It has been said that long distance road trips can make or break relationships. It comes down to a well thought out itinerary, plenty of snacks and the correct choice of automobile to ensure that you arrive to your destination without pulling each other’s hair out.
Recently I took a road trip down to New York City with my significant other and had checked off all of the above, except when it came to the question of just what vehicle would traverse this epic ten-hour journey to the concrete jungle.
A few choices came to mind, including my own 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit, but it was in dire need of an oil change and wasn’t the most comfortable (or reliable) vehicle for this long distance trip. Mazda answered the call however, and was gracious enough to lend me the keys to a brand spanking new 2017 Mazda 6 GT painted in Snowflake White Pearl.
Immediately after breaking this news to my girlfriend, she was ecstatic with the fact that we would be taking a car with a reputation for being an excellent highway cruiser and having “Grand Touring” in its name. I was also overjoyed that this Mazda6 came equipped with a six-speed manual transmission.
The Mazda6 provides a sporty alternative to the conventional dull mid-sized sedan, retaining a coupe-like silhouette that stands out with eye-catching looks. But you probably won’t spot any differences between this year and last, because the 2017 Mazda6 does not look any different. It’s still the same sleek attractive model with a small list of minor (and mostly unseen) improvements.
Among the changes for 2017 is G-Vectoring Control, which affects the 6’s driving dynamics. This electronic feature helps the sedan turn into corners with more enthusiasm. In short, G-Vectoring Control makes reductions to engine torque to unnoticeably bring the load toward the front axle, as the steering wheel is turned off-center, improving steering response. It’s clever and typical of Mazda to reaffirm consumers of their “Driving Matters” belief. It appeared to work as advertised, being both seamless and supportive.
Another improvement that does not make a big visual splash is the available i-ActivSense batch of safety systems for the driver. Thanks to a new camera, the setup can detect pedestrians, cars, and big objects moving into the car’s path at city speeds, and the system can mitigate a pedestrian impact by automatically applying the brakes.
Furthermore, Mazda has also tuned the i-ActivSense to recognize traffic signs and stop signs, making them visible on the HUD. The system also automatically converts American mph signs to their value in km/h, which came incredibly handy during our road trip down south.
While the Mazda6 hasn’t changed much on the outside, the interior has been given some updates for an upscale feel. The GT model adds in black nappa leather seats with titanium-grey piping and stitching, while the interior map lights are now LED units. The rear seats also gain seat heaters and the metal trim is now a darker hue. Despite the flourishes, the cleanly sculpted cabin feels more serious, almost Germanic, than Japanese luxury.
The new steering wheel is shared with the 2016 CX-9 and gains the available heating function. The leather on the steering wheel’s rim is stitched using the same Japanese chidori technique it uses on the CX-9 as well. Furthermore, Mazda has tied the HUD’s settings to the driver’s-seat memory function. There is plenty of room for luggage for up to four people, and lots of extra pockets and storage bins for all of your road trip essentials.
The ride inside the Mazda6 is quiet and composed and by having acoustic-laminated glass on GT models, the NVH is considerably lower. There is a satisfying ‘thunk’ whenever you close the door, and the weather stripping has also been optimized to hush down the noise.
At a time when many manufacturers are dropping their manual transmissions, Mazda still remains committed to furnishing midsize sedan buyers with the three-pedal choice, at least on certain trim levels. The six-speed manual remains standard on the base GX and GS models, while the GT model gets a standard six-speed automatic, with the six-speed manual being a no-cost option.
Every Mazda6 is still powered by the same 184-hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder motor; no V-6 or turbocharged motor is offered yet. For this reason, the Mazda6 is a bit of a slouch off the line or when accelerating in traffic but thanks to the manual transmission, keeping the car in the higher rev range makes the drive entertaining.
0-100 km/h takes around 7.5 seconds, which is better than most four-cylinder rivals, but it still could use some more conviction and power. Turn-in response is fast and the firm suspension keeps the body level. The quick steering is weighted nicely and does convey some feedback except when it is on center where the feel is muted.
Mazda’s commitment to continually improving the 6 is commendable, given that the industry standard practice is to enhance models every few years and then wait. The current-generation Mazda6 debuted in 2014, and has had three updates in as many years. With Honda’s Accord as good as ever, a slick new Chevrolet Malibu on the market, and the rest of the mid-size competition being generally impressive and only getting better, Mazda is very clever to make sure the 6 is not a one hit wonder, even if you can’t spot it on the outside.
The twenty-hour roundtrip to New York City and back were pleasant with the Mazda6. Having a suitable and comfortable vehicle always makes a huge difference when it comes to road trip satisfaction. Thankfully, the fuel economy was splendid and I only needed to fill up once each trip, and averaged around 7.3 L/100km thanks to the long highway sprints.
The Mazda6 is a great vehicle for road trips and I was left more than contented with its performance over the test week. Starting at just $32,895, the 2017 Mazda6 GT gives a great value proposition for anyone looking for a relaxed highway cruiser with a sharp looking exterior. With increasing MSRPs running rampant, there are not too many of these “best bang for your buck” deals lying around, so it would be wise to keep the Mazda6 high on your shortlist.