With updated styling touches and a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine borrowed from the CX-9, the 2018 Mazda6 retains its slick design, upscale interior, and lofty position in the mid-size class. But the new turbo-four is mated exclusively to an automatic transmission, while the clumsy infotainment system still lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Best Value

The 2018 Mazda6 starts at $22,845 for the base Sport trim with a six-speed manual transmission. At the opposite end of the spectrum are models like our tester: the new top trim Signature model. It's replete with heated and cooled Nappa leather seats, Bose sound, navigation, a head-up display, and Japanese Sen Wood trim. Finished in an optional Machine Grey hue and equipped with a cargo mat and stainless scuff plates, it had a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $36,140.

For 2018, two engines are offered. Sport owners can pair a 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder to either a slick six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, while the Touring trim is limited to the automatic. Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature models feature the 250-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder – also found in the CX-9 – matched with a six-speed automatic.

Moving further upmarket for 2018, the Sport trim receives new LED headlights and front and rear turn signals, dual zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an eight-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth audio and phone capability, keyless push-button start, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and low speed automatic emergency braking. All trims but the Sport are mono-spec, with the Sport's i-Activesense Package for automatic-equipped models adding rain-sensing wipers and Mazda's suite of active safety features.

We'd pick the Grand Touring trim because it marks the entry model for the turbo-four. Upgrades include larger 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors (driver's auto dimming), rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, steering wheel paddle shifters, a Bose sound system, navigation, satellite radio, heated front seats, forward collision warning, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and advanced low-speed automatic emergency braking.

Here's what it looks like:

  • Model: 2018 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring
  • Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Output: 250 hp / 310 lb-ft (227 hp with regular fuel)
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 23 City / 31 Hwy23 City / 31 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price:$30,095 (including an $895 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $30,095

Performance

Mazda Mazda6

The big news for 2018 is the new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that offers plenty of punch off the line as well as effortless passing at highway speeds. In Sport mode, the transmission holds gears longer and downshifts energetically. The base 2.5-liter normally-aspirated engine is no slouch, either, although this year Mazda chose to drop its i-Eloop regenerative engine braking system from the lineup in favor of the first wide application of cylinder deactivation in a four-pot – to the tune of an EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 29 combined on automatic-equipped models. We managed a vehicle-measured 28.2 mpg in combined, spirited, city and highway driving.

Moreover, the Mazda6's combination of light weight (3,200 pounds in base trim), excellent steering feel, and balanced, sporty ride make it the most entertaining sedan in the mid-size class, while the engine management system (G-Vectoring Control) is a boon not only to confidence during cornering, but also to straight-line acceleration and stability. The result is a ride that's compliant and well damped. Potholes and other road imperfections are handled with ease. The steering is direct with great feedback to the driver, while braking is also excellent with very short stops and a pedal that's easy to modulate. Point the Mazda6 into a corner and it tracks flawlessly with no body lean.

At freeway speeds, the Mazda6 feels extremely stable and is unaffected by crosswinds or grooved pavement. The combination of suspension tuning and precise steering means you always know exactly where you are on the road. There's also plenty of power under the hood, making merging into traffic and passing effortless.

But all is not perfect, as the base engine can feel gruff, the turbo-four is only available with an automatic, while the Mazda's firm, sporty ride – even on the Sport model's more forgiving 17-inch wheels – isn't for everyone, and may turn off drivers accustomed to something softer and plusher.

Style

Despite assaults from newer competitors, the Mazda6's design remains at the top of the mid-size class. For 2018, the front fascia was cleaned up with a new grille pattern and bolder wing-shaped chrome trim. The fog lights are now integrated into the headlights, LED headlights and taillights are now standard on all models, while the flat black lower trim on the rear fascia has been tossed, with the entire fascia now body-colored.

Inside, Mazda has added more soft-touch materials, with Nappa leather, synthetic suede, and Japanese Sen wood included in the repertoire of upscale trims. Pricier models also receive a seven-inch TFT instrument cluster, while an eight-inch touchscreen is standard across the board.

Occupants in the spectacularly comfortable new front seats will find plenty of knee, leg, and head room. The cooling function on Signature models that sucks heat away rather than blowing cool air on your backside works better than advertised, while the trunk's wide maw, larger-than-average pass-through, and split and fold back seats add to its cargo-hauling versatility. With the rear seats flipped forward, we were easily able to load a 52cm road bike without having to remove the wheels.

Although Mazda continues to add sound-deadening materials to its flagship sedan, interior sound levels surprisingly still aren't class leading. And while the infotainment system shows both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on the applications menu list, even after pairing an iPhone and plugging it into a USB port, we were unable to activate this feature (Mazda has noted in the past that it'll be available sometime in the future). The infotainment system's controller unit is also both cumbersome to use and distracting. Finally, the most luxurious models come with a sizeable price premium, while the rearview camera image is grainy with poor resolution.

The Best and Worst Things

Mazda's interior treatments are now the best in their respective segments, and the Mazda6 is no different. In particular, the Signature's supple Nappa leather offers a class-above feel.

Conversely, Mazda's infotainment system continues to frustrate. Setting station presets requires multiple menu steps, while using the controller, itself, is cumbersome at best, and distracting at worst.

Right For? Wrong For?

Mazda Mazda6

With a stunning design and stellar handling, the Mazda6 will surely attract style-conscious enthusiasts.

At the same time, Mazda's outdated infotainment system is sure to exasperate tech-savvy buyers.

The Bottom Line

As we've previously noted, Mazda's flagship sedan isn't for everyone (even though we adore it). Its sporty ride is far from plush, the infotainment system is difficult to use, and the slick new turbo isn't available with a manual transmission. But like everything else the brand offers, the 2018 Mazda6 is a top choice in its class thanks to its stunning exterior, agile handling, and pair of entertaining and fuel efficient engines.