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2017 Mazda6: It's Time for a Change

The 2017 Mazda6 you see here has everything going against it to be a sales success. First, it’s a sedan, a breed of cars that’s taking a solid hit to the SUV onslaught we’ve been seeing in recent years.
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The 2017 Mazda6 you see here has everything going against it to be a sales success. First, it’s a sedan, a breed of cars that’s taking a solid hit to the SUV onslaught we’ve been seeing in recent years. Second, it’s red, not the most popular colour—people only seem to buy black or grey cars these days. And third, it’s fitted with a six-speed manual transmission. Does the youth of today even know how to operate a clutch?

It’s sad, really. While stick-shift Mazda6 sedans are sleeping on dealer lots in favour of CX-5 and CX-9 utility vehicles, it continues to be, without question, one of the most enjoyable midsize sedans on the market. Here’s why.

Boost is Coming Soon
I’d like to begin with the elephant in the room: the Mazda6’s engine. Contrary to its fierce competition which offers two engine choices across its lineup, this car only comes with one; a 2.5-litre four cylinder. Also, at 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s not what you call punchy. With a 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time claimed at roughly 7.5 seconds, the Mazda6 is slow by today’s standards.

But don’t worry! A considerably re-engineered 2018 Mazda6 will be announced at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show next week, and Mazda has confirmed the addition of a turbocharged engine, similar to what’s found in the CX-9. We can’t wait to see how that will work out for Mazda’s sleek sedan.

Because “sleek” really is the word to use when describing the car’s appearance. I think it’s fair to say that midsize sedans are no longer boring. Once reserved for the blue-collar, working-class family man, the segment of cars that used to be associated with the colour beige and corduroy pants has never looked so good, and the variety of competent offerings has never been so plentiful.

The Chevrolet Malibu looks almost like a Cadillac now, the Honda Accord borrows design hints from the Mercedes-Benz CLS, and the new Toyota Camry is everything but a boring car to look at. Yet, even with all this new and intense competition, Mazda’s midsizer, with its flared front wheel arches, prancing cat-like headlights, slopping roof and aggressive stance, remains, by far, the best-looking midsize sedan design on sale today.

Subtle Changes
So of course, my tester had the slick-shifting six-speed manual, which made me love it even more, but a six-speed automatic is also available for the car. I drove one in that configuration earlier this year, and the slushbox really killed the car’s soul. But with the stick, the 6 is a formidably peppy sedan. The clutch is light, and that manual shifter remains one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve rowed … that wasn’t in a Honda.

For 2017, the Mazda6 also got a bit of cool tech to help it carve corners better. It’s called G-Vectoring Control, and in Mazda fashion, it’s very subtle. It’s essentially an electronic widget that makes fine adjustments to engine torque in order to induce load transfer toward the front axle in relation to steering input. It’s very geeky, but the system aims at improving the car’s cornering ability, but also steering response, hence increasing driver confidence. Do you feel it behind the wheel? Not really.

However, the Mazda6 feels light on its feet, nimble and athletic. So I guess the system works. My only gripe with the car’s driving feel is the awkward dead on-centre steering sensation during which the steering wheel doesn’t feel connected to anything. I’m assuming this was done to make the car feel more refined, less frantic, but the calibration feels lazy.

On the road, the 6 remains engaging and spirited, even with the lack of oomph. The four cylinder at least loves to rev, and sounds quite good while doing so, but it could feel loud for common folks who couldn’t care less about driver involvement—which is the Mazda6’s battle horse. Let’s face it, most midsize sedan buyers sadly don’t focus on that.

The Elements That Matter
In that respect, the 2017 Mazda6 benefits from a beautifully styled, comfortable and spacious cabin, especially in back. The trunk is also vast, offering 424 litres of space, on par with Camry, but a tad under Accord (472 litres).

Unfortunately, when pitted against its more modern competitors, sound insulation isn’t the Mazda6’s strong point. Although Mazda did attempt to improve this for 2017 by applying a variety of noise-cancelling techniques to the car such as thicker front-door glass, optimized seal and weather stripping, as well as noise-reducing material in the headliner. It’s better than the last-generation car, but the segment being what it is, and rapidly evolving, the Mazda6 is still sadly the louder one inside. Hopefully, the 2018 model will fix this.

That being said, that cabin has many qualities. High-grade materials and impeccable fit and finish help elevate the Mazda6 to a more premium look and feel overall, and I personally love the simplicity in design of the analog gauges, which actually resemble a watch.

The Mazda Connect infotainment system remains very easy to comprehend and operate. Everything is controlled via the console-mounted knob, similar to BMW’s iDrive, but somehow better. Information is clear, well laid out and menus are attractive. The only downside with that system is the lack of Android Auto / Apple CarPlay connectivity for now, and the confusing controls of the satellite navigation system are a tad on the frustrating side.

So the Mazda6 is a damn near perfect midsize sedan—to drive and spend some time in. It looks dashing, handles great, can still be had with a manual transmission, and offers quite a lot of car for the price. It’s only a shame people aren’t rushing into dealerships to buy one. As one of my colleagues once said, it’s the best car nobody buys. Perhaps a turbo and a fresh dose of refinement will help give the Mazda6 another chance to shine. We’ll see next week.