Mountain Wheels: Sporty Mazda6 aims for a luxurious driving experience (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Sporty Mazda6 aims for a luxurious driving experience (column)

As proof of how much the automotive world has changed, consider the broad, stylish and borderline grandiose mid-sized sedan that now comprises the Mazda6 compared to the much smaller models which carried the same name in the past.

In its newest generation, tweaked considerably for 2018, the Mazda6 is veering into the nearly luxury end of the market with a practically full-sized automobile that sports sharp looks, an imposing stance and more and more of the same technology found in brands like Lexus and its German counterparts.

The Mazda6 very much seems like an automotive embodiment of the equally splashy new CX-9 SUV, with wider, roomier seats, loads of luggage space and an improved driving character that's assisted greatly by a new engine.

There are also five trim levels available, with the higher-end versions sporting Nappa leather and UltraSuede fabrics, real Japanese Sen wood and progressive details such as traffic-sign recognition, automatic braking assist and a new windshield-projected head-up display (no more of that cheesy pop-up plastic gizmo stuff of the older vehicles).

Ride and handling have been considerably retuned, with a new "G-Vectoring" torque control system that shifts the body load forward to the front wheels, providing better control and improved steering feel, and also evening out the G-forces and head toss you and your passengers might experience. Sound insulation has also been improved throughout.

It's no MazdaSpeed level of sporty, but if you go for the larger engine – a new 2.5-liter turbo that makes 227 horsepower on regular gas and 250 HP on premium fuel, with 310 overall lb.-ft. of torque – you'll notice very speedy takeoffs and confident passing power, plus loads of high-altitude pull, not to mention highway mileage around 31 MPG. An available six-speed manual transmission will also add to the sport appeal.

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They've also retooled the regular 2.5-liter four cylinder and added cylinder deactivation, a first for a four-cylinder engine of this category, which gives that 187-HP engine highway mileage as much as 35 MPG.

The 2018 rendition of the Mazda6 sports a more aggressive, chain link fence-styled grille and the car's nose is so long and bejeweled in chrome highlights and curb-level air splitters that it looks a bit like a Jaguar. New standard LED headlamps also brighten up the ride and the appearance.

The cabin is exceptionally long and lean, with pronounced haunches over the front wheels and character lines that stretch into the mid-doors and tapered lines along the lower body. The rear aspect is equally tapered, almost liftback styled, with a built-in trunk spoiler, a broad bumper and large exhaust ports.

My mid-level Signature model also sported very attractive 19-inch wheels, with 17-inch wheels standard on the Sport model. Pricing, by the way, starts at $21,950, though my moderately loaded test machine was $36,140, with nearly all of the available options and the higher-output engine.

The insides are very Zen and made more comfortable with retooled, wider seats, with available ventilated front seats and rear seat heating with the controls hidden in the rear center armrest.

That rear seating area is broad and comfortable, with loads of head room but somewhat limited leg room with the front seats fully stretched out.

In the higher trim levels, it's leather everywhere, plus evolved and elegant lines. A chromed accent strip runs across the mid-dash, dissecting even the low-profile air vents, with suede accents and highlight stitching, sandwiched between more leather.

Instrumentation is brilliant and attractive, with a new video cluster projecting a clean analogue speedometer and a switchable array of trip computer tools, including multicolored warnings when you enter a school zone or other speed control areas; a new, compact 8-inch MazdaConnect information and navigation screen offers a useful range of tools and apps and is still controlled by a bottle cap-styled knob on the console. A new 360-degree monitoring system also provides better parking views.

That console is relatively tall on its leathery edges but tastefully rendered and inset with piano black trim, with driving mode switches to enhance the shift points and the slightly awkward right-hand-size audio control knob.

The car's safety systems have all been improved and the Mazda's lane-keep assistance can often be a little too invasive, but at least does not immediately slam on the brakes, as others do. It also has the most annoyingly responsive remote door locks in the world ­— step about a foot away from the car and everything seals up, though I am sure you can adjust that quick response.