OZARK, Ark. -- Twisty Arkansas 23, a narrow 2-lane trace cutting through the granite-crusted Ozark Mountains with steep mountain grades and scary hairpin corners, serves as our serpentine road track to sample the athletic manners and road-hugging agility of the Mazda6, Mazda's mid-size sedan that's refreshed for 2016 editions.
Discernible on the aggressively styled exterior package with a new chrome-ringed front grille fitted with horizontal fins and the unique signature of white-light LED running lamps, the 2016 Mazda6 also scores upgrades in the 5-seat passenger compartment with bold graphics for the instrument panel, restyled seats and front console, new electronic parking brake and a 7-inch display perched atop the center dashboard, plus new electronic safety gizmos available such as Smart Brake Support.
Muscle for Mazda6 flows from Mazda's SKYACTIV-G gasoline engine designed with fuel-saving and performance-geared technologies. The innovative plant -- an aluminum 2.5-liter in-line-4 with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing -- features multi-hole injectors to enhance fuel spray characteristics and a high compression ratio of 13.0:1.
It produces 184 hp at 5700 rpm with 185 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm.
Mazda transmissions with the SKYACTIV-G engine become a driver's choice with the short-stick manual 6-speed transmission or a smooth 6-speed electronic automatic with manual shift mode.
EPA fuel economy figures tally to 25 mpg for city driving and 37 mpg on the highway with the 6-speed manual, or 26/38 mpg city/highway with the 6-speed automatic.
Behind the curvy sheetmetal, Mazda's front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan contains a rigid high-tensile steel structure with the wheelbase stretched to 111.4 inches and the track width set at 62.4/62.8 inches front/rear. These linear expansions forge a broad and long footprint which enhances the vehicle's stability in motion and handling traits.
Roll over pavement bumps and the independent suspension -- MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link arrangement in back with a stabilizer bar at both ends tuned to check excessive lateral roll of the body -- blips tires (base version 17-inch 225/55R17 or top-trim 19-inch 225/45R19) in exacting up-down motions and delivers a firm ride quality.
Turn the sporty steering wheel and Mazda6 cuts with direct action, thanks to a rack and pinion device with electric variable power assistance.
For keen stopping power, a disc brake mounts at each wheel with 11.7-inch vented front rotors and 10.9-inch solid rear rotors. All tie to an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution, traction control system plus a dynamic stability control anti-skid device and hill launch assist program.
Mazda constructs the 2016 Mazda6 in three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Sport and Touring models stock the manual transmission with the automatic listed as an option, while the Grand Touring model comes with the automatic exclusively.
Mazda6 Sport lists standard equipment like air conditioning, cloth fabric seat upholstery, driver's seat with 6-way manual controls, a leather-bound steering wheel with tilt/telescope controls, power tabs to work windows/locks/mirrors, a push-button starter and remote keyless entry device, cruise control and trip computer, electronic parking brake, folding rear seatback with 60/40 split and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/USB and six speakers.
Mazda6 Touring carries more gear such as a 2-zone automatic climate system, driver's seat with 6-way power, leatherette seats, plus added electronic safety equipment like Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Mazda6 Grand Touring adds fine leather upholstery, heated front seats and 8-way power for the driver's seat, steering wheel paddle shifters, a power sunroof, LED foglamps, LED daytime running lamps and bi-xenon headlamps with Mazda's adaptive front-lighting system.
Additional gear clusters in packages, such as the GT Technology Package (MSRP of $2,180) that installs the i-ELOOP regenerative engine braking system (boosting fuel economy numbers to 28/40 mpg city/highway), Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Close Proximity Warning, Lane Departure Warning System, High Beam Control, Smart Brake Support System with Collision Warning, and active Grille Shutters.
Mazda's 2016 MSRP list extends from $21,495 for Mazda6 Sport to $30,195 for Mazda6 Grand Touring.