Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Mazda6 GT

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

It’s been just over two years since the redesigned Mazda6 sedan arrived on our shores and despite overwhelmingly positive reviews from Canadian auto scribes, including its selection as AJAC Canadian Car of the Year in 2014, sales have been slow. In fact, Mazda6 sales were down 28.4 percent in 2014 and the company sold just over 3,000 units last year, far fewer than class leaders Ford Fusion (18,472), Honda Accord (16,962), Toyota Camry (16,029) and Hyundai Sonata (13,645).

It’s difficult to say why Mazda’s mid-size sedan has failed to capture the imagination of Canadian consumers like the enormously successful Mazda3 has. One factor may be that the Mazda6 is available with only one powerplant, a normally-aspirated four-cylinder engine, whereas its competitors offer additional V6 or turbocharged four-cylinder powerplants as well as hybrid models. A diesel version of the Mazda6 is still being studied for Canada, but as yet, there is no official confirmation when it will be introduced - and whether this will boost sales significantly is debatable.

This year’s mid-cycle refresh may spark increased interest in Mazda’s mid-size sedan. The 2016 Mazda6 was introduced in January, 2015 with subtle exterior styling changes, a redesigned instrument panel and centre console, improved fit and finish, standard rear heated seats, more sound insulation, improved active safety technology, and three new exterior colours.

This year’s mid-cycle refresh may spark increased interest in Mazda’s mid-size sedan.

The exterior styling differences are hard to spot: look closely and you’ll see an additional sixth slat in the grille, slightly thicker chrome trim surrounding the grille, new ‘eyebrow’ treatment over the headlights, new chrome trim around the fog light housing and new darker gunmetal 19-inch alloys and LED headlights and fog lights on the top GT trim. GT models also get a special illuminated lower grille that gives it a distinct look at night. The changes are designed to give the 2016 Mazda6 a bolder and more elegant look and it certainly looks stylish, although so did the last one. The 2016 Mazda6 is also available in two new exterior colours: Sonic Silver Metallic and Titanium Flash Mica.

Inside, there is a new instrument panel and console. The Mazda6’s three-pod gauge cluster remains but now includes extra displays for the radar cruise control and lane departure warning system in the right-hand pod. As well, vehicles with the head-up display include a small, flip-up screen on top of the instrument shroud that can display speed and cruise control functions.

The upper surface of the new dash now slopes down towards the cabin creating a more open and spacious feeling, and a new, larger stand-alone screen with brighter graphics replaces the previous integrated touchscreen on GS and GT trims and the basic radio screen on the GX trim. The new 7-inch screen no longer has pushbuttons and dials around its perimeter; all audio, phone, and navigation functions are controlled by the large round dial (HMI Commander Switch) and surrounding buttons on the centre console. 

The screen can be used as a touchscreen when the vehicle is in Park, but can only be operated by the HMI control dial when the vehicle is moving. Moving around the screen is easy simply by turning, tilting and pressing the HMI controller to select choices. As well, major functions such as the home screen, audio, navigation and favourites are quickly accessible by pressing one of the large buttons surrounding the controller. A separate audio volume dial next to the controller is also well-positioned for easy reach and operation while driving without having to take your eyes off the road to look at it.

One criticism of the screen: unlike last year’s screen which was inserted into the dash, the new screen has no hood to shield it from glare. I also think the flip-up plastic screen for the head-up display looks a bit cheap.

In addition to the HMI controller and touchscreen, the driver can control some functions - phone, audio volume, station seek and voice activation - using the steering wheel buttons; and certain telephone, audio and navigation functions can be activated using specific voice commands.

Some of the dash controls have been rearranged for 2016: the ignition pushbutton (standard on all trims) has been moved up next to the touchscreen, and the CD player has been relocated from the top of the dash to the lower centre console below the climate control system. The front seat heaters still have three temperature choices, but the buttons have been moved from below the climate control system to above it. The climate control system now has two dials for temperature and the centre fan speed dial has been replaced by pushbuttons. Not a good move, in my opinion: the dial was easier to use.

The floor shifter remains in the centre console, but an electronic parking brake button replaces the manual brake lever, which is probably more appropriate for a family car. The Sport mode button, now a chromed toggle switch, has been moved from the dash to the centre console. Two cupholders with spring-loaded cup grippers are still located behind the shift lever, but they’re now covered by a panel that slides rearward instead of a solid panel that flips up to the side – this makes it easier for the front passenger to reach the cups.

Behind that is a raised, padded armrest under which resides a smallish storage bin with a 12-volt outlet, two new USB slots and an SD card slot for storing and playing music. There is also a small, covered storage bin at the bottom of the centre stack that includes a 12-volt outlet.

The Mazda6’s cabin is roomy and well finished. Front and rear outboard passengers have spacious legroom and headroom but the centre rear position requires straddling the driveline hump (the Mazda6 is designed for all-wheel drive in some markets). GX and GS trims come with black cloth upholstery with heated front and rear seats while GT trims have standard leather heated seats, available in black with new dark auburn door inserts, or combination white and black leather with white door inserts.

The look and feel of the interior materials is top notch with prominent double stitching on the leather, perforated seat inserts, and attractive dark satin and chrome trim on the instrument panel and controls. Surfaces that the driver may lean on, such as the door armrest, console wall and top edge, and centre armrest, are all padded. The backlit instruments are bright and easy to see and the driving position is comfortable and supportive with power lumbar on GS and GT trims.

In the GT trim, the 11-speaker Bose audio system provides memorable sound clarity, and I was able to pair my iPhone easily and play music wirelessly through Bluetooth audio as well as make and receive calls with no problems. Internet connectivity is now available with the appropriate smartphone apps.

With additional sound insulation and reduced NVH, Mazda claims it has reduced interior noise on rough roads by 10 percent and on the highway by 25. The 2016 Mazda6 cabin certainly is quiet while cruising and under light load acceleration, but the engine makes a coarse, growly sound when accelerating hard, and during idle when the engine is cold. Still, I found that overall wind and road noise has been reduced significantly, and the cabin is comfortably quiet most of the time.

The Mazda6’s 419L trunk is fully lined and has a large trunk opening. It can be enlarged by pulling on the release levers in the trunk and folding down the split rear seatbacks. The seatbacks lay almost flat allowing longer items to be stowed securely inside the car. A temporary spare tire resides under the trunk floor.

All 2016 Mazda6s have the same 184 hp 2.5L DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine and standard six-speed manual transmission as before. A six-speed automatic transmission is a $1,300 option on the GX, but it’s a no-cost option on the GS and GT trims (which also come with paddle shifters and Sport mode). Top-of-the-line GT models with the optional Technology Package ($2,800) include Mazda’s “i-ELOOP” brake energy regeneration system which stores energy generated when braking and coasting in a special capacitor which feeds the power to the vehicle’s electrical systems, thus reducing fuel consumption. With NRCan fuel economy ratings of 8.5 city/5.9 hwy/7.3 combined, the Mazda6 GT i-ELOOP is approximately four percent more fuel-efficient than a Mazda6 without the i-ELOOP system (8.8 city/6.1 hwy).

This technology plus Mazda’s SkyActiv efficient engineering philosophy makes the Mazda6 the most fuel-efficient (non-hybrid) sedan in it class – even without such fuel-saving technologies as stop-start ignition and continuously variable transmission. During a week of mostly city driving, our car’s average fuel consumption display showed 8.7 L/100 km, but we think a longer test drive is needed to provide a more accurate fuel consumption average.

The Mazda6 is not a particularly powerful car but neither are other comparable sedans in this class. When AJAC tested a 2014 Mazda6 GT with the same 2.5L engine, it did 0 to 100 km/h in 8.3 seconds (with automatic transmission), about half a second faster than a Honda Accord sedan with a 189 hp 2.4L four-cylinder engine and a Hyundai Sonata with a 185 hp 2.4L four.

Suffice to say, performance in this class is adequate for everyday city and highway use while providing decent fuel economy using Regular Grade gasoline. As we discovered in our First Drive of the Mazda6, better performance can be had by choosing the standard six-speed manual transmission which is available in all three Mazda6 trim levels.

Our test car’s optional six-speed automatic offered quick, drama-less shifts. In GS and GT models, the driver-selectable Sport button enhances shift aggressiveness to provide livelier performance, but no doubt at a cost to fuel economy. Manual shifts are also possible using the shift lever or the paddles behind the steering wheel but for those who like to shift themselves, we would just recommend getting the excellent six-speed manual transmission.

With its fully independent suspension, wide track and beefy 225/45R-19-inch all-season tires, the GT exhibits the kind of sporty handling you won’t find in a Camry or a Fusion. Its well-weighted engine-speed sensitive variable-assist, rack-and-pinion power steering proved quick and responsive and the Mazda6 took to windy roads with enthusiasm rather than reluctance. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, and stability control are all standard. I haven’t driven the Mazda6 GX and GS equipped with standard 225/55R17-inch tires, but its taller sidewalls should provide an even more comfortable ride.

The Mazda6 is also a great highway cruiser with a very comfortable ride and a quiet cabin. In top gear, the engine turns over a leisurely 1,750 rpm at a steady 100 km/h.

Mazda6 GS and GT trims include standard Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Either of these can prevent a potentially serious and expensive collision. The former flashes a warning light in the side mirror if a car is in the right or left blind spot and issues a warning sound if you attempt to change lanes in its path; the latter issues a warning if the driver tries to reverse into the path of a vehicle crossing behind it.

Optional in the GT trim with the automatic transmission is a Technology Package ($2,800) that includes Smart City Brake Support, Smart Brake Support, Forward Obstruction Warning, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning System, High Beam Control, i-ELOOP Brake Energy Regeneration System, and Sirius/XM satellite radio. Smart Brake Support is new for 2016: it complements Smart City Brake Support by providing automatic braking at even higher speeds should a potential collision be detected by the vehicle’s radar and optical sensors. Basically, if a collision is imminent at mid to high speeds, and the driver takes no action, the brakes will automatically be applied to prevent or minimize damage. It’s a very worthwhile option, but it’s only available in the top GT trim with the automatic transmission. It also seems odd that you have to order this package to get satellite radio.

2016 Mazda6 prices are up slightly over 2015 models: the base GX has gone up by $200 to $24,695, the GS has risen by $500 to $27,995, and the GT is up by $600 to $32,895. While these increases can probably be justified by the upgrades, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for Mazda to raise Mazda6 prices when sales are slow.

Standard stuff on base GX models includes 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, black cloth seats, heated front and rear seats, manually height adjustable driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, air conditioning, centre seven-inch touchscreen and console-mounted HMI controller, power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless entry and pushbutton start, Bluetooth phone and audio, and cruise control.

The GS adds rear-view camera, power driver’s seat with manual lumbar, dual-zone automatic climate control, blind spot and rear cross-traffic warning system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, one-touch up/down front and rear windows, and illuminated vanity mirrors. An optional Luxury Package ($3,000) available in the GS with the automatic transmission includes leather seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, voice-activated touchscreen navigation system, and power moonroof.

The GT upgrades to 19-inch tires and alloy wheels, LED headlights with automatic leveling and steering response, LED fog lights, unique front ‘signature’ lighting, Bose audio system with eleven speakers, power lumbar on driver’s seat, memory driver’s seat, power front passenger seat, LED interior lighting, power moonroof with sunshade, and automatic dimming rear-view and exterior mirrors. Optional in the GT with the automatic transmission is the Technology Package ($2,800) that includes Smart City Brake Support, Smart Brake Support, Forward Obstruction Warning, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning System, High Beam Control, i-ELOOP Brake Energy Regeneration System, Sirius/XM satellite radio.

Your choice of cloth or leather seats depends on which trim level and transmission you choose: base Mazda6 GX models with the manual or automatic transmission come with black cloth seats but are not available with leather. Mid-level GS models with the manual transmission have black cloth seats but when equipped with the automatic transmission and the optional Luxury Package are also available with black or white leather seats. Top-of-the-line GT trims with either transmission offer a choice of black or white leather seats, but not cloth.

Base GX models are available in four exterior colours: Black, Blue, Silver and optional “Snowflake White Pearl” for an extra $200. GS and GT trims are also available in Titanium and “Soul Red Mica” for $300. Note: in order to get a white leather interior, you have to order the Black, Blue, Titanium or Soul Red exterior colours.

With its handsome exterior, top-grade interior, roomy cabin, and excellent handling and driving dynamics, it’s difficult to know why the Mazda6 hasn’t done better in the Canadian marketplace. It’s certainly one of our favourites, and the improvements for 2016 make it an even better car.

The 2016 Mazda6 is built and imported from Mazda’s Hofu plant in Japan.

3 years/unlimited distance; 5 years/unlimited distance powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Mazda6 GT
Base Price $32,895
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $37,490
Optional Equipment
Pricing: Base price: Options: $2,800 (Technology Package: Smart City Brake Support, Smart Brake Support, Forward Obstruction Warning, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning System, High Beam Control, i-ELOOP Brake Energy Regeneration System, Sirius/XM satellite radio)