Sedans are no longer the king of auto sales — that would be SUVs and trucks — but a few manufacturers are still going all-in with design and engineering innovations. The 2018 Mazda 6 is one such example. While the car's underlying chassis is the same as last year, there are so many new elements that you may as well consider it an entirely new car.
A More Elegant Look
Mazda has noticed that buyers of its 6 and CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs were predominantly picking the more lavishly equipped (and expensive) trim vehicles in recent years. To support this sales trend, Mazda added two trims at the top of the range of the 2018 Mazda 6: the Grand Touring Reserve ($31,700 MSRP) and the Signature ($35,640). In between, though, you still have the Touring ($26,590) and the Grand Touring ($30,090), with the base Sport ($22,840) setting everything up.
Every Mazda 6 gets refreshed styling this year. From the outside, the changes are subtle and make the car look wider and lower. The lower bumper trim pieces are now body-colored, and the foglights are integrated into the LED headlight cluster, allowing for a more sculpted front bumper cover. The chrome trim piece that connects the headlights is less angular and is located underneath the lights instead of over them. At the back, the dual exhaust tips are larger in diameter. And, like at the front, the chrome trim that connects the two taillights has also been flattened. The taillights themselves are also of a new design.
The top three trims also come with 19-inch wheels. These wheels feature a multispoke pattern where the spokes extend to the edge of the wheel, making them seem even larger. The bottom two trim levels, the Sport and the Touring, come with 17-inch wheels.
The 2018 Mazda 6's cabin is where you'll really notice a difference between this car and last year's car. The new 6's interior echoes the wide and low aspects of the exterior, and the dashboard is a lot sleeker-looking. The top-level Signature trim that we sampled featured copious amounts of microsuede on the dash, high-quality leather seating and real wood trim sourced from Japan. To match the subdued textures from these new interior materials, Mazda reduced the amount of shiny black surfaces throughout the cabin. The Signature trim also comes with a black headliner, which gives it a trendier look and helps the interior look bigger.
Another change is the resculpted front seats, which Mazda says better cradle your hips and minimize lateral movements when cornering. The seats use smaller side bolsters to keep you in position, making it easier to get in and out of the car. Mazda even switched direction of the seat's stitching from horizontal to vertical, saying it looks better and provides a marginal increase in its ability to hold you in position. Every bit helps.
More Power Down Low, and a Quieter and Smoother Ride
Sport and Touring models come with a revised 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (187 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque). Sport trims can choose from either a manual or an automatic transmission, while Touring models come standard with the automatic. The remaining three trims — Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and Signature — feature a new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers 250 hp on premium fuel and an impressive 310 lb-ft of torque. Use regular unleaded (87 octane), and the engine will peak at 227 hp, while torque output remains the same. Aside from reduced power, Mazda says there is no other penalty for using regular unleaded fuel.
The net result is an incredibly torquey engine that is powerful, even from idle. The transmission reacts quickly to your driving style and will short-shift, or hold gear, if you start to get enthusiastic with the throttle, brakes and steering, to a point. Select Sport mode to take the transmission the rest of the way. It has the ability to hold a gear to redline or make aggressive downshifts while braking. In Normal mode, calming your driving style will bring the transmission back into an efficient mode of operation.
There's more to like than just power, too. The turbo engine is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission, and all automatic-equipped engines feature cylinder deactivation to improve fuel economy. EPA numbers for the turbocharged engine are 26 mpg in combined driving (23 city/31 highway). The base engine achieves a combined 29 mpg (26 city/35 highway) with the automatic or 27 mpg (24 city/33 highway) with the manual.
Mazda also made numerous suspension and chassis updates to improve the 6's highway ride and reduce noise, without sacrificing the car's already excellent handling. An area of complaint for the previous 6 was its interior noise, and Mazda adjusted parts and added measures to combat it. More sound deadening, additional door seals and even materials choices, such as thicker steel in the floor pan, were used to keep road noise at bay. Thankfully, you can still hear the throaty sound of the engine.
On the dash, a new 7-inch infotainment display shows the typical suite of information. By the end of June, the display in Touring trim or higher will come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Mazda disables the infotainment display's touchscreen functionality while the car is moving, but drivers will still be able to operate their smartphones via the standard Mazda Connect control knob, which rotates and acts as a joystick. A new head-up display system projects directly onto the glass and shows blind-spot information, adaptive cruise data and road-sign recognition information, such as when it detects speed limit signs and stop signs.
On the dash, a new 7-inch infotainment display shows the typical suite of information. You can toggle through the different infotainment modes using the steering-wheel-mounted button, and you can quickly change from metric to standard speed displays with a simple push of the dash brightness control. Pushing and holding the control stalk also allows you to change the way fuel economy and range to empty are displayed — either graphically or numerically. And should you desire a simpler display, both the central display and fuel data can be turned off.
More Than the Sum of Its Parts
During a brief drive through the mountains north of Los Angeles, we were able to sample the Mazda 6 along twisty mountain roads and highway cruising. In the mountains, we found the steering to be precise and heavy, with the car's G-Vectoring software control and revised suspension helping to keep the nose of the car pointed toward the exit of the corner. Thanks to the turbocharged engine's ample torque, powering out of corners was never an issue. In fact, if you're too rambunctious with the throttle as you're coming out of a corner, you'll instigate torque steer (the off-putting tendency of the car to pull to one side because of its ample power).
Over the bumps, the recalibrated dampers do an excellent job of transmitting road information to the driver without any extra body motion. It's compliant but stiff. The steering, too, is heavy, but the weight disappears and becomes second nature when driven aggressively. On the highway, the heavy steering does help provide excellent on-center feel, though drivers without any ambitions for sporty driving may find the weighting on the excessive side.
Measures to reduce noise were well-appreciated on the highway segment of our drive and highlighted the luxury aspect of the 2018 Mazda 6. While wind and road noise was still present, it was much less taxing to the ear with reduced intensity at lower frequencies. While the aggressive steering and stiff suspension can only be appreciated in brief moments, the well-designed interior and muscular turbocharged engine are aspects that all drivers can appreciate all the time.
Even in this day and age when SUVs are king, we're glad to see Mazda is putting in the effort to keep its 2018 Mazda 6 relevant. The 6 is more than just basic transportation, and it impresses with its refinement and driving enjoyment. It should be a great choice if you're shopping for a midsize sedan.