Review: Mazda 6, GT and i Sport

I think the Mazda6 is the best-looking car in the mid-size sedan segment. That’s a good start for Mazda — which needs a stronger competitor — since good looks always get customers into showrooms. And many of the other elements that go toward making a car a segment leader are here. But do good sense and a bit of flash give the Mazda6 enough momentum to overcome a few flaws?

I drove both the base model i Sport ($21,675 as-tested) and the top-trim Grand Touring ($31,490) Mazda6s. The former had a six-speed manual transmission and the latter a six-speed automatic. Both come with Mazda’s SKYACTIV-G 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine which makes 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. It’s an efficient engine and until late 2013, it’s the only one available.

Mazda has done an impressive job hitting MPG targets with its normally-aspirated four. With the automatic transmission, it returns a class-leading 38 highway MPG. The EPA puts the both GT and i Sport at about 30 MPG combined. Over 750 miles of mostly highway driving in the Mazda6 GT, I saw an indicated 32.5 mpg. The i Sport averaged 25.6 MPG in mostly city driving. Unfortunately, the numbers are achieved at the expense of zoom-zoom.

Despite relatively light curb weights, the GT and i Sport (3275/3183 lbs) are always a bit short on power. The issue is exacerbated by an automatic transmission aggressively programmed to reach for top gear and stay there. Getting it to kick-down in passing situations requires slapping the accelerator nearly to the floor. There’s a paddle-shifted manual mode but most drivers rarely think to use it. The three-pedal manual allows you to cope better but the 6 just isn’t quick. It takes around eight seconds to get to 60 mph.

The power deficit isn’t so much an issue in lower trim 6s but the range-topping Grand Touring competes with the Ford Fusion Titanium, Honda Accord EX-L, Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Toyota Camry XLE V6 and Hyundai Sonata Limited Turbo — all of which offer more powerful turbocharged four-cylinders or V6s.

Without any gasoline powerplant distinction, the Grand Touring really is less of a value. That equation may change with the arrival of Mazda’s SKYACTIV-D 2.2 liter four cylinder diesel in late summer. Said to offer a high amount of torque, the diesel would address the power deficit, return high MPG and further differentiate the 6.

In any trim, the Mazda6 is a looker. In my travels, it garnered compliments from guys and girls. The Takeri concept on which it is based was a winner, and the KODO design language it utilizes portends good things for Mazdas yet to come. It is pretty.

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