Earlier this year, Mazda made the declaration it was moving up-market, and no one really knew what to make of it. Was the Japanese manufacturer planning on ditching its core values of affordable, balanced performance in favor of a wider profit margin just to make an extra buck? Did it want to move into unknown waters a segment above where it lived for decades? What did this mean for the People’s Champ, the Miata?
One thing was for sure: The announcement of the move upstream coincided with the unveiling of the refreshed and revitalized 2018 Mazda6 line along with the brand’s new and refined design language. Pricing was announced: the Mazda6 would start at $23,000, with the top trim starting at $34,750. Which doesn’t exactly scream ‘upmarket.’ So where is Mazda hiding this move into the luxury space? The answer is inside the Mazda6 Signature.
The Good: Mazda’s current design language translates beautifully to the interior of the 6, and not just in terms of lines and space. Smooth Nappa leather complimented by swaths of suede accented with Sen wood and brushed aluminum make the 6 an incredibly pleasant place to spend a few hundred miles upstate or even just a few minutes in town.
Who It’s For: Any driver who’s sick of the overabundance of plastic in their current affordable daily driver, who appreciates a good handling car but doesn’t care about the spec-to-spec comparisons against the competition. It’s the experience that makes the car, not the numbers.
Watch Out For: The Signature 6 borrow its 2.5-liter turbo from the CX-9 flagship SUV. With that, you get a great powerband for around town with torque coming in as low as 2,000 RPM and a great top end, perfect for getting on the highway and passing slower traffic. If you find yourself hanging out somewhere in between, the engine is a little lifeless, but a quick cure for that is to just drop it down a gear on the steering wheel mounted shifters to get back into one of the sweet spots.
Alternatives: The nearest competitors in the segment are the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. And while they all cover the same price tag spread with a handful of different trims, of the top-of-the-line offerings, the Mazda rules the interior game. The Honda still holds on to loads of plastics and while the Toyota has the more interesting design of the three, it still doesn’t come close to the Mazda’s execution of material and texture. But, the Mazda is heaviest, the slowest to 60 MPH and returns the worst MPG, by a small margin.
Review: On paper, the Mazda6 Signature doesn’t look any better or worse than the equivalent Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. In some instances, where numbers are concerned, the 6 lands in a clear third-place. But, if you’re shopping for a mid-sized sedan meant to be your daily driver — a place you’ll spend countless hours on commutes and hundreds of miles on the odd road trip — based on 0-60mph times and lateral Gs, you’re doing it all wrong. Your daily driver is your home away from home, that you can conveniently park right in front of your home. And, as abstract as it may be, that’s the luxury Mazda was talking about when it announced its move ‘upmarket’ — ditching the upgraded-rental car esthetic and bringing the same level of style and comfort you’re used to at home, on the road.
Clearly, the Mazda isn’t a numbers car. It’s more about the overall experience and the enjoyment you get from it, because honestly, how often do you count ‘Mississippis’ as you mash the throttle from a standstill? Between the materials laid throughout the cabin — the open-grain wood trim, the smooth Nappa leather, and even softer suede — almost every surface is as easy on the eyes as it is to the touch. On the five hour trip up to Watkins Glen, New York, from the city, I never once felt eager to get out of the car. I’m not saying the Mazda6 cradled me like a Rolls-Royce by any means, it was just an incredibly pleasant place to spend a five hour stretch on Upstate highways.
Then at any rest stop or refueling, I was reminded of Mazda’s new and improved styling and how much it hits the mark from every angle. Mazda’s Kodo design is on display beautifully with the 6. It could be a little closer to the concept car, but then what production car is? Of all the Japanese manufacturers, when it comes to achieving the look of a car designed by hand Mazda has it in the bag.
Verdict: From the outside in, and on the road, the Mazda6 Signature isn’t a superlative car by any metric. It is, however, better at being a car and doing regular car things than anything at the same price point. Overall, it won’t blow your mind, but it is an undeniably handsome car, with smart, simple design throughout and that’s where Mazda makes the move upmarket. It was always going to be a well-handling car — it’s a Mazda — but the whole experience, from walking up to the car, to spending time in it, driving it, getting out, walking away and looking back, genuinely feels upmarket. Sure, there are better cars out there that do exactly what the Mazda does, you just have to pay thousands of dollars more to get them.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Yes, even Mazda, the gold standard for driving enthusiasts couldn’t muster a way to give us the turbo motor and a clutch pedal. Oddly enough, the automatic is also six-speeds. In the days of 8-,9-, and 10-speed gearboxes, that surprises. But Mazda says the bigger displacement turbo motor gives a fat enough torque curve to negate any need to add more cogs. And they’re right: the engine/transmission combination drives brilliantly, with strong pull in most any condition.” — Autoweek
• “Mazda, perhaps defiantly, isn’t a company that builds cars to achieve numbers. So the 6 doesn’t do that. As a mid-size sedan, it will be a people hauler and a daily commuter. And in those arenas, it flourishes. Particularly if its owners care about ride/handling balance.” — Car and Driver
• “Our tester wears a heavy coat of Snowflake White Pearl paint (a $200 option) with warm Chestnut Nappa Leather sports interior, UltraSuede flourishes, and nifty Japanese Sen Wood trim. Inside the soft touch materials look and feel luxurious. Aside from a few carryover switches, the interior is all new, looks smart, and works extremely well on this top trim level. It easily rivals some of Benz’ C-Class offerings.” — Automobile Magazine
2018 Mazd6 Signature Series Key Specs
Engine: 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5,000 RPM
Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 2,000 RPM
MPG (City/Highway): 23/31
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