attractively priced. Inside is a nice cabin loaded with convenience features. There's plenty of room for four adults, it can seat five, and it has a big trunk. 

    The 2012 Mazda6 carries over unchanged. Mazda6 was last redesigned for the 2009 model year, and 2011 brought styling revisions and interior upgrades. 

    Two engines are available. Mazda 6i models come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Mazda 6s versions get a 3.7-liter V6. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder has 170 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque and is EPA-rated at 21/30 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual transmission, 22/31 mpg with the 5-speed automatic. We found the four-cylinder engine a good choice. It cruises effortlessly on the open highway and works well around town with either transmission. The 6-speed manual is the sporty choice with closely spaced gear ratios. 

    The 3.7-liter V6 makes 272 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, delivers extraordinary performance, and is EPA-rated at 18/27 mpg. The V6 engine delivers loads of mid-range power and strong acceleration performance. We found it a delight to drive, with a 6-speed automatic mated to the most powerful V6 in the class. 

    Mazda6 competes against an impressive group of midsize sedans. Among them: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Jetta, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima. Those who fully enjoy and appreciate the driving experience may find the Mazda6 the most compelling. Competitive pricing may seal the deal. 

    The Mazda6 looks smaller and trimmer than other midsize sedans. In fact, it's just an inch shorter than the 2012 Accord and it's actually three inches longer than the 2012 Camry. 

    The Mazda6 offers just as much legroom as either the Honda or the Toyota, though the swoopy roof eats up an inch of headroom. And the Mazda6 has just as much legroom in the back seats as the Honda Accord. We found the seating comfortable, front and rear. Leather upholstery is available in addition to the nice cloth that comes standard. And the Mazda6 offers slightly more luggage room than what's available in either the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. We liked the navigation system and the stereo and we found everything easy to use. Visibility is very good. 

    Sporty handling is this car's best feature. Each Mazda6 model has its own calibrations for the same suspension system, and they tend to feel more buttoned down as price and engine size increase. A lot of the differences relate to tires. Four-cylinder models with 17-inch wheels offer livelier handling due to lighter weight. The V6 models on 18-inch wheels offer lots of grip but ride quality is a bit too firm for rough pavement. 

    Overall, the Mazda6 is an excellent choice for driving enthusiasts who want a practical midsize sedan. 

    Lineup

    Mazda 6i Sport ($20,240) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel, 60/40 folding rear seat, six-speaker sound system, keyless remote entry, cruise control, and steering wheel mounted controls. The 6-speed manual gearbox that comes standard became a close-ratio unit in 2011. A 5-speed automatic ($21,240) is also available. 

    Mazda 6i Touring ($22,885) comes only with the automatic transmission, and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, eight-way power driver's seat, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, center console sliding armrest, trip computer, in-dash 6CD changer, premium trim, and Bluetooth. The Mazda 6i Touring Plus ($24,490) adds a power moonroof, ground illumination, electroluminescent gauges, anti-theft system, and Blind Spot Monitoring System. 

    Mazda 6i Grand Touring ($27,070) upgrades with leather seats (heated in front), dual-zone climate control, welcome lighting, Bose sound system, and multi-information display with rearview camera. Options for Grand Touring include a navigation system ($2,000), and the Technology Package ($1,785), which adds automatic headlamps, advanced keyless entry, push-button start, auto-dimming and heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror, Homelink universal garage-door opener, Sirius Satellite Radio, xenon headlamps, LED rear combination lights, driver's-seat memory, power passenger seat, and rain-sensing wipers. 

    Mazda 6s has the 3.7-liter V6 engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission, and chrome dual-exhaust outlets. It's available with the Touring Plus ($27,330) or Grand Touring ($29,570) trim levels, which are equipped similarly to the i models, although the s Grand Touring gets 18-inch alloy wheels. 

    Safety features include front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control and ABS. The Blind Spot Monitoring System is standard on Touring Plus and Grand Touring models. 

    Walkaround

    If you were to stretch the shape of the Mazda6, you'd find the influence of the RX-8 sports car in numerous places. This is a distinctive car, and if you like modern design, you'll like the Mazda6. 

    The Mazda6 does not look like a big car. With its flowing roofline, wraparound overhangs that appear shorter than they are, classy grille and front fascia, and sleek lines overall, the Mazda6 comes across as a smaller, trimmer, tidier car than some of its competitors. 

    The headlights are housed in sleek and stylishly shaped housings, each headlamp like a squeezed trapezoid or pea pod with pointy ends, inlaid on the graceful front fenders. An upper body crease that would normally go to the front wheel stops just shy of the fenders, and the rear wheel arches have double creases to mirror the front. 

    The Mazda6 five-sided grille has a deep V-shape to it and it's all body-colored, except for the chrome winged Mazda logo. The fog lights are set in horizontal openings surrounded by some light gray plastic and horizontal character lines in the air dam. At the rear, the horizontal taillamps wrap around the sides, and our four-cylinder had neat twin pipes coming out the right rear, connected to a twin-outlet muffler. The 17-inch alloy wheels on our Mazda 6i Grand Touring were beautiful, and bore Michelin P215/55R tires. 

    Interior

    The Mazda6 cabin uses contemporary materials, with metallic-finish surfaces rather than phony wood trim. The exception is the console trim that slashes across the passenger's dash which, on some models, appears a cross between silver-veined black granite and ash-black burnt wood with wide rings in it. It's a look we've not run across recently. We especially liked the brushed aluminum look of the rings around the instruments on our car. 

    The seats are cloth on the Sport, Touring, and Touring Plus, and have good support and comfort. It's a new cloth that was first appeared on 2011 models, but it's sporty and rugged like the previous material. Mazda has long been a leader in cloth upholstery. Our Mazda 6i Grand Touring had perforated black leather and was beautiful. 

    The seats are comfortable front and rear, regardless of upholstery. There is generous room inside, so even six-foot-plus bodies can sit in front and then jump in back without moving the front seat, even on cars with the moonroof. The rear seat offers plenty of room, a center armrest (no pass-through), and a 60/40 split seatback that's easy to fold. 

    Visibility is good in all directions. The hood slopes out of sight, common in this aerodynamic era. The roof pillars are not so wide that they obstruct vision; the outside mirrors are fairly low and so is the dashboard, all adding up to a good view out. Xenon headlights are included with the Grand Touring Technology Package. Dash and cabin lighting are more than adequate with either set of gauges. 

    Instruments are laid out with fuel and tachometer to the left, speed and coolant temperature to the right. Between the two are the odometers, outside temperature. When shifting an automatic manually the gear selected is shown above the odometers. 

    At top center of the dash is a deep red digital display for climate, radio and clock that's easily read by anyone in the car. Below it are center vents, the audio system or navigation if so equipped, and basic three-ring climate controls. Big omnidirectional round vents are on each end of the dash for ventilation. Lights and wipers are on stalks. Some secondary controls are to the left of the steering wheel next to a small storage tray. Redundant audio, telephony and cruise controls are on the steering wheel. 

    All the systems are simple to use. Our biggest complaint is the beep that accompanies every volume adjustment made by the steering wheel toggle. But this is probably one of the 24 adjustments, including door lock programming, turn signal click volume, and blind spot monitor, the dealer can alter for you. 

    The navigation system worked without error, and gave good voice responses. The standard Bose sound system with 10 speakers including a 9-inch subwoofer sounded good. 

    Good storage space can be found in the center console, doors, and glovebox. 

    A Blind Spot Monitoring System comes on Touring Plus and Grand Touring models, though we have noted no significant blind spots on the Mazda6. At speeds greater than 20 mph the system senses vehicles adjacent; it casts an orange image onto the exterior mirror if it senses your car going where another car is, and makes a noise if you signal while it senses a vehicle in the way. It can be a very helpful feature. We found it worked better on the Mazda6 and caused fewer false alarms than similar systems we've tried on some other brands. 

    Cargo space is one of the strong suits of the Mazda6. With 16.6 cubic feet of volume, the Mazda6 is at or near the top of the class in cargo space. It also boasts a low liftover height: One needs to lift cargo only to the top of the bumper and slide it in, the car's sweeping roofline making the vertical opening much larger than the depth aspect. There are no hinges or trunk arms within the opening nor cargo shelf impediments, and the rear seatbacks can be released from the trunk. 

    The chassis structure is very stiff, which is a good thing. Chassis rigidity is a key element in allowing a smooth ride and sharp handling. We noted no creaks or squeaks from the Mazda6 while entering steep driveways or taking angled traverses of sharp bumps. 

    Driving Impression

    Mazda's renowned zoom-zoom driving enjoyment comes with this refined Mazda6. 

    The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 170 horsepower, gets the job done just fine, with the best coming on as the rev counter swings through the 4500-4800 rpm range and keeps pulling to near redline. It's plenty to get the Mazda6 around town or up a hill and cruises on the highway effortlessly at less than 3000 rpm, regardless of transmission. We never wish we had another hundred horsepower when driving it. Automatic and manual transmissions have well-spaced gears to make the best of the four-cylinder's output. The shift and clutch action on the close-ratio 6-speed manual show Mazda's sports car abilities without any sports car compromises. 

    The 3.7-liter V6, with 272 horsepower, has loads of mid-range torque and delivers better acceleration than the 2.5. In fact this engine is larger and marginally more powerful than its competitors. And it delivers good, if not class-leading fuel economy: 18/27 mpg for the 2012 model. 

    Each Mazda6 model has its own calibrations for the same suspension system, and they tend to feel more buttoned down as price and engine size increase. But a lot of this can be traced to tires, and a four-cylinder car with the 17-inch wheels is arguably the most fun on a winding road because it's a couple of hundred pounds lighter than the V6 models. But the standard 17-inch wheels only come with the automatic transmission; if you want the full sporty effect, with the 6-speed gearbox, you'd have to order the i sport and then get aftermarket wheels and tires, because the 17-inch alloy wheels aren't a stand-alone option. 

    At the top extreme, a V6 on 18-inch wheels has plenty of grip and surprisingly good sharp-impact rejection (think lane-divider dots) but it is on the firm side, not recommended for lousy infrastructure, and some road noise seeps in to the cabin. All the models have stability control, but it doesn't engage easily, suggesting there's a lot of stability inherent in the handling. 

    The closest competitors in the grip and ride components would be the Malibu V6 for ride, Altima V6 for fun, four-cylinder Accord for fun, Camry for commuting comfort, and Jetta for interior design. The Mazda6 leans toward the fun end of the spectrum, while maintaining a good ride quality. 

    Summary

    The 2012 Mazda6 is a terrific entrant in the midsize class, with lots of room and refinement. It is definitely in the mainstream of midsize sedans, yet Mazda has maintained the exceptional driving characteristics for which the brand is well-known, a trait that should prove popular with those who enjoy driving and don't consider a car mere transportation. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles, with Sam Moses reporting from Washington state's Columbia River Gorge, and John F. Katz from south-central Pennsylvania. 

    Model Lineup

    Mazda6 i Sport ($20,240), automatic ($2 1,240); Mazda6 i Touring ($22,885); Mazda6 i Touring Plus ($24,490); Mazda6 i Grand Touring ($27,070); Mazda6 s Touring Plus ($27,330); Mazda6 s Grand Touring ($29,570). 

    Assembled In

    Flat Rock, Michigan. 

    Options As Tested

    Navigation ($2,000); Technology Package ($1,785) includes auto on-off headlights, advanced keyless entry, push-button start, auto-dimming and heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror, Homelink, Sirius Satellite Radio, xenon headlights, LED rear combination lamps, driver's-seat memory, power passenger seat, rain-sensing wipers;. 

    Model Tested

    Mazda6 i Grand Touring ($27,070). 

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