The 2016 Mazda 6 Is Still Too Loud, Unrefined, And Slow, But I Just Took The Long Way Home
Stop. Wait a second before you get in. Study the Mazda 6’s curves and tell me this isn’t the best-looking car in its class.
Alright, now hop in, depress the starter button, and listen to that sweet honey of a 2.5-liter inline-four purr. Ah, see, I tricked you into associating a gorgeous exterior (and interior) with other qualities you seek in a new car, and you up and let your imagination run away with itself.
Purr? In the 2016 Mazda 6, it’s more like a groan, a bellyaching protest, a teenager hiding under the covers after you remind him that science class begins in 17 minutes.
Even outside, the 6’s idle is especially gruff in an age of unrefined direct-injection four-cylinder idles. The exhaust note at idle is uneven, too, like an infant caught between crying and sleeping with sniffles.
Traversing typically rough streets in the west end of Halifax, Nova Scotia, after exchanging an Audi A3 e-tron for the Mazda, the 6’s ride quality is obviously and undeniably firm, especially on 225/45R19 Dunlop SP Sport 5000s. In a car which appears decidedly premium on the outside and inside, the head-up display’s plasticky flip-up screen and the high dashtop-mounted starter button are conspicuous afterthoughts.
I’m trundling along in light Sunday evening traffic and all I can hear is that buzzy little four-cylinder. The radio is on and I’m attempting to listen to an interview on the CBC but my ears can’t get over the fact that this level and nature of low-rpm engine noise was deemed acceptable by the Mazda executives who signed off on this car.
Over the A. Murray MacKay Bridge – we call it “The New Bridge” even though it was completed in 1970 – and onto Highway 111, I am assaulted again by inappropriate noise levels in a car which costs $33,510 in the U.S. market. (It’s $37,790 in top GT Tech Package trim in Canada.) But this time it’s not the engine noise, it’s the road rumble. And in 2016, this level of NVH refinement, or lack thereof, would bother many buyers one segment down and with $10,000 less to spend.
Then I’m nearing my Eastern Passage home, and just as I’m approaching the CN Autoport I take a quick left turn onto Hines Road, keen on a near 90-degree right-hander about one mile up the hill that I’m certain will highlight all of the 2016 Mazda 6’s most positive characteristics.
Yes, there are a whole bunch of reasons people aren’t buying the Mazda 6. In late April, we highlighted a number of product-related reasons Americans steer away from Mazdas. The dealer network, pricing, and the automatic tendency for buyers to stick with what they know all play a role. And after recommending the 6 to legions of midsize car buyers over the last few years, the first 20 minutes of my drive last night revealed anew to me the reasons why only one of those buyers ever made the Mazda choice.
Noisy, buzzy, and so very firm, the third-generation Mazda 6 still feels slightly unfinished even after a thorough refresh remedied some faults, particularly inside, for model year 2016.
Yet recognizing all this, I took the long way home last night.
I was hungry and thirsty, the weather was fairly miserable, and to be frank, the car was annoying me just a little bit. But I attacked a short, uninhabited stretch of Hines Road simply because I knew the car would succeed, not because I live under some auto reviewer sense of obligation to push’em all to their limits, as if I could. When I should have turned right at the bottom of Caldwell, I followed the Atlantic coast for a couple of kilometres to the tip of the unseen harbour – it was way too foggy – and then followed the twists of Shore Road beside Hartlen Point Forces Golf Club a couple more times.
Just for the fun of it.
Not because it was fast. Oh no, the Mazda 6 isn’t fast. The 6 was fun on these roads for a brief five-minute spurt last night because it isn’t fast. I routinely floored the throttle, and for more than a moment. In many of the cars we get to drive over the course of the year, flooring the throttle is an exercise undertaken only on off-ramps and on-ramps or for a handful of milliseconds upon corner exit. Otherwise, I’d be in jail.
But the 6 is, in the texted words of TTAC’s managing editor last night, “The Miata of midsize sedans.” You can prod and push and cajole the 6’s throttle pedal and you will not discover the Toyota Camry’s V6.
Thankfully, in the Mazda 6, driving down a great road at any speed is enjoyable. The 2.5-liter loses its gruff edge at higher rpm and snarls instead. You’re not focusing on tire noise now that the sunroof is open and the fog is moisturizing your forehead. You’re appreciating the 6’s buttoned-down suspension and big wheels now.
Communication is key. The steering is lively. The chassis jostles and jiggles and jives in all the right places in order to make you, the driver, part of the process. In sport mode, even the 6-speed automatic snaps off shifts at the right time. In manual mode, Mazda allows the driver to take control, permitting paddle pulls which initiate, rather than suggest, real shifts. Bang away at the redline if you like.
(In Canada, Mazda even offers the top-trim 6 with a manual transmission, at least on paper if not at your dealer. In the U.S., only the 6 Sport and 6 Touring, not the 6 Grand Touring, offer the manual shifter.)
For a car that rides this firmly, you might be surprised that the 6 doesn’t stay supremely flat in corners, but body roll also equals communication. I want a little roll to tell me more about my mid-corner status. Knowledge is power, and the Mazda 6 is always finding channels through which to send me more information.
The brake pedal could be firmer, though with 4,400 miles of auto journo miles under its belt, these brakes have lived some life. Of course more power would be welcome. During last night’s aggressive drive, I’d fearfully look at the HUD’s speedometer, thinking I was probably driving in a terribly anti-social manner, and lo and behold, I was doing 94 kilometers per hour in an 80 km/h zone. *
But there’s no need for way more power. I had fun with 184 horsepower. Indeed, a more refined version of this engine would be my powertrain priority; a 2.5-liter that’s more tractable and torquier in an urban environment with less vibration and cabin buzz.
Mazda deserves credit for sticking to its guns with the 6’s 2016 refresh and not watering down the package for a wider mainstream audience. But that credit is paid to Mazda’s account in greater car reviewer adulation, not in terms of marketplace success. U.S. sales of midsize cars are down six percent this year; Mazda 6 sales are down 29 percent. All of its direct rivals sell more frequently. Seven rivals – Camry, Altima, Accord, Fusion, Malibu, Sonata, Optima – sell at least twice as often.
One left turn revealed to me that the Mazda 6 of today is the same as the Mazda 6 that left a lasting impression on me three years ago. A true driver’s car, living and breathing with pent-up energy in an age of stupendously fast but sterile transportation modules. Unfortunately, the 15 miles prior to that left turn manifested the same Mazda 6 buyers have largely rejected for the last three years.
*Allegedly. Not independently confirmed. Not verified by police radar.
[Image Source: ©Timothy Cain/TTAC]
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