by Frank A. Aukofer

Some cars deliver instant gratification the first time you get behind the wheel. The 2018 Mazda6 Signature is such a machine.

Barely a quarter of a mile underway, you already experience the palpable feedback from well-weighted steering, quick turn-in, supple suspension system, responsive throttle and solid brakes.

Mazda6_38There are many midsize sedans, most aimed at providing family transportation and at least a measure of performance. From its inception in 2002, the Mazda6 has been viewed as a sports sedan, not unlike some of its more expensive road companions from Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lexus.

Though it won’t turn heads because it doesn’t look much different from its predecessor, the re-engineered 6 exhibits the currently fashionable near-fastback style that resembles cars like the Kia Stinger and Audi A5.

Despite the sleek roofline, there’s plenty of headroom front and back, as well as outboard back seats that can accommodate six-foot-plus humans. Unfortunately, as in most cars, the center-rear passenger is shortchanged with a high, hard cushion and large floor hump.

New_Mazda6_08The headline news for 2018 is the addition of a new powerplant for the 6. It is a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was lifted from Mazda’s flagship CX-9 crossover sport utility vehicle. It runs on regular gasoline and makes 227 hp with 310 lb-ft of torque. Fill it with 93-octane premium and the horsepower jumps to 250.

Power makes its way to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel. Shifts are crisp and rapid up or down and the 6 Signature exhibited no front-drive torque steer, that dreaded jerk of the steering wheel when you punch the pedal while turning.

The transmission came with a switchable Sport mode that changed the shift mapping to keep the engine at higher rpms in each gear. That’s the one you want when you want to grab the advantage in stoplight sprints.

2018_Mazda6-7It was the setup in the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, which, given the equipment and features, came with a reasonable base price of $33,860, including the inescapable destination charge. With a few minor options, the bottom-line sticker came to $36,040, which is only a bit more than the average price of a new car these days.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport model, stickered at $22,480 with a six-speed manual gearbox. It is the only manual-transmission model, which will disappoint enthusiasts who would appreciate it on the 2.5-liter turbo versions. Though the manual was not tested for this review, if it’s anything like its predecessors it is a pleasure to manipulate.

The difference is that the base Sport and Touring versions come with Mazda’s 187-hp non-turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers 186 lb-ft of torque. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 24/33/27 mpg for the manual and 26/35/29 for the automatic. The 2.5-liter turbo, which is designed for cylinder deactivation when cruising, gets 23/31/26 mpg.

Mazda6_28In addition to the tactile performance sensations in the cut and thrust of daily driving, the Mazda6 Signature delivers long-distance cruising comfort. The front seats, upholstered in perforated Nappa leather, with heat and cooling, coddle the lower back with welcome adjustable lumbar support, though the seatback bolsters are a bit truncated. Radar cruise control operates to a stop.

The Signature came with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, a comprehensive head-up display with traffic-sign recognition, radar cruise control, blind-spot warning and a 360-degree rear camera.

It also came equipped with features one might expect on a luxury or near-luxury car, including dual-zone-climate control, Bose premium audio, navigation, motorized glass sunroof, eight-way power driver’s seat with two memory settings, six-way power front passenger seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, and pushbutton starting with keyless entry.

Mazda6_30There’s an eight-inch center screen that displays navigation and audio functions operated by a control knob on the console, right next to the volume button for the audio system. The control takes a bit of learning but can be operated without looking, though the driver must still look at the screen. No system is completely eyes-free.

Out back, there’s a well-shaped and finished trunk that can accommodate 15 cubic feet of cargo. The trunk lid has C-shaped hinges  fully isolated from the contents.

Bottom line: If you seek sport driving as well as midsize family accommodations, the Mazda6 is worth serious consideration.

Mazda6_9Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mazda6 Signature four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,560 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,860.
  • Price as tested: $36,040.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018_Mazda6-2Photos (c) Mazda