The 2011 Mazda6 stands out in the affordable, mid-sized car class for adding elements of sport-car-like handling and power to an otherwise staid genre of day-to-day dependable rides. The trade-off for zippier performance, especially with the optional V6, however, is lower fuel economy, which averages 18 city and 27 highway. (The base four-cylinder manages 21/30.) The MSRP opens at $19,990 and tops out at $29,320.
There are four trims and two engines. All models with the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (170 hp) are classed with an "i," and include the Sport, Touring, Touring Plus, and Grand Touring. Models with the 3.7 liter V6 (272 hp) are designated by an "s," and include the Touring Plus and Grand Touring. (The fact that the V6 is only offered with a six-speed automatic transmission is a major disappointment for many prospective buyers.)
The Sport trim has revised head lamps and fog lights for 2011, new 17-inch wheels, and a different steering wheel. The Touring Plus and Grand Touring models picked up new side mirrors that fold and incorporate turn signals. Also new for the Grand Touring models is a 4.3 inch multi-information display that has a rear view camera and Bluetooth. All models have standard cruise control, keyless entry, and traction control.
With distinctive fender flares, a swooping roof line, and dual exhaust tips, the Mazda6 rises above the standard family commuter look. The interior is roomy and well-made. To keep the cabin's appearance in line with the exterior, buyers would do well to upgrade to the leather seats. Unfortunately reviewers ding both the standard audio and the optional Bose system for poor sound quality. The trunk is one of the largest in the class with a whopping 16.6 cubic feet of space.
The 2010 version received top federal safety scores, but the 2011 has picked up only a good rating in front and side impact crashes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS rated the Mazda6's roof strength "acceptable," but the sedan only picked up a "marginal" score for rear impact crashes.
All in all, the Mazda6 is a commendable entry in the mid-sized sedan class, ranking in the upper middle and getting high marks for a sharp appearance and more powerful handling than its competition. The fuel economy is not as good as it should be, but some buyers will be willing to trade off for a more sports-car-like experience behind the wheel. The Mazda6 is definitely worth a test drive, but check out the Hyundai Sonata and Honda Accord. Both have a better reputation for reliability. (And the Nissan Altima is a better choice in the same size and price range in terms of fuel efficiency.)