Mazda's midsize sedan gets a makeover for 2018 with fresh styling, upgraded engine offerings, new models and additional features. As in previous years, the 5-passenger Mazda 6 is available only as a front-drive, 4-door sedan. Competitors include the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.
Returning trim levels include Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. New trims for 2018 include the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. Prices start at $23,00 for the sport and climb to $34,740 on the Signature. Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 187 horsepower. For 2018 the normally-aspirated 2.5 gains 3 horsepower and cylinder deactivation, which is designed to improve fuel economy. Grand Touring Reserve and Signature get a new turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 227 horsepower. Transmission choices again include a 6-speed manual (only available on the base Sport) and a 6-speed automatic.
Sport features include LED headlights, 17-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button starting, 8-inch touch screen infotainment system, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and Smart City Brake Support -- designed to mitigate slow-speed frontal collisions. Touring adds 19-inch wheels, auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, leatherette-trimmed seats, keyless entry, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist. Grand Touring adds auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink, navigation system, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and heated exterior mirrors.
New trim Grand Touring Reserve adds silver alloy wheels, enhanced LED headlights, leather-trimmed seats, head-up display, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. Line-topping Signature adds Nappa leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Ultrasuede headliner and door inserts, frameless rear-view mirror and 360-view monitor with front and rear sensors.
Since its last makeover in 2014 the Mazda 6 has made due with a single engine offering, a normally-aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. While that engine provides adequate acceleration and passing response, it certainly cannot match the power output of competitors' turbo four and V6 engines. That changes for 2018 with the addition of the 6's new turbocharged 2.5-liter four.
All at once the new turbo four transforms the Mazda 6 from life in the slow lane to a top midsize contender. Acceleration from a stop is brisk and passing response is outstanding. The engine is a bit coarse at idle but revs quickly and smoothly as power builds and cruises nearly silently all day long. Most enthusiast magazines peg the turbocharged Mazda 6 a tick slower than competitors from Honda and Toyota, but that difference is hardly noticeable in routine driving and the engine mates nicely to the smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic.
The turbo four's EPA numbers of 23 MPG city and 31 MPG highway compare favorably to most like-powered competitors. In addition, the 16.4-gallon fuel tank gives the Mazda 6 tremendous highway range that's only topped by the Volkswagen Passat. In another pleasant surprise, the 6's real-world fuel economy is as good or better than the EPA estimates. In routing suburban commuting it is easy to average 28 MPG overall and perhaps as high as 34 MPG if you do a lot of highway driving.
Mazda engineers didn't just give the 2018 6 a a cosmetic makeover and a new engine, they also greatly improved the suspension resulting in a comfortable and firm ride that's also among sportiest in the class. The changes actually started in 2017 with the introduction of Mazda's G-Vectoring Control, which briefly interrupts engine torque when the steering wheel is moved to help turn-in response. Together the changes result in perhaps the best overall ride/handling balance in the class.
Regardless of trim, the Mazda 6 sports nicely weighted steering, good composure over bumpy roads, and solid braking performance. As you step up the line, the handling grows crisper with little to no loss in overall ride quality. Engineers also put a heavy emphasis on reducing interior noise levels. The 6 is likely one of the quietest vehicles in the class -- especially the new Signature.
A freshened interior comes along for 2018 as well. Control locations don't change much, but materials and fit and finish seem greatly improved. Overall, the 6 has one of the most handsome and functional interiors in the class and the top-line Signature sports materials that would make an Audi blush.
Drivers face a large speedometer that's flanked on each side by additional ancillary information. The layout is readable day or night and is augmented on higher trims by a head up display. Topping the center console is a large display screen and climate controls follow a bit lower. Overall the design is functional, clean and mostly easy to use. The infotainment screen is controlled by a console-mounted jog dial with some hard buttons, which is somewhat off putting. Touch activation is only available when the vehicle is stopped. Mazda has added Android Auto and Apple Car Play support for later 2018s and all 2019 model Mazda 6.
The front seats are nicely padded and offer great support on long trips. The same can be said for the rear seats. Front and rear head and leg room are good but trail the class leading Passat somewhat. The swooping roof line hampers entry and exit a bit, but the door openings are wide. Outward visibility is good with only the thick rear pillars blocking the view to the rear quarters.
With 15 cubic feet of capacity, the Mazda 6 has a very large trunk but falls slightly short compared to class leaders. Also, the opening is a bit small, the hinges are covered by large a housing on each side, and folding the rear seats is a two-step affair. With lots of open and covered bins, Interior storage is good although the door map pockets could be larger.
With just a few key enhancements the Mazda 6 jumps to the top of the midsize class in many ways. No competitor can match the richness of the Signature's interior and the turbo engine addresses the performance deficit. Prices can be on the steep side, but the 6 has no glaring weakness and definitely punches above its class in most areas. It's unfortunate that many midsize shoppers don't include this vehicle on their list because it is an excellent option.