At some point, carmakers will begin culling the heard of midsize sedans. The numbers tell the story.
Sales of four-door cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord continue to collapse. This year, they’re down 12.5 per cent and this sort of bad news has been chugging along for two decades. So, enjoy what’s out there while you still can. And whatever you might choose to buy, push like crazy for a deal because dealers and their manufacturers are increasingly jittery about their chances of moving metal.
The truth of it is, though, all of the sedans for sale now are quite handsome, well-built, technologically sound and pleasant to drive. Some are better than others, of course. But there’s not a bad one in the bunch.
That said, Canadians purchased about 18,000 midsize cars through the end of September, compared to about 116,000 compact SUVs (sport-utility vehicles) such as Toyota’s RAV4. DesRosiers Automotive Consultants note that about one traditional family sedan is bought for every 10 little SUVs.
I’d argue that the Mazda6 has cleanest design in the midsize herd. There is a lush quality to the grand curves and strong haunches here, unlike what we see in many rivals, which are cluttered up with harsh lines and jarring cuts. The nose here might be a tad overwrought, with a huge grille flanked by sleek headlamps. This car will age nicely; many rivals will look dated sooner than later.
The 6 has quite a pleasant cabin, too. There is an understated presentation of instruments and controls, but what’s here is somewhat undermined by a small infotainment screen. The interface software is friendly enough, but in an age of gigantic screens, the 6’s looks like kiddie-like and slows down the driver’s ability to process information.
Point is, in its design decisions Mazda has shown good taste, an eye for timelessness and an intense focus on managing costs. Mazda clearly has spent money, however, on what is core to the brand: dynamics.
You cannot find a more entertaining and rewarding mainstream sedan, not at these prices ($27,350-$39,150). While big enough for four adults, five if necessary for short hops, the 6 feels light and quick, most like a small car. The steering is linear and tight. The brakes progressive, predictable and strong. In a corner, the car holds itself in a stable, flat place that is satisfying and even confidence-building.
Now the Mazda people will tell you that all this is a reflection of the company’s brand positioning, as a maker of cars for people who (still) like to drive. Mazda, we’re told, is all about pursuing “Jinba-Ittai, a feeling of unity between driver and vehicle.”
This is where Mazda starts getting into the weeks, waxing on about G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus), something relatively new to the Mazda6 and housed within the broader SkyactivVehicle Dynamics umbrella which in turn is “part of the Skyactiv series of technologies.”
Whew. My lord, Mazda loves its buzz words. The “Skyactiv” thing has always baffled me; it’s a term that is not evocative of anything automotive. When I hear “sky” I think of flying, not driving.
But what’s going on here is quite clear. Mazda’s engineers see the engine, the chassis, the transmission and the car’s body as an integrated group of pieces that when put together properly, make driving rewarding. The driver is at the centre of all this, of course.
Now the G-Vectoring thing is all about managing the vertical load on the tires and to do this effectively, engine torque must be applied at the right moment, precisely, in concert with chassis dynamics. There’s a lot going on here, but the technology aims to apply loads to the front and rear tires at the right moment in the proper amounts. The goal is to enhance stability.
If you like to drive, if you pay attention to what a car does in response to your inputs, you’ll notice something quite lovely happening in the 6 as you take on interesting roads with some enthusiasm. The car doesn’t feel lost. It doesn’t struggle to find its feet. Really, the 6 is quite delightful.
Looks the part, too.
Price range: $27,350-$39,150.
Engine: 2.5-litre I4 with cylinder deactivation (187 horsepower/186 lb-ft of torque); 2.5-litre I4 turbo (250 horsepower/227 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 city/6.7 hwy for base engine and 10.0 city/7.5 hwy, both using regular fuel.