The 2016 Mazda 6 Is Still Too Loud, Unrefined, And Slow, But I Just Took The Long Way Home

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
the 2016 mazda 6 is still too loud unrefined and slow but i just took the long way

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]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Incautious Incautious on Jun 08, 2016

    Sorry Mazda but for 33k one can buy a nice A3.

  • Dave2car Dave2car on Sep 11, 2016

    I'm a new owner of a 2016 Mazda6, bought a used Sport model for 14k with 30,000 miles. Seemed like a pretty good deal to me for that car for that money. Time will tell. As a first time Mazda owner I have no idea what to expect, but have read all the reviews, good and bad, except the only bad ones I've found are located right here! I'd love to see any follow up on this thread now that more time has passed, I will share my experience as well.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?
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