Drive

Mazda6 review: Stick shift a perk in 2016 'refresh' model

Transmission option, responsive steering impress, but a few details inside could use some work

The 2016 Mazda6 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that makes 184 horsepower. That might not sound like a lot on paper, but it’s a gutsy performer when you’re behind the wheel.

Jil McIntosh/For Metro

The 2016 Mazda6 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that makes 184 horsepower. That might not sound like a lot on paper, but it’s a gutsy performer when you’re behind the wheel.

There’s no question that, overall, most buyers prefer automatic transmissions, and so that’s what most cars have. So it was a pleasure to pick up the 2016 Mazda6 and discover that, in addition to a six-speed automatic, it’s also possible to order a six-speed stick shift. And even more unusually, it comes not just in the base model, but can be optioned in all three trim lines.

The 2016 model is a “refresh” rather than a new model, with better seats, quieter cabin, and new interior and exterior styling. It’s a very handsome car with its swept-back styling and, on my top-line GT trim, LED headlights and running lights, along with a light bar that follows the edges of the grille.

Although its name has a six, that’s not what’s under the hood. Instead, all models get a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that makes 184 horsepower. That might not sound like a lot on paper, but it’s a gutsy performer when you’re behind the wheel. The shifter only needs a light touch to click precisely into each gear, and the clutch takes up smoothly. The steering is equally accurate and quick to respond, but despite its nimble nature, this Mazda actually feels bigger than it is.

The interior is quite handsome, especially with my tester’s black-and-white leather upholstery. The infotainment screen is a tablet atop the dash, which you’re going to be seeing in many more vehicles because it keeps your eyes up while you’re looking at it, and frees up space in the centre stack.

But the climate control buttons and display are small and require too much attention. The GT trim also includes a driving display that shows your speed and other info right in front of you. Pricier cars project it onto the windshield, but the Mazda6 uses a pop-up plastic screen that, while useful, looks tacked-on and cheap.

Those quibbles aside, Mazda has turned out a very impressive ride here, both in its looks and how it performs. And if you like a stick shift, it just gets better.

The checklist: 2016 Mazda6

THE BASICS
Type.
Four-door, five-passenger midsize sedan
Engine (hp/torque). 2.5-litre I4 (184/185)
Transmissions. Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Price. Base $24,695, as-tested $32,895

COOL FEATURES
• Front and rear heated seats
• Electronic parking brake
• Heads-up display
• Regenerative electric system
• Adaptive cruise control
• Forward collision alert with braking
• Automatic high-beam headlights

POINTS
• The Mazda6 was the 2014 Canadian Car of the Year, voted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
• The voice command on the available navigation lets you say the entire address at once, instead of line by line.
• The automatic is extra-charge in the base GX, but either transmission comes at the same price in the GS and GT.

MARKET POSITION
Mazda’s “SkyActiv” is a variety of fuel-saving technologies, including lightweight materials and drivetrain optimization. The company says gasoline isn’t going away any time soon, and it prefers to use this instead of electric or hybrid vehicles.

THE COMPETITION
Hyundai Sonata — Base price: $23,999
Ford Fusion — Base price: $22,899
Toyota Camry — Base price: $24,100

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