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There’s a question you must ask yourself before you consider the Mazda 6: What are you willing to give up for a sporty drive? We’ll help you answer. Compared to other midsize sedans, you’ll sacrifice some comfort, efficiency, and technology. We’ll also be a teasing voice in the back of your head. Forget that sensible stuff—this car is fun.

Athleticism and style distinguishes the Mazda 6 in this typically staid segment. But we’ve known that for a long time—in fact, for a few years shy of a decade. Since our first drive in a current 6 back in 2014, it has received a face-lift and an available turbocharged engine, both displayed in this 2021 Mazda 6 Carbon Edition—and not much else. Meanwhile, its competitors have become smarter, more frugal, and more refined. Is the 6’s fun factor enough to preserve its appeal against newer alternatives?

More Like “Carbon” Edition

Let’s get one thing straight: The Carbon Edition doesn’t have a single strand of carbon fiber anywhere on it. Mazda might like you to think the name implies the presence of that lightweight material, but it’s ostensibly a reference to the exterior details finished in black, like coal, a less glamorous form of the element carbon. Those darkened elements include the mirror caps, trunklid spoiler, and 19-inch alloy wheels. Carbon Edition Mazdas are coated exclusively in Polymetal Gray paint, with interiors resplendent in red leather. Oh, upgrades or adjustments that make the Carbon Edition perform differently than any other Mazda 6 Turbo? Nothing of the sort.

Remember that as you browse the Mazda 6 range, because the Carbon Edition’s aesthetics command a premium. It starts at $33,945; $2,280 more than a mechanically identical Polymetal Gray Grand Touring version. Meanwhile, the sporty-looking, V-6-powered Toyota Camry TRD starts at $33,180, and the turbocharged Kia K5 GT tops its range at $31,585. In the Mazda 6 lineup, there’s still room to go higher; the 6 Signature model runs $37,390.

Front-Drive Muscle

Carbon Edition or not, the Mazda 6’s 2.5-liter turbo-four engine is burly. It makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque on 87-octane gas, but filling it with 93 octane increases output to 250 hp and 320 lb-ft. Here in the Golden State, 91 octane is the best we can get, but nevertheless this Mazda 6 was the quickest current-generation example we’ve ever tested, accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. That’s just behind the AWD-equipped Subaru Legacy XT (6.1 seconds) and Nissan Altima SR (5.8 seconds).

At the dragstrip, associate road test editor Erick Ayapana commented how the car is “very eager off the line, with a little hint of lag—and lots of wheelspin if you’re not careful.” As initially strong and surprisingly free of torque steer as it feels, the Mazda 6 “seems to run out of oomph closer to the quarter mile,” Ayapana said.

Alas, the Mazda 6 is no longer offered with a manual transmission, instead making a six-speed automatic mandatory. It works well, providing unobtrusive shifts and responding readily in manual mode. Yet we have to imagine that even one more ratio would improve things, particularly the unimpressive fuel economy—23/31 mpg city/highway trails most of the midsize sedan segment and pales against hybrids. In an era when transmissions commonly pack eight speeds or more, the 6’s six-speed evidences its age.

The Mazda 6’s brakes aren’t quite as sporty as some of its other dynamic attributes. More immediacy at the top of the pedal would change that, but the linear, progressive buildup of stopping power makes it easy to brake accurately. Its best 60–0 braking distance of 121 feet is middling, beating the Honda Accord’s 129-foot stop but behind the Altima SR’s 115-foot result.

Backroads Over Highways

If you seek a vehicle designed to just trundle through traffic, the Mazda 6 isn’t ideal; you might find yourself taking the long way instead. Like many other Mazdas, it’s imbued with agile chassis tuning and nicely weighted steering. At 3,519 pounds it’s no Miata, but like that little roadster, the Mazda 6 feels tossable and easy to place in a corner.

That’s borne out better in the real world than on our test track, where the Mazda 6 posted 0.82 g average on the skidpad and lapped the figure-eight course in 27.3 seconds at 0.63 g average. Those are somewhat lackluster results; the Honda Accord grips identically but completed the figure eight in 27.1 seconds. Road test editor Chris Walton was left slightly dismayed: “Stability control takes the throttle away, and there’s not much I can do about it. I just have to wait for corner exit for the power to come back.” Nor do the Mazda 6’s SUV-spec tires help its outright performance. Yep, you read that right.

In between smooth racetracks and byways, the Mazda 6’s sporty suspension tuning can be a drawback. Although solid body control keeps the car confidently planted, its ride feels much more stiff than plush. The amount of road texture coming through the suspension isn’t exactly relaxing. Nor is the pervasive resonant tire noise present even at around-town speeds.

Cabin Conundrums

Technology appointments in the Mazda 6 are an odd mix of old and new. It lacks Mazda’s latest infotainment system, instead relying on an 8.0-inch dial-controlled screen that’s low resolution and laggy. Image quality from the backup camera resembles early webcams. Like most Mazda 6 trims, the Carbon Edition has a small digital gauge display showing basic vehicle data, far less wow-inducing than competitors’ colorful and customizable equivalents. But there is a head-up display. Strangely, the 6 and the Miata are the only 2021 Mazdas that offer wireless Apple CarPlay. Yet despite USB ports front and rear, no wireless charging pad is available.

In the Mazda 6 Carbon Edition, the four outboard seats are heated, the front two are ventilated, and they’re all covered in that ravishing red leather. The seats are supportive and ergonomic, but the vehicle’s body structure limits overall spaciousness inside the cabin. That’s particularly evident in the second row and trunk—shame that the Mazda 6 wagon never made it here, isn’t it?

Is the Mazda 6 Worth Buying?

In 2021, the Mazda 6 is defined as much by fun as it is by age. Its tech features and fuel economy are surpassed by its latest competition and will only seem more outdated as time goes on. But its sporty drive and saucy looks will persist. Despite its shortcomings, the Mazda 6 remains a good choice for driving enthusiasts. Just remember that an all-new version, built on a rear-drive chassis and with an inline-six engine and whiffs of BMW, is rumored to be on the way.

2021 Mazda Mazda6 Turbo (Carbon Edition)
BASE PRICE $33,745
PRICE AS TESTED $34,245
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.5L/227-hp/310-lb-ft* DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,519 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE 111.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 191.5 x 72.4 x 57.1 in
0-60 MPH 6.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.7 sec @ 97.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 23/31/26 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 147/109 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.75 lb/mile
*Regular fuel ratings; 93 octane raises Mazda to 250 hp @ 5,000 rpm and 320 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm

The post 2021 Mazda 6 Carbon Edition First Test: Fun, But Getting Old appeared first on MotorTrend.

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