published Saturday, July 14th, 2012

TestDrive: Mazda 6 leads midsize pack in driving fun

The Mazda 6 was designed for maximum aerodynamics.
The Mazda 6 was designed for maximum aerodynamics.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2012 Mazda 6 iTouring Plus

Exterior color: Autumn Bronze

Interior color: Beige

Engine: 2.5-liter, four-cylinder

Horsepower: 170

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 31 mpg highway, 22 mpg city

Dealer: Adventure Mazda

Price (as tested): $25,525

When you think of great midsize cars, what comes to mind? Toyota Camry? Nissan Altima? Ford Fusion?

For a smaller, but loyal, segment of car buyers, the answer is the Mazda 6, a slick-handling sedan that has sold more than a million units worldwide since its introduction a decade ago.

Last redesigned for the 2009 model year, the 2012 Mazda 6 carries on as a worthy competitor in the midsize segment. (Look for the next major redesign to appear in late 2013 for the 2014 model year.)

"I think it's the best-looking, most fun-to-drive midsize car," said Joe Kirby of the Adventure Mazda dealership in downtown Chattanooga. "It's for people that want more than just getting from Point A to Point B."

Kirby said Mazda's passion for aggressively engineered automobiles is apparent in the Mazda 6, which features balanced steering, pinpoint handling and an available six-cylinder engine with a muscular 272 horsepower.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Our test car from Adventure Mazda was a midtrim Mazda 6 iTouring Plus. In Mazda nomenclature, the "i" designates a four-cylinder engine, and our tester came with such upgrades as a power moonroof, six-CD changer, fog lights and eight-way power driver's seat.

Attractive Autumn Bronze exterior paint contrasted with a beige and black interior -- a handsome combination.

The exterior of the Mazda 6 has that born-in-a-wind-tunnel look. The sheet metal is chiseled for maximum aerodynamics, which contributes to the Mazda 6's deft moves on the freeway and good fuel economy.

Inside, the 6 is attractive but not fussy. The soft-touch plastics on the dash would look at home in a car north of $35,000 (our tester stickers for $25,525). Our car had attractive cloth seats, although leather is an option. Rear seat legroom is especially expansive.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

In a midafternoon jaunt up U.S. Highway 27, the 6's sheer athleticism was apparent. Lane changes felt like an NFL halfback juking his way through a broken-field run. Steering was precise. On the tight curve on a Highway 27 off-ramp, the Mazda 6 handled like a well-balanced carving knife.

The Mazda 6's road manners feel European, and our four-cylinder test car had plenty of off-the-mark power. At 170 horsepower, the smaller engine is no match, however, for the 6's 272 horsepower V-6 variant, which bumps the price of admission to just under $30,000 in "s" Grand Touring trim.

BOTTOM LINE

Midsize car buyers would do well to test-drive a Mazda 6 before defaulting to one of it's higher-volume competitors.

Mazda's reliability scores are stellar, and the 6 sedan is a good example of how a well-built family sedan also can be a blast to drive.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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