Mazda6 for 2018 turns up emphasis on performance

John Gilbert

Mazda6 styling has become iconic among midsize cars, and 2018 adds turbocharged punch. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Mazda6 styling has become iconic among midsize cars, and 2018 adds turbocharged punch. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 In silhouette, with Lake Superior as a backdrop, the 124 Spider looks ready to take  a trip. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 In silhouette, with Lake Superior as a backdrop, the 124 Spider looks ready to take a trip. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It’s easy to poke fun at Mazda’s trademark “Zoom-zoom” catch-phrase, but for the 2018 Mazda6, the company could simplify it to “ZOOM!”
The sportiness inherent in all Mazda products is real, and while the bold-face type and italics are mine, the new Mazda6 has earned them by spiking the previous Mazda6’s personality with a turbocharger to turn the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine into a sizzling performer.
Mazda resisted turbocharging since redesigning its 2.0 and 2.4 with the revolutionary SkyActiv engine concept, which calls for holistic design and build based on all the latest techniques for extracting every bit of power and fuel-efficiency out of the finished product, which came with a 13.5-to-1 compression ratio but still burned best with regular fuel.

When the company’s largest SUV, the CX-9, came along in redesign, Mazda realized that even though it dropped its V6 engine, it still had to compete with the V6es in comparative Honda, Toyota, Nissan and U.S. vehicles. Easiest way to do that was to turbocharge the 2.5 in the CX-9, and it has worked very satisfactorily.

Mazda technology is unfolding almost too fast, and a totally redesigned Mazda6 is scheduled for next year, but meanwhile, the stunningly beautiful Mazda6 got a feature and interior upgrade for mid-2017, called the 2017.5 model. The 2018 Mazda6 doesn’t look different in a revolutionary manner, but to take on all-new Honda Accord and the latest Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, Mazda figured if the plan worked fiendishly well in the big SUV, why not in the Mazda6 midsize sedan?

The very classy 2018 Mazda6 Signature model I got for a Labor Day week’s test drive was equipped with the 2.5-liter turbocharged 4, producing 225 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque — figures which would have been impressive for a V6 just a couple of years ago.
That is a startling improvement over the 184 horses and 185 foot-pounds of the normally aspirated 2.5, which I found more than adequate in the 2017.5 model I reviewed early in the 2018 calendar year. In fact, that one was a striking red color, and when the new grey Mazda6 appeared — called, boringly, “Machine Gray Metallic” — I was a bit let down, thinking it was just more of the same car.

Plush leather on supportive new buckets are feature of redone, soft-touch Mazda6 interior.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Plush leather on supportive new buckets are feature of redone, soft-touch Mazda6 interior. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Console shifter is joined by knob controlling what feature will appear on touch-screen, and  sport setting toggle is at left. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Console shifter is joined by knob controlling what feature will appear on touch-screen, and sport setting toggle is at left. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Cockpit like control from driver seat leaves vantage point to spot deer crossing the road ahead.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Cockpit like control from driver seat leaves vantage point to spot deer crossing the road ahead. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The car looked classy, so classy that I thought it was less sporty in the exchange. Then I opened the door and saw the deep-chestnut Nappa leather seats and the revised interior. More class, without depicting sportiness. After that, I climbed behind the steering wheel into the well-supportied driver’s seat and hit the start button. Shifting into “D,” I hit the gas, and, without question, instead of “Zoom-zoom” I had “ZOOM!” at the touch of my right toe.

The largest and roomiest of Mazda’s sedans is clearly designed and built to take on the best from Honda, Toyota and Nissan, and even their upscale arms of Acura, Lexus and Infiniti for zip, and still provides over 30 miles per gallon when you keep your foot off the gas.
The new Mazda6 handles with quick-steering and strongly suspended front and rear, bolstered by stabilizer bars, and you find the little sport toggle switch on the console is a big benefit if you want to delve deeper into sporty handling. You can set the suspension, the automatic shift points, and the steering to comfort or sporty choices, and while the sporty settings are never harsh, they do noticeably add performance and handling to the car.

Quite amazingly, the tightening of the settings combined with the instant power of the turbocharged engine makes the car perform much more like a sports sedan than a luxury car, despite its classy good looks.
Sticker price was $34,750 on the loaded test car, with virtually all features standard equipment, and not only does that include about every imaginable comfort feature, it also includes the subtle G-vectoring system, which ingeniously alters power to the outside front drive wheel to create an almost-instinctive inducement to making a sharp turn, resulting in far less need for steering correction.

There is never any doubt that the focus is on driving precision and astute control, and the features on the Signature model reflect that. Dynamic stability control, traction control, hill-launch assist, and the battery of recent driver/safety  aids such as blind-spot monitoring, radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, the suite of antilock brakes and electronic braking assist, with smart braking assist, are all present and appreciated.

Structurally, the Mazda6 feels stronger because of the improved SkyActiv body ring structure, which encircles the occupant compartment with high-strength steel rings, improve the structural rigidity and secure feel that’s relayed through the steering wheel.
The LED headlights are bright and feature a precise cutoff, and also have automatic on and off when set to operate it, and are supported by LED taillights and daytime running lights, and adaptive headlights also bend around curves up ahead. Tire-pressure monitors let you know if any tire loses a few pounds of air pressure.

The manual mode on the console-mounted shifter are useful, although the steering-wheel paddles pretty much were my choice, allowing you to up or down shift without taking your hands off the wheel. 
All the latest connectivity items also came on the Signature model, with a navigation system, USB audio, and trip computer all readily spotted on the heads-up display or the 8-inch color touch-screen, and all important controls are remotely operated with steering wheel buttons.
Ventilated and heated front buckets are power operated, with two preset settings. The 19-inch wheels are fitted with all-season tires, and rain-sensing and de-icing wipers are appreciated.
When all of those features are combined in one very attractive sedan, the case could be made to find a Mazda dealer and negotiate for the 2018 model. We can assume, based on Mazda’s creative styling studios, that the 2019 will be spectacular. But all of the latest high-tech features are already out, on the 2018 Mazda6.

Including Zoom-zoom tweaked to full “Zoom!”

Mazda6 has grown to be classy, but doesn’t compromise its great performance capabilities.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Mazda6 has grown to be classy, but doesn’t compromise its great performance capabilities. Photo credit: John Gilbert