Like all Mazdas, the Mazda6 is tuned first and foremost for fun. The chassis is solid, with minimal body roll around corners. MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup in the rear make for a sporty ride that's firm and compliant, without sacrificing ride quality.
Mazda has moved to all-electric power steering on the new Mazda6. While old-school enthusiasts might bemoan the abandonment of the old hydraulic setup, we think it's a vast improvement. The new electric system is more efficient and surprisingly responsive, keeping the driver connected to the road without feeling overly heavy.
For fuel economy reasons, Mazda has dropped the six-cylinder engine on the Mazda6 and gone solely to an inline-4. Like all smaller displacement engines, the lack of power can be felt in demanding driving situations, such as climbing steep hills. But with the pedal to the metal, the Mazda6 achieves enough oomph to get you where you need to go.
Low-speed maneuvering was a tad less nimble than expected; we had to pull a few three-point turns in tight spots. Its turning circle of 36.7 feet didn't feel as lithe as the Toyota Camry's nearly identical 36.6 feet. Still, the Mazda6 is much more agile in the parking lot than the bulky Ford Fusion at 37.7 feet and the Honda Accord's girthy 38.1 feet.
The new automatic transmission is remarkably smooth. Its unique design uses a torque converter, like those found in traditional automatics, to propel the car and provide creep at speeds less than 5 mph. At higher speeds, a multi-plate transmission changes gears, providing quicker shifts that are tuned to hold revs longer and give plenty of thrust when needed.
Still, we preferred the manual transmission, with its crisp feel and easy clutch. Mazda expects the stick to account for only about 5 percent of its model mix, however.
We did notice quite a bit of tire and wind noise while motoring along, even at a moderate pace. In the car equipped with the manual transmission, we also noticed significant vibration in the shifter, especially at highway speeds.