Test Drive: 2018 Mazda6 Signature

The Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint finish on the 2018 Mazda6 is as clear, rich, and lustrous as any car – at any cost – that I’ve seen recently. After a long, drawn-out winter, that deep red hue under a warm sun is an absolute revelation.

Legitimately fun when I’d elect to take the long way home on my daily commute.

Let’s be honest, though, that paint applied to just any car wouldn’t have the same effect, but here, fluidly draped over the sensual arcs and elegant lines of Mazda’s mid-sized sedan, the combination is nothing short of stunning, especially on a car that’s decently affordable.

While most other manufacturers (particularly the Japanese brands) have subscribed to a design ethos that make their machines appear to have been inspired by anime robots, the Mazda6 (and indeed, most of their model lineup) has an understated look that’s elegant and organic.

I’m making much ado about the appearance of this car, and for good reason. Sales of sedans like this have fallen far from their past lofty figures thanks to the unending popularity of crossover utility vehicles that can never come close to matching the aesthetic appeal of a properly designed sedan. This means that mid-sized family sedans like the Mazda6 have an uphill battle for survival against SUVs perceived to be more practical, functional, and better-equipped for active family life.

The Mazda6 makes a great choice for someone with a greater sense of style who isn’t possessed by the belief that their motoring habits require hauling enormous cargo or climbing up rocky trails.

Of course, sexy styling alone does not a great car make. The full package requires comfort, value, and superior driving dynamics to truly make a case for the mid-size sedan these days.

The Mazda6 has embodied much of this over the generations, give or take, and the updates for 2018 make it an even more compelling offering in the category. Despite this, Mazda’s sales have generally lagged behind the likes of class stalwarts, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, for reasons that have escaped me in the past.

Mazda has earned a reputation for infusing each of its models (yes, even its SUVs) with a more engaging driving experience than its competitors. One gets the sense that the folks designing Mazdas are honest-to-goodness driving enthusiasts, and they’re making darned sure their products are going to be fun to wheel around. Where the competitors have added “Sport” packages that rarely do little more than add decals and body kids to their sedans, Mazda has taken those resources and spent more time tuning the chassis to dance on curvy roads.

Now with 19-inch wheels shod in Falken Ziex performance all-season tires, my Mazda6 Signature tester was legitimately fun when I’d elect to take the long way home on my daily commute. The car exhibits a sophistication to the suspension tuning that’s usually found on costlier European sedans, helping the 6 keep its composure when pressed hard in corners.

Steering feel is devoid from all but a small handful of the world’s most exclusive machines nowadays, but Mazda has done a decent job of building in enough feedback to still better most of the competitors.

This year, the handsome styling of the Mazda6 has been refined to make both the nose and tail more contemporary, but even more importantly, the one-engine-suits-all 2.5L SkyActiv engine has been joined by a second 2.5L SkyActiv offering, this time with a turbo affixed.

Fuelled up on 93 octane gasoline, the new SkyActiv Turbo will produce 250 horsepower, and an impressive 310 ft-lb of torque. With gas prices such as they are now, it’s likely most will pinch some pennies and stick with 87 octane, resulting in 23 ponies staying in the barn, though somehow all the torque remains. These numbers are up from 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque in the normally aspirated Mazda6.

Two years ago, I attended Mazda’s launch event for the then-all-new CX-9 mid-sized crossover, which is where the SkyActiv Turbo debuted. Initially excited at the prospect of Mazda’s smaller and lighter 6 being fitted with the same mill at some point, I drove the CX-9 and discovered the turbo engine’s character wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Torquey, yes, but the fairly linear power deliver seemed to run out of steam around the 5,000 rpm power peak, well short of redline. What’s more, the engine note is somewhat coarse and gravelly and the overall sensation isn’t really all that different from a good diesel engine. It was well suited for a utility vehicle, but I wondered how it would feel in a sportier sedan.

As it turns out, two years later, my suspicions were mostly correct, and for a car with nearly effervescent handling, the gruff engine does seem a little at odds with the personality. Still, this is just me nitpicking, and the reality is, the turbocharged Mazda6 is a better-performing car than it was before.

Where it becomes a problem is when we consider the key competitors. Honda’s smaller 2.0-litre turbo dispenses more horsepower, but less torque. It’s certainly a racier engine (unsurprising, having been derived from the wild-child Civic Type-R’s mill), helping to define the Accord’s personality. The Camry can’t match the Mazda’s frisky handling, but as the last bastion for the brilliant V6, the Toyota’s engine is not only more powerful, but silky smooth and far more sonorous. Ford’s Fusion Sport trumps the power of all comers in the class, and it puts the power down through all-wheel drive – a function not offered by Toyota, Honda, or Mazda.

Mazda makes do with a six-speed automatic for the turbo drivetrain. It does a decent job, though even with the paddle shifters, it doesn’t feel as rapid-fire quick to shift as some of the best automatics out there.

The turbo 6 earns some points back in the fuel efficiency competition with a combined average of 8.9 L/100 km – besting the competitors by a whisker.

Inside, the Mazda6 is competitive with cargo and passenger space, each landing mid-pack within a very tight field. In reality, whether up front, or in the back seat, there’s ample room for heads, shoulders, hips, and legs in the Mazda6 for most adults.

2018 sees a new top-level Signature trim for the Mazda6 lineup. My press car featured deep chestnut brown Nappa leather seats that were both heated and cooled. Mazda’s styling triumphs continue inside with a dash layout that’s sleek and contemporary with interesting textures and flourishes. The dash and door panels wore an ultra-suede surface that’s not quite as “fuzzy” as Alcantara, but nevertheless works here.

There are other niceties included in the Signature package, like fancy wood trim and leather stitching, a unique grille treatment, and front and rear parking sensors.

Technology moves at a blistering pace and nowhere does this seem more evident than in automotive infotainment systems. Mazda’s – now a few years old – feels pretty dated in some respects. First, the system is operated via a rotary knob on the centre console. The dash-top screen is close enough to reach and should have all functionality through the touchscreen to help with navigating the menus.

Which brings us to the second fault: several functions (like changing radio stations or zooming in or out on the navigation) take multiple steps, when most other systems require only one.

Lastly, the display itself is small compared to those found in some of the competitors’ machines, the cameras used for the 360-degree view when parking are so low-resolution and distorted that their usefulness is very limited. And on two separate occasions during my week with the car, the display failed to turn on at all when the car was started, requiring a complete shut-down and restart to reboot it.

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Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity tend to help me forgive otherwise flawed systems in other cars, but Mazda6 offers neither – a major oversight these days.

Priced at $38,800, the 2018 Mazda6 Signature is right in the fray, with the new SkyActiv turbo available on lower trim models starting competitively at $33,600.

The updates to the Mazda6 make an excellent offering in the mid-sized category even more compelling despite some reservations about the infotainment system. While not a true sport sedan – none in the mid-sized, front-driver class really are –  the Mazda6 remains a rewarding drive most of the time. Most of all, the Mazda6 is a legitimately beautifully styled machine – the sort that will have owners looking back over the shoulders at it in the parking lot, especially if it’s finished in Soul Red paint.

2018 Mazda6 Signature
Engine Displacement: 2.5L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 227 hp (regular); 250 hp (93 octane)
Peak Torque: 310 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 10.0/7.5/8.9 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 416 L
2018 Mazda6 Signature
Base Price $38,800
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $41,145
Optional Equipment $450 – Soul Red Crystal Metallic Paint $450
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
6 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value