Model: 2012 Mazda 6 iTouring Plus
Exterior color: Autumn Bronze
Interior color: Beige
Engine: 2.5-liter, four-cylinder
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 31 mpg highway, 22 mpg city
Dealer: Adventure Mazda
Price (as tested): $25,525
When you think of great midsize cars, what comes to mind? Toyota Camry? Nissan Altima? Ford Fusion?
For a smaller, but loyal, segment of car buyers, the answer is the Mazda 6, a slick-handling sedan that has sold more than a million units worldwide since its introduction a decade ago.
Last redesigned for the 2009 model year, the 2012 Mazda 6 carries on as a worthy competitor in the midsize segment. (Look for the next major redesign to appear in late 2013 for the 2014 model year.)
"I think it's the best-looking, most fun-to-drive midsize car," said Joe Kirby of the Adventure Mazda dealership in downtown Chattanooga. "It's for people that want more than just getting from Point A to Point B."
Kirby said Mazda's passion for aggressively engineered automobiles is apparent in the Mazda 6, which features balanced steering, pinpoint handling and an available six-cylinder engine with a muscular 272 horsepower.
STYLING AND COMFORT
Our test car from Adventure Mazda was a midtrim Mazda 6 iTouring Plus. In Mazda nomenclature, the "i" designates a four-cylinder engine, and our tester came with such upgrades as a power moonroof, six-CD changer, fog lights and eight-way power driver's seat.
Attractive Autumn Bronze exterior paint contrasted with a beige and black interior -- a handsome combination.
The exterior of the Mazda 6 has that born-in-a-wind-tunnel look. The sheet metal is chiseled for maximum aerodynamics, which contributes to the Mazda 6's deft moves on the freeway and good fuel economy.
Inside, the 6 is attractive but not fussy. The soft-touch plastics on the dash would look at home in a car north of $35,000 (our tester stickers for $25,525). Our car had attractive cloth seats, although leather is an option. Rear seat legroom is especially expansive.
In a midafternoon jaunt up U.S. Highway 27, the 6's sheer athleticism was apparent. Lane changes felt like an NFL halfback juking his way through a broken-field run. Steering was precise. On the tight curve on a Highway 27 off-ramp, the Mazda 6 handled like a well-balanced carving knife.
The Mazda 6's road manners feel European, and our four-cylinder test car had plenty of off-the-mark power. At 170 horsepower, the smaller engine is no match, however, for the 6's 272 horsepower V-6 variant, which bumps the price of admission to just under $30,000 in "s" Grand Touring trim.
Midsize car buyers would do well to test-drive a Mazda 6 before defaulting to one of it's higher-volume competitors.
Mazda's reliability scores are stellar, and the 6 sedan is a good example of how a well-built family sedan also can be a blast to drive.