Mazda Corporation started as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company, founded in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1920. In 1927 “Cork” was dropped from the company name and in 1931 Toyo Kogyo Company began manufacturing vehicles with the introduction of the Mazda-Go autorickshaw. In 1984 the company renamed again, to Mazda, and by then was already selling the famed Mazda rotary (or “Wankel”) engine. By the late 1970’s the rotary engine was an option and a few years later vanished from the Mazda product line.
I have distinct memories of the rotary engine because in 1982 the first car I purchased was a used Mazda RX-4 with a rotary engine. Five months later, I blew out the seals in the engine and junked the car: turned out that the rotary had an expected lifespan of about 65,000 miles and I’d hit that. Fortunately, Mazda has kept innovating through all the intervening years and has some excellent vehicles in its fleet, even if it remains one of the smaller Japanese car manufacturers.
The 2017 model year vehicles show just how far Mazda has come. I’ve already written about the cute little 2017 Mazda CX-3 which I liked but found a bit too small for my 6’3″ body. Enter the 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring edition. Bigger in every dimension, it’s a luxurious car without a luxury car price tag. And it’s pretty darn nice looking too:
As you can see, it’s a four-door sedan. The vehicle Mazda loaned me was Machine Gray Metallic with a Parchment Nappa Leather interior. And it was a very nice, very comfortable car with every amenity that the designers could add to the vehicle. In fact, unlike the far more expensive 2017 Toyota Avalon, another car in this same luxury sedan class, the Mazda6 had a steering wheel heater. That’s important: Who wants to touch a cold steering wheel?
One of the design decisions that characterizes the 2017 model year for Mazda is the location of the Mazda Connect nav system screen. In earlier model years, some of the vehicles have the screen embedded into the dashboard, but for 2017 it juts up above the dash. You can see what I mean in this photo:
While initially it seems like something that would lower and raise, the positioning of the air conditioning vents precludes the space being used that way so it just sits on the dashboard. It’s an interesting design decision because it echoes the experience of using a portable GPS navigational system like a Magellan.
Also worthy of note are the controls spread throughout the cabin. In practice, they were easy to master but as with most new cars, it takes a while to figure out where everything’s located, particularly when you’re zooming down the highway and have to keep your eyes on the road.
The central controls are the environmental system and by the driver’s right elbow are the nav controls:
This may look a bit confusing, but having all the controls at your fingertips is good design and quickly mastered. In fact, BMW does exactly the same thing with its dial-based media control unit. With Sirius XM radio, bluetooth to multiple devices, AM and FM, there were almost enough channels that my 13yo daughter and I could agree on one for upwards of 5 minutes.
Notice the parking break control in the above photo too. Just a humble little lift/push control, you could definitely feel when the parking brake engaged. No lever to pull, no pedal to push down to engage, just this little control. Darn easy (though also easy to forget if it’s not already a habit for you).
The 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring also features the Mazda heads-up display system they call “Active Driving Display” and among its many useful features, it shows you the current speed limit, your current speed, and the speed you’ve set with the smart cruise control. If you have the navigation system offering you directions, they show up on the flip-up display too. One thing I hadn’t seen before in a car, the Mazda6 also had a Traffic Sign Recognition System which would show a tiny red stop sign in the display if you were coming towards one.
I couldn’t get a decent photo of the heads up system, but there’s a photo on the Mazda Web site, so I’ve, umm, liberated it so you can see what I’m talking about:
The actual display is pretty small, about the size of a smartphone, and while it’s neat, truth be told it’s also the one feature of the Mazda6 that I could easily omit and not feel the loss. Heads up display is a great idea, but since it’s impractical to project it on the actual windshield, the little pop-up transparent plastic screen ends up being a bit dorky in practice.
You’d think that every car manufacturer by now would have a great nav system but friends who have Subarus with the Subaru GPS “Starlink” complain to me about how clumsy it is. Fortunately, Mazda’s one company that’s done a good job of figuring how the entire entertainment and vehicle control system and it’s a breeze to enter an address (push the button, say “get directions to address” then say the full address when prompted) and have it show you turn by turn.
Even without that, however, the display is bright and easily understood at a glance:
You can gain even more screen real estate by selecting the down arrow button on the lower left. It’s important to note that with the central console dial and controls, you’re never touching this screen anyway. A push on the music button and you can access your audio programs, a push of NAV and you’re back to the full screen map. Super easy.
What the Mazda system lacks, however, is support for either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (though there are ways you can hack support for the latter, at the risk of voiding your warranty). In practice I didn’t find it a huge loss because the system plays very nicely with iOS 10 through the bluetooth connection anyway. Indeed, that’s Mazda’s answer to the question of why these aren’t supported, though there are rumors abound that support for both is “coming soon” to the Mazda lineup.
The vehicle still clearly has one foot in the past with its many dials, however. Here’s the front control cluster, as photographed through the steering wheel gap:
Take note of the gas mileage: I averaged about 26.5 – 27.9 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving, not too bad considering that the considerably more expensive 2017 Toyota Avalon only saw 33 mpg on average, and that was with the much vaunted Toyota Hybrid CVT engine. And get this: The EPA gas milage for the Mazda6 Grand Touring is 33mpg. Had I done more highway driving I would likely have seen my fuel efficiency go up.
Like all modern vehicles, the 2017 Mazda6 is loaded with a ton of safety smarts, many of which operate based on cameras or radar systems around the vehicle. Blind side monitoring? Check. Smart traffic-aware cruise control? Check. Smart brake support and lane departure warning? Check.
Unless it’s cold and snowy, at which point I got this error on my dashboard instead:
I was unable to ascertain which systems were disabled but the icon suggests it’s the smart braking system. Then again, if it’s 22F and icy out, you want to be driving super cautiously anyway.
Finally, as someone who drives an SUV, I’m always amazed at the size of car trunks, and the Mazda6 is no different:
What’s really interesting is that even though the trunk is remarkably deep, you can actually fold down the back seats and gain even more space with the tiny controls at the top of the opening:
It’s a bit weird to have the controls in the trunk, but I guess there’s some logic to it.
That’s about it for the 2017 Mazda6. Driving it for a week was a pleasure and the three-level seat warmers, steering wheel heater and array of smart driving controls made us feel safe even in the inclement weather we experienced during the test period. Not as showy as a Lexus, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, I would nonetheless encourage savvy drivers to check out the 2017 Mazda6 as a comfortable and luxurious family sedan with a surprisingly low price tag.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring, Skyactiv-G 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder engine with 6speed sport mode and paddle shifters, 184 horsepower front-wheel drive. 19″ alloy wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers and much more. Optional equipment included: cargo mat, gray paint charge, door sill trim package and GT Premium Package. Total MSRP: $34,530.
Disclosure: Mazda USA loaned me the 2017 Mazda6 for a week for the purposes of this review. Thanks, Mazda!