Mazda's midsize sedan most recently received a makeover in 2018 that featured fresh styling, upgraded engine offerings, new models and additional features. For 2020, changes are minimal and include a slight shuffling of standard equipment, new availability of the turbocharged engine on the Grand Touring and some new badging on the Signature model. 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.
Trim levels include Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. Prices start at $24,100 for the sport and climb to $35,400 on the Signature. Sport and Touring get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 187 horsepower. Grand Touring and above get a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower. Both engines feature cylinder deactivation, which is designed to improve fuel economy. Sole transmission offering is 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.
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.
The normally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder provides merely adequate in acceleration in the Sport and Touring models. It is smooth enough, around town, but passing power is lacking and it feels underpowered with a full complement of passengers. The turbocharged engine found in Grand Touring and above provides a welcome boost, but cannot match the power output of competitors' turbo four and V6 engines. 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 runs fine on regular-grade gasoline and its 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 33 MPG if you do a lot of highway driving.
The Mazda 6 has a comfortable and firm ride that's also among sportiest in the class. One unique suspension trick that Mazda employs is G-Vectoring Control, which briefly interrupts engine torque when the steering wheel is moved to help turn-in response. 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 Signature.
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. Not the most logical in operation the system does support Android Auto and Apple Car Play.
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.
Bottom Line - Often overlooked, the Mazda 6 tops 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.