Mazda has chosen to stay positive in the face of adversity with the introduction of the midsized 2018 Mazda6.
The four-door family-sedan segment has been in a freefall of late. People have stopped buying sedans in favour of the immensely popular SUVs and crossovers flooding the market.
Ford announced las week that it will stop selling sedans altogether, to focus its energy elsewhere. General Motors is rumoured to be considering a similar strategy.
But you don’t hear any premium brands considering such a drastic move. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi et al. haven’t announced any culling of their models (even as they jump on the bandwagon and introduce more and more SUVs).
Using this line of thought, Mazda has revised its strategy. While one can still purchase a run-of-the-mill Mazda6, it is now directing more effort to its more-premium trim lines. In this way it hopes to capture buyers in the near-luxury market.
The 2018 Mazda6 is offered in four trim levels, starting at $27,000. I drove the GT model, second from the top, with a $35,800 manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
This is the third-generation Mazda6, introduced in 2012. For 2018, the 6 received a major facelift, including a larger grille, that makes it fit in with the current Mazda design language.
The company has also taken the opportunity to introduce a new Signature model, a top-of-the-line trim featuring Nappa leather and sen wood. The sen is a Japanese wood that looks a lot like ash. In its home country, it is a very popular wood for panelling, furniture and to make guitars.
While the GT model lacks these two features, it is no less impressive (and you save $3,000 in the process).
The cabin is a comfortable place to spend time on the road, with soft-touch materials and subtle chrome highlights. If you cross-shop the 6 with the Mazda CX-5, you will probably recognize the majority of the knobs, buttons and controls in the new dash design.
One welcome feature is the inclusion of a ventilated function to the redesigned front seats. Believe me, once you have used ventilated seats in the heat of summer, it’s hard to go back to vehicles without this feature.
The vehicle’s infotainment screen is now larger, at eight inches. On the GT it comes standard with a navigation system and satellite radio.
If you are considering the Mazda because of their “zoom-zoom” heritage, the next part will bring a smile to your face.
To Mazda, “zoom-zoom” represents the enthusiasts that have brought us the Miata. It permeates the company, and a bit of it is found in every vehicle. It is what sets Mazda apart from other Asian manufacturers with similar offerings.
In 2018, that zoom-zoom is in the Mazda6 line with the availability of a second engine choice. The base 6 still comes standard with a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine doing yeoman duty.
But buyers can opt to add a turbocharger to the engine in the GS-L (it is standard in the GT and Premier).
This simple addition (albeit with a drop in the compression ratio from 13.0:1 to 10.5:1) instantly puts the 6 into a whole different circle of friends (competitors).
Adding forced induction boosts horsepower by 63 to 250. But hold onto your hats, as engineers have managed to hit 310 foot-pounds of torque by turbocharging.
By comparison, the BMW 340i, with a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder, develops 330 lb.-ft. of torque. Yes, the German is more powerful and faster, but it is also $18,000 more expensive.
The downside is that the turbo Mazda uses more fuel than its non-turbo sibling and it sips more expensive premium fuel.
Mazda says you can safely use regular fuel with the turbo engine — you just give up 23 horses by switching to 87-octane fuel (torque remains the same).
Either engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, a preferable choice (for enthusiasts) over a continuously variable transmission, as is found in the Honda Accord Touring. The 6 is equipped with steering-wheel paddle shifters, should you get the urge to manually choose your own gears.
Mazda’s suspension settings reflects Mazda’s zoom-zoom mentality as well, with a well-controlled ride, very little body roll and confidence-inspiring cornering that makes one pine for more and more country roads.
Part of the GT and Signature trims is the inclusion of 19-inch wheels and rubber (up from 17s on the two lower trims).
The fate of the four-door sedan market rests in the hands of consumers. Manufacturers that can’t take the heat are getting out of the segment. Mazda is staying.
It is gambling that by taking the 6 up-market — in both power and luxury trappings — it can tap into the near-luxury market and soften the blow. Unlike Honda, Toyota and Nissan, Mazda doesn’t have a separate premium brand. The 2018 Mazda6 is as close as you are going to get — and it shows.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Mid-sized four-door sedan, front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder, 250 hp at 5,000 r.p.m., 310 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 r.p.m.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,865; width, 1,839; height, 1,450; wheelbase, 2,830
Curb weight (kg): 1,551
Price (base/as tested): $35,800/ $37,695 (includes $1,795 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 225/45 R19 on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Premium
Fuel economy (L/100km): 10.0 city/ 7.5 highway
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance