No sport sedan, and that’s okay

There aren’t many mainstream automakers that make picking between a car and a crossover more difficult than Mazda.

Take the CX-5: it easily counts among the nicest crossovers of its kind to drive. It also boasts some excellent engine options, and outstanding styling. But those who don’t explicitly need the extra space of a crossover would do well to slide across the showroom and check out the 2021 Mazda6, a stylish midsize sedan that drives as well as anything else in the segment.

Driving Feel: 9/10

The odds are pretty good that anyone shopping for a sedan like this understands their inherent compromises compared to a crossover like the CX-5. It’s never going to carry the same amount of stuff or offer equivalent room for people, and that’s obvious. Where a car like the Mazda6 excels even next to an entry like the CX-5 is the way it drives.

As far as driving dynamics go, Mazda’s midsize crossover might be the most car-like of its kind on the market, but the Mazda6 is simply – and unsurprisingly – better. It’s not sporty and satisfying in the same ways as a BMW 3 Series, but it strikes a nice balance between lively and passive. It doesn’t boast a ton of steering feel, but it’s responsive enough to inspire confidence behind the wheel without the daily drive turning into a workout.

Power: 10/10

Much like the CX-5 – and every other Mazda model this side of the MX-5 – there’s a pair of four-cylinders available, including a stout turbo motor that makes more torque than some of the hottest hot hatches around. The engine that powers GS, GS-L, and GT trims is decidedly more docile though more than acceptable for the segment, with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque to work with. Under the hood of the Mazda CX-30 subcompact crossover, the naturally aspirated engine operated smoothly and without fuss.

Moving to the Kuro Edition like the one tested here or the top-of-the-line Signature trim sees a turbocharger bolted to the side of the motor. With the same displacement as the base powerplant, the boosted version generates 250 hp and an astounding 320 lb-ft of torque. That torque count is the most of any four-cylinder sedan like this on the market, and it all kicks in at 2,500 rpm.

No, this isn’t a sport sedan, nor is it trying to be one. But it does a decent impersonation of one the moment the skinny pedal is buried into the floor, the Mazda6 surging ahead in a hurry – or at least trying its best to. With a six-speed automatic transmission in charge of turning all that combustible force into forward momentum, getting overzealous with the throttle can cause the front tires to spin wildly as they search for traction, particularly this time of year. Thankfully, there isn’t a ton of torque steer to contend with like powerful Mazda models of old, the sedan moving in a straight line rather than pulling to one side or the other.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

The peak output the turbocharged engine generates is only achieved on pricey 93-octane fuel, though the tank can be filled with regular-grade gas without much penalty. Running on 87-octane, the numbers stand at a still-impressive 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, the latter figure keeping the Mazda6 ahead of both the Subaru Legacy GT or the Honda Accord powered by a detuned version of the 2.0L engine in the Civic Type R.

While the naturally aspirated 2.5L is rated to burn about 1.0 L/100 km less than its turbocharged counterpart across the board, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the upgraded engine isn’t bad compared to those rivals. The federal agency says it’s good for 10.0 L/100 km around town and 7.5 on the highway, resulting in a combined consumption of 8.9 L/100 km. That’s on pace with the Accord (9.1 combined) and the all-wheel-drive Legacy (8.7), and better than the V6-powered Toyota Camry TRD (9.4).

Real-world testing during a week of relatively mild winter weather saw results skew slightly higher than projected, with a final tally of 9.2 L/100 km over the course of 550 km. While not especially impressive, it’s decent for a car like this fitted with winter tires.

Comfort: 8/10

With temperatures hovering just below the freezing mark during testing, the standard dual-zone automatic climate control wasn’t exactly asked to work overtime but it was impressive nonetheless, working quickly to warm the cabin. The three-stage heated front seats helped, too, as did the heated steering wheel.

Mazda’s seats tend to be more supportive than most on the mainstream market and that trend continues here, with hours of driving racked up free of complaints or discomfort. It certainly helped that they came covered in swathes of red leather that could easily find its way into a premium product. The same isn’t true of the other materials inside the Kuro Edition, though it’s all perfectly adequate for a mainstream entry like this. (Those wanting more opulence can opt for the top Signature trim, which comes loaded with Nappa leather upholstery and genuine wood trim bits.)

Ride quality, too, is just adequate for the segment, which may disappoint some shoppers expecting something slightly more upmarket like that of the Mazda CX-9. It’s not exactly uncomfortable, but the Mazda6 certainly isn’t as composed over other entries, the suspension occasionally crashing stiffly over uneven surfaces.

Styling: 10/10

The Mazda6 has long been the best of the midsize bunch as far as styling is concerned and nothing’s changed all these years later, with the sleek sedan featuring flowing lines from tip to tail. Even when finished in an understatedly cool hue like the Polymetal Grey Metallic of this tester, this Mazda manages to stand out from the competition.

The Kuro Edition’s red leather does the same for the cabin, which is fairly generic otherwise. Even when done up in Signature trim and its accompanying white or brown leather, it’s not going to turn many heads, but this splash of colour certainly helps.

Practicality: 7/10

Despite the style and support the driver’s seat provides, its position inside the low-slung sedan makes it somewhat awkward for tall occupants. While headroom isn’t especially abundant in the midsize sedan segment as a whole, the Mazda6 in particular makes the headliner tough to contend with for those that stand about 6-foot-3 or taller. Making matters worse, users of such stature are forced to slide the seat beyond the shallow slope of the roofline, simultaneously putting the telescoping steering wheel just beyond a comfortable reach while also cutting into rear-seat legroom.

Regardless, space inside is enough for four occupants – particularly if those in the back are children – while the trunk is deep enough to accommodate suitcases or golf bags. It’s only the cargo opening itself that’s narrow due to the wide hinges on either side. While Pattie, autoTRADER.ca’s cargo-testing pedal car, wasn’t able to fit in the Mazda6’s trunk, it did so with ease in the smaller Nissan Sentra, not to mention the Toyota Camry Hybrid that’s the same size.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Despite the headroom limitations caused by the sleek roofline, climbing into and out of this midsize sedan is made easy by its wide door openings. Likewise, outward visibility is better than the car’s profile might suggest at first glance, with large windows all around. It’s only the thick A-pillars with their integrated air ducts that cut into sightlines, though they’re easy enough to look around from the driver’s seat.

The switchgear inside follows a logical layout, with simple buttons and dials low on the dashboard for HVAC controls, and an eight-inch infotainment display perched on top of it. Sticking with Mazda tradition, there’s a separate set of controls on the centre console to operate the interface, though the system utilizes a touchscreen as well (it’s disabled when the car is in motion, leaving the console controller as the only option).

Mazda’s infotainment interface itself isn’t outstanding, with cheap graphics and mediocre response to inputs. It does, however, include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which are more aesthetically appealing and easier to use – at least when operated via touch.

Features: 8/10

That Apple CarPlay connection is now wireless in the GT, Kuro Edition, and Signature trims, though it’s something of a useless feature without a wireless phone charger to go with it. Still, both smartphone interfaces are standard throughout the Mazda6 lineup, as is that eight-inch touchscreen, a quartet of USB ports, push-button ignition, and heated front seats. Outside, there’s automatic LED lighting all around, auto-levelling headlights, heated door mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The GS-L trim adds synthetic leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, and a power sunroof, while the GT gets genuine leather seats, an 11-speaker stereo, navigation, wireless CarPlay, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. The Kuro Edition is based on the GT trim but brings unique exterior and interior accents, including red leather upholstery, 19-inch alloy wheels, and the upgraded turbo motor. Finally, the Mazda6 Signature adds some upscale finishes inside and out.

Safety: 8/10

There’s also plenty of advanced safety equipment, though only some of it comes standard. Blind-spot monitoring and forward automatic emergency braking is included in every Mazda6, but stuff like lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning, pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic is featured in the GS-L trim and up. Moving to the GT trim – and the Kuro Edition that’s based on it – adds stuff like a head-up display that projects on the windshield, traffic-sign recognition, steering-responsive headlights, front and rear parking sensors, and a surround-view monitor (though much like the government-mandated back-up camera, the resolution isn’t great). Finally, the Signature trim adds reverse automatic braking and a driver attention monitor.

While the distance the adaptive cruise control system maintains from the vehicle ahead is a little wide, leaving room for other drivers to sneak in and forcing the car to slow down, all of the advanced systems work well and without much fuss. While some competitor systems are on the sensitive side, beeping and flashing at the slightest sign of trouble, the features here provide subtle vibrations through the steering wheel and simple flashes on the instrument cluster and head-up display for lane alerts. It’s all easy to disable through the touch of a button or two as well.

Value: 9/10

The various trims available are priced well next to competitive midsize sedans, as well as compact crossovers like the Mazda CX-5. Starting at $29,500 with freight but before tax, the Mazda6 is cheaper than a base Accord ($34,075) but comparable to the least expensive Legacy ($28,520), Camry ($29,120), or CX-5 ($30,550). That’s true throughout the lineup, with the GS-L, GT, Kuro Edition, and Signature trims ranging from $33,600 to $41,450 before tax. It’s only the Accord that remains just a little more expensive across the board or the CX-5, with its available all-wheel drive making it a pricier proposition.

The Verdict

Choosing between a car and a crossover these days is tougher than ever, and that’s especially true with an automaker like Mazda. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to preference over anything else, with the perceived practicality of a crossover appealing to those that need the extra space they provide. But anyone who isn’t keen on having the bulky back end of a crossover following them around as they drive will no doubt appreciate the characteristics of a midsize car like the Mazda6, not to mention the more satisfying driving dynamics that come with it.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2021 Mazda6 Kuro Edition
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $37,950
Peak Horsepower 250 hp @ 5,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 320 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm   Destination Fee $1,850
Fuel Economy 10.0 / 7.5 / 8.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $40,100
Cargo Space 416 L  
Optional Equipment
$200 – Polymetal Grey Metallic Paint, $200