With a few well-established vehicles dominating the midsize sedan segment, and numerous likable competitors trying to unseat them, it's tough for any particular vehicle to stand out. But the Mazda 6 has something most competitors don't: charisma.
While just about any car in this segment will get the job done, the Mazda 6 manages to engage the driver in the process. This was particularly true of the first-generation 6, which had a relatively compact, European-size footprint and sporty suspension tuning that gave the car a remarkably nimble feel. For the second-generation 6, Mazda enlarged the dimensions while still retaining much of the original model's handling panache. Depending on your needs, either generation could make for a solid choice as a midsize sedan.
Current Mazda 6
The Mazda 6 is powered by one of two engines -- a 2.5-liter inline-4 generating 170 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque or a 3.7-liter V6 that cranks out 272 hp and 269 lb-ft. The four is paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic, while the V6 is only available with a six-speed automatic.
The 6 is available in five trim levels: i Sport, i Touring, i Touring Plus, i Grand Touring and s Grand Touring. Models with the "i" prefix come with the four-cylinder engine, while those with the "s" prefix come with the V6. Base models are respectably equipped, while higher trim levels come with such niceties as a sunroof, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control and an audible blind-spot monitoring system. Major options (depending on trim) include xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, satellite radio and a navigation system.
Visually, the current 6 is no wallflower, with a distinctive face and front fender flares that recall Mazda's RX-8 sports car. In terms of practicality, the Mazda 6 also stacks up well against perennial class leaders such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry with regard to passenger space, cargo volume and V6 vigor. Moreover, most midsize sedans can't match the Mazda's entertaining character on twisty back roads, and yet the 6 still manages to offer a satisfactorily compliant ride.
There are a few downsides to the current Mazda 6. First, the V6 might be powerful, but its fuel economy brings up the rear in this segment. The four-cylinder's fuel economy is also underwhelming. Finally, the quality of the interior materials is a hit-or-miss proposition, as the rich soft-touch material on the dashboard contrasts with cheap-feeling plastic elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Mazda 6 is still a respectable choice in the midsize sedan segment.
Used Mazda 6 Models
The current, second-generation Mazda 6 debuted for the 2009 model year. There have been only minor feature and trim level changes since.
Launched for the 2003 model year and produced through 2008, the first-generation Mazda 6 was initially available only as a sedan, while a four-door hatchback and a wagon joined the lineup the following year. There were two basic trim levels: i and s. The Mazda 6 i was powered by a reasonably gutsy 160-hp four-cylinder engine mated to either a manual or an automatic transmission. The s model upped the performance ante with its 220-hp 3.0-liter V6 -- also available with either a manual transmission or an automatic -- though this engine lagged behind the bigger V6s in competing models.
With power accessories, cruise control and pleasant cloth upholstery, even base models were reasonably well equipped. As you move up through the trim levels, features are added such as a rear spoiler, foglights, leather seating, a power sunroof and an upgraded audio system with a CD changer.
In Edmunds reviews, we praised the original Mazda 6 for its edgy, handsome design and stylish if somewhat low-budget interior. Even more impressive were its communicative steering and tight suspension. We also liked its three available body styles. While most competitors offered only a sedan body, the 6 was additionally available as a versatile (and remarkably well-disguised) four-door hatchback or a stylish wagon. Combining the Mazda 6's inherent goodness with cavernous cargo areas, both the hatchback and wagon were fun-to-drive and sensible alternatives to other sedans and even SUVs.
Our enthusiast editors particularly enjoyed the Mazdaspeed 6, a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive variant of the Mazda 6 sedan that was only offered in 2006 and 2007. Boasting 278 hp, a six-speed manual transmission and sports-car-like handling, this European-style sedan delivered great driving excitement but sadly didn't catch on with American consumers. As a used car, though, it's a compelling package for those with a need for speed, not to mention all-wheel-drive traction.
On the downside, the first-generation Mazda 6 was relatively short on passenger space, and its interior quality was also lacking. Moreover, the V6 lacked the punch of rival uplevel motors. However, we think it remains a good match for used car shoppers in search of something a bit zestier -- and, in the case of the hatchback and wagon models, more practical -- than your run-of-the-mill family sedan.
There were a handful of changes made to the first-generation Mazda 6 over the years. In 2005, a six-speed automatic replaced the five-speed unit on V6 models. For 2006, four-cylinder cars received an upgraded five-speed automatic in place of the old four-speed, and all Mazda 6 models were treated to minor styling updates. The '06 models as well as '07s also benefited from additional safety features being made standard. Not much changed for this generation's final year, though Mazda discontinued the wagon body style.
The Mazda 6 replaced the forgettable Mazda 626. Particularly in its last two generations in 1993-'97 and 1998-2002, this car failed to stand out from the crowd of family sedans. Early 626 models were celebrated for their European styling and emphasis on performance, but in later years, they slipped into oblivion as Mazda followed trends set by the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
Read the most recent 2014 Mazda MAZDA6 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Mazda MAZDA6 page.
For more on past Mazda MAZDA6 models, view our Mazda MAZDA6 history page.