Mazda has long been an enigma within the Japanese automaker realm. Never quite the volume player of Toyota or Nissan, Mazda targeted enthusiasts via the RX-7 and Miata â€” models that cast a echo of driving enjoyment over the rest of the lineup. While Mazda attempted to go after the premium end of the market in the early Nineties with the stillborn Amati brand, the automaker has generally left the high end alone.
Much like the Denali line within GMCâ€™s lineup, Mazda has unleashed its Signature trim, which adds a layer of lux upon an already impressive midsizer. This 2018 Mazda 6 Signature melds plush and performance into one.
Iâ€™ll admit, I was a bit shocked after hopping into this Mazda 6. The Signature trim makes a big difference in the interior materials, moving the 6 from a mainstream midsize sedan to a proper entry luxury car. To me, the combination of the expected Mazda driving experience and the unexpected plush interior made me think of a Lexus ES â€” but an ES that traded a nasty Ambien habit for a daily Red Bull.
The Deep Chestnut Ultrasuede pad that stretches across the dash, continuing onto the door panels, is one example of a upmarket detail that one wouldnâ€™t expect on a mainstream model. The matching Nappa leather seats and trim is handsome, contrasting nicely with the black soft-touch plastics throughout. Iâ€™m still not a fan of piano black trim on any car, as it highlights any and all bits of dust (or french fry salt) that can accumulate. Thankfully, itâ€™s limited to the panel near the shifter and control knob.
Big news on the glass screen beat â€” the 6 is the first Mazda to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity. I donâ€™t love Mazdaâ€™s standard touch-and-knob interface, but it does get better with practice. Now that an even more familiar experience is available to use Waze or Spotify, secondary driving duties are much less frustrating than before.
Seating front and rear is nearly perfect. Both my wife and my kids dozed off quickly on a crosstown jaunt to a soccer match (sometimes, when you forget to make coffee before an early Saturday game, a little bit of silence from the passenger compartment is welcome).
The Mazda 6’s familiar styling received a subtle tweak for 2018. Most notably, the fog lamps move from the lower bumper to the main headlamp structure, replaced by a pair of chrome whiskers that match the new chrome handlebar moustache that stretches from flank to flank. The polished eggcrate grille is another highlight.
My tester was, to my surprise, not finished in Mazdaâ€™s traditional Soul Red. The car pictured here has an evolved hue, Soul Red Crystal, which is a touch darker than the familiar signature color. Itâ€™s a stunning shade, nicely offset by the dark polished 19-inch alloy wheels. Itâ€™s worth the $595 upcharge for this magnificent color.
Enough with the shiny bits â€” itâ€™s time to talk about the greasy stuff beneath. And there is plenty to talk about, starting with the engine. Mazda has finally plopped a turbocharged four-cylinder into the Mazda 6, producing 227 horsepower (or more) and 310 lb-ft of torque. Mazda mentions the 227 hp figure on the window sticker, but if youâ€™re willing to spring for 93 octane, the engine will produce 250 ponies.
This turbocharged powerplant comes standard on the Signature trim, as well as the Grand Touring and Grand Touring Reserve. Notably missing â€” a manual transmission, sadly. Those wishing to exercise their left foot are relegated to the base Sport trim, with the standard 187 hp 2.5-liter four.
The six-speed automatic is happy to kick down for quick passes. While many competitors offering eight or more gears in their automatics, this Mazda unit is perfectly matched to the torquey turbo four.
Handling is sharp, with the chassis quite willing to rotate when pushed. Itâ€™s not a sports car, and you won’t be taking to track day, but it is a comfortable highway cruiser that is more than happy to take a back road detour when the interstate is backed up.
Indeed, thatâ€™s what Mazda has always been â€” a competent daily driver capable of putting a smile on a driverâ€™s face. With this sumptuous new trim level and the lovely turbocharged engine, the 2018 Mazda 6 Signature shows that Mazda can put formal attire on an athlete.
[Images: Â© 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]