It’s not the first time they’ve tried this. Seems like once a decade or so a new executive comes along and decides the solution to all Mazda’s problems is to go premium. Although this strategy has given us some great cars along the way, it’s never had staying power. This time, though, feels different. As different as the quality of materials in the new 2018 Mazda6.
The Mazda6 is a perennial favorite around this office. We almost take for granted at this point that Mazdas will be more fun to drive than any of their direct competition, and the sixth-generation flagship sedan has always been a looker. Sure, it never had as many bells or whistles as the other guys, but as enthusiasts, we appreciated Mazda’s relentless focus on handling and involvement over gizmos. Thankfully, we don’t have to make that excuse anymore.
Mazda6 2018 model
For 2018, the automaker has given the Mazda6 such a thorough refresh that it nearly qualifies as a new model. From the outside, the uninitiated will need a sharp eye to pick out all the little changes that make a handsome sedan more handsome.
The new grille and “wing” motif will jump out, but you won’t realize Mazda has integrated the fog lights into the headlights and ditched the lower body black trim unless someone points it out.
The new taillights and tailpipe will be even harder to spot at a glance, but put it all together with a fresh set of optional 19-inch wheels, and you have a subtle metamorphosis from butterfly into prettier butterfly.
Inside, though, you won’t need a spotter’s guide. The interior is significantly updated, save for a few discrete buttons, the infotainment controller, and a steering wheel and standard instrument cluster borrowed from the CX-9.
The design is sleek, modern, and sophisticated, with an emphasis on placing soft-touch materials where you’ll actually feel them.
Even the base models get leather on the steering wheel and shifter to go with an optional two-tone color scheme. Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard, as is the 8.0-inch infotainment screen.
Even better, Mazda doesn’t short-change the rear-seat passengers like some automakers (looking at you, Volkswagen). All the trim, soft materials, and accent stitching make it to the rear doors and seats, too.
Naturally, it only gets better the more money you spend. By the time you max it out with the new Signature top-shelf trim, which starts at 3 million, you’ve got yourself a luxury car for Camry money.
Even better, the only way to make a Signature more expensive is to add a fancy paint color and accessories such as cargo nets and whatnot.
Included from lower trims are things such as heated and ventilated power seats, navigation, a head-up display, auto-dimming mirrors, a heated steering wheel, rear-seat USB ports and AC vents, heated rear seats, an 11-speaker Bose sound system, 19-inch wheels, auto high-beams and wipers, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go traffic capability, collision warning, lane keeping, a rearview camera, and blind-spot monitoring. On top of all that, you get premium leather, suede trim, Sen wood trim from a Japanese guitar-maker, a black headliner, a special grille, a 7.0-inch configurable LCD instrument cluster display, a 360-degree camera system, and of course the turbo engine.
Is it any good? Absolutely. The leather is buttery soft and seems to be everywhere, the rich-looking suede trim is widely applied and a refreshing surprise, and it’s all set off by real metal trim and fine accent stitching.
Mazda has added a ton of sound-deadening material, and it’s paid off. Although it’s not quite class-leading in that regard, the cabin is much quieter.
A particular high point: the new front seats, which feature some kind of space-age foam and a design intended to orient your pelvis and spine as if you were standing.
Mazda says this is not only more comfortable but also helps you balance yourself in the seat better, reducing the need for big side bolsters to hold you up in turns.
Like I said earlier, we tend to take for granted that a Mazda will drive well, and this updated Mazda6 is no exception. The suspension has received a surprisingly thorough rethink, including new shocks with internal rebound springs, new geometry to eliminate roll under steer and sharpen up the front end, and a hard-mounted steering rack.
The result is ride and handling qualities I can best describe as Germanic. That is, there’s a grace and sophistication in the way this car moves that’s most commonly found in German luxury sedans.
The transmission is happy to help you with that. It’s got paddle shifters and a race-orientation manual shifter slot, which all respond quickly, as well as a darn good Sport mode.
It is not Porsche PDK good, but it holds gears and downshifts aggressively under braking. It’s good enough to keep you off the paddles most of the time, but if you want the last tenth, do it yourself. The shifts themselves are smooth and uneventful except under wide-open throttle.
I’ve been sceptical of Mazda’s latest attempt to go upmarket. But the company reports the top half of its trim levels are accounting for more than 50 per cent of its sales these days.
Mazda6 edges out cars like the Lexus NX 300, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. What other excuse do you have for not buying a Mazda6. Living well while saving money never goes out of style.