TTAC reader Steve submits his review of his 2014 Mazda6 Touring – with a manual!
I drove home in my new Liquid Silver Mazda 6 (Touring with 6MT) in January of this year – at just over $23,000, this is the cheapest new car I’ve bought, and also the most enjoyable.
Having previously owned a 2006 Mazdaspeed6 and more recently a 2011 Nissan Maxima, I had serious reservations about shedding so many ponies from my stable by opting for Mazda’s obligatory 4 banger. However, after a few years of the Maxima’s CVT, my left leg had atrophied to the point where I was bound and determined to buy another manual transmission, despite the power downgrade and the lack of entrants in the midsize sedan segment with an optional third pedal.
My first choice was a Cadillac ATS 2.0 RWD 6MT, but at the time I was shopping, I was not finding any deals. The tiny back seat and my three growing kids didn’t make things easier. The prospect of Detroit winters in a rear-drive car, my own lead foot (turbo engines tend to be thirsty with my driving habits) and the upward creep of the MSRP, I decided to pass.
Although I looked at the Accord and Fusion, the sexy curves, long hood, imposing grille and general seductiveness of the Mazda6 drove me right into the waiting arms of my Mazda dealer. I opted for the Touring trim level without too much debate as it had the optional 6MT and the Sport was only available with cloth interior and could not be had with the considerably more aesthetically pleasing 19” rims. I considered the auto-only Grand Touring simply because it had quite a few extras not available on the Touring, like a moon roof, navigation, HID headlights, real leather seats and LED running lights to name a few. Had the Grand Touring been offered with a manual, I would probably have one in my driveway. But the Touring trim is really the sweet spot in terms of value; shaving at least $6,000 off of the price compared to a Grand Touring, probably more depending on equipment levels.
The interior of the Touring trim is no penalty box. Upscale is not a word I would use to describe it, but it is tasteful and competitive with others in the class in terms of material quality. The dash is composed of primarily soft touch materials where it matters in addition to faux carbon and aluminum accents. There are hard textured plastics on surfaces where your hands are unlikely to wander. The seats are “leatherette” trimmed. It is a somewhat convincing leather substitute which is likely to fool those who don’t know better. I find that it is no better or worse than real leather in terms of comfort.
The base sound system is actually quite good; I have been very pleased with it. The Bluetooth audio works very well, as does the streaming Pandora function. HD radio is also nice feature to those who actually still listen to AM/FM. Fire up the car and my Google Music library starts playing where it left off in a matter of seconds; I assume it would do the same for an iPhone. There has been lots of criticism of the infotainment system which I find really unwarranted. It may not be the best, most intuitive system with the largest screen and fastest processor on the market, but I have managed just fine. It makes me wonder just how subjective the love/hate reviews of various infotainment systems must be.Open the manual and learn how to use it people!
The 6 has a touch screen infotainment system with a display that is roughly 5.5 inches, almost the exact same size as my Galaxy Note3. This also raises the question as to the value of these infotainment systems. Armed with a tablet, a giant phone and a laptop, what the hell do I need a fancy in-car infotainment system for? If you cannot manage to launch Google maps on the fly via voice command on your phone for turn by turn directions you probably cannot operate an in-car infotainment system properly either. My point being, these systems, particularly navigation systems, are largely redundant in my opinion. If you are so inclined though, you can use the touch screen or the command dial mounted between the gearshift and cup holders to operate the audio or customize a variety of functions such as the duration of your audible turn signal clicks, the time the exterior and interior lights remain on after the vehicle is turned off and various other functions. Climate control is easy to operate and has proven extremely effective for AC or heat. I have found that all the buttons are fairly well placed and reasonably intuitive to operate.
The back seat is spacious enough to accommodate my three children, two of whom still require booster seats sitting outboard and my five foot tall 8-year-old sitting in the center, but it is admittedly tight with the boosters. There is enough leg room for a 6 foot tall adult to sit in relative comfort behind a 6 foot tall driver.
It’s true that ingress and egress to the rear passenger compartment is complicated by the sloping roofline but the situation is easily remedied by opening your eyes and not smashing your head into the door frame. If you find the process too daunting, you are probably lucky Darwin hasn’t yet come to claim you as an evolutionary failure in some sort of freak strangulation accident at the hands of some easily escapable contrivance. The front seats are comfortable on longer trips and sufficiently bolstered. The car has a push button start, but curiously, not advanced keyless entry. Only the driver’s window is express auto up/down and the key fob unfortunately cannot roll down any of the windows on a hot day. Headlights are auto off, but not auto on. It has a standard backup camera with cross traffic alert and blind spot monitor. The driver has a power adjustable seat. The rear seats split 60/40 to allow trunk pass through of bulky items. The trunk is sufficiently large for a few golf bags or at least one dead body.
On the road, the 6 feels downright nimble, especially compared to my old Maxima (a 4DSC it was not). The 6’s body stays planted while cornering even on imperfect surfaces where my old Maxima would have lost composure due to suspension rebound. Steering is fairly boosted at low speeds but has nice weight and feel once on the road. The 6 handles the patchy moonscape of Michigan roads rather well, even with the big rims and low profile tires. It is a firm ride, but never feels like it crashes over bumps; gracefully handling road conditions that would have shaken trim pieces off of my old Mazdaspeed6.
The car is not fast, but the 184hp and 185 torques produced by the Skyactiv 4-cylinder are a good match for the chassis and transmission. The powerplant is more than adequate for a 3200 pound car. Redline comes rather quick at just over 6k rpm and more brisk acceleration requires you to stay above 3000 rpm, shifts are relatively smooth and clutch operation is easy with a good engagement point not too far from the floor in the clutch pedal travel.
Cruising around 80 mph on the highway puts the car at about 3000 rpm, and there is what I would consider a moderate amount of engine, wind and road noise. In the last few months I have been consistently getting about 31 mpg is mostly city driving. The small amount of highway travel I have done so far has netted about 38 mpg. Fuel economy was a little lower in the frigid winter months, averaging 28-29 mpg, but I am very pleased with the fuel consumption since spring.
I have clocked over 7000 trouble free miles since I bought my 6 with no regrets, wishing only for a few goodies and options to be available with the manual transmission beyond the Touring trim standard features. But, like my father always said, “wish in one hand and sh*t in the other and see which hand fills up first”. It took me a long time to figure out what that means, and I think this crude pearl of wisdom is well suited to the compromises we all make when purchasing a vehicle. A perfect car with everything you want may not exist, but there is a vehicle that has what you need and is perfect for you.
I may be turning into my father - or perhaps finally letting go of my youth and embracing the horror of being a balding, 30 something father of three children who appreciates sensible, worry-free, reasonably priced transportation. With the new Mazda6, I get all that in addition to a nice dose of exterior styling, a chassis, suspension, transmission and engine that can bring a smile to my face and some joy to my commute. I know there are plenty of cars that can best the Mazda6 in every test that involves moving, I haven’t seen any ladies flocking to me as I pull up to the club and it is not luxurious by any stretch. But, what you get for the price of admission adds up to more than the sum of its parts and I believe the Mazda6 in general and the Touring trim in particular is a true bargain in a beautiful and fun to drive package.