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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
After living with the new ’16 Mazda Skyactiv 6 iGT for 18 months, I have the following observations/review.

My Mazda history: I’ve owned 6 Mazda’s as well as a one-off Nissan, Toyota, Honda and VW. The latest non-Mazda was the VW Golf R, which I decided to try, given the lack of sporting options from Mazda at the time. The VW was markedly better than the MS3 I had in terms of performance and refinement. The Golf R’s AWD was killer as was its excellent Audi-sourced engine. Structure, apparent build quality and road manners were all several steps above my MS3. Of course the price was some 12K more than the MS3, so… But once the VW lease was over I decided to take a look at the Skyactiv-based 6 in iGT form. The differences between it and the 2010 6 sGT I owned prior to the Golf R were pretty clear. Although Mazda’s materials and build quality still give in to weight saving and some cost cutting techniques, the cost cutting and materials strategies are quite a bit better than the Ford- influenced, Michigan-built 2010 sGT. Coming from a V6 (in the 2010 6 sGT) and a Turbo 4 in the VW did make the transition to the Skyactiv 4 a bit painful. The balance of the 2016 6 design is what won me over.

Exterior:
Best looking exterior of any midsize, except maybe Jaguar and Maserati. Every angle is good to great (maybe the rear end is less compelling, but only maybe). The signature LED lighting is my favorite exterior feature. The front lighting form and function is very impressive which, along with the grille, creates a memorable brand identity without being overdone. As with all Mazda’s I’ve owned I always have the urge to look back as I walk away.

Room for improvement:
Mazda really needs to work on their door handle design. Seriously, it pains me to say a Toyota Corolla has better designed door handles both with respect to keyless entry AND shape. My Golf R also had superior handles that not only fit the hand better but actuated with more of an UPWARD, rather than OUTWARD movement. I’m tall, so the upward, slightly arched direction through which the VW handle moves is arguably more natural than pulling at a right angle with the door. The Mazda handle feels cheap with little attention paid to how it interfaces with the hand, which is ironic given all the on-line videos touting the designers’ goal of making ingress and egress effortless. By comparison my 2010 CX9 door handles offer better shape and a solid, albeit a bit hollow, mechanical feel. Also I wish Mazda didn’t cost cut the capacitive handle they used on the 2010 sGT. The black keyless access button feels cheap and doesn’t convey the same elegance of simply grasping the handle and having the door unlock.

Along with the door handle is the tininess of the door. Again Skyactiv goal is light weight, but the typical econobox body panel shake that occurs when I close the door really undermines the “premium” tier Mazda is shooting for. Having recently looked at the new CX9 does give me hope. While the door handles are still on the cheap side, the doors feel much better, with good “slam” and a no apparent panel shake.
A nitpick, I wish Mazda used hydraulic rods to support the hood instead of the cheap metal prop. And a gas tank lid that locked with the car, like the VW. The VW had both features. And while they may seem like throw-away features I would argue they conveyed a sense of quality and attention to detail. It’s the little things…


Interior:
Wonderfully finished cabin. Seats took some time to break in but ultimately this is the most comfortable well-thought out driver’s interior that I’ve had in a car. Perfect driving position even for my lanky 6’2”, 200lb frame and the way the headrest perfectly aligns my back and spine contributes to the “fits like a glove” cabin. This is one of the few Japanese sedans that pays attention to taller humans.

Controls, and the EXCELLENT Mazda Connect infotainment system makes this a very intuitive cockpit from which to both pay attention to driving and control many of the high-end features. Mazda really hit it out of the park with the Mazda Connect control knob. Feels great in the hand with fantastic positive feedback. This is what a good quality control interface feels like. For those who gripe about the lack of Carplay or Android Auto, I feel that both those features are still half-baked/buggy in many cars. Read through any auto forum and you’ll see complaints about the stability of AA and CP. The single biggest compliment I can give Mazda Connect is that once you acclimate to the design many functions offer multiple use paths. For instance you can voice dial a call and choose to confirm the number/name via voice, the phone button or by confirming the onscreen dialogue via pushing down on the commander knob. It’s so freaking intuitive and easy to navigate. Also nice that Mazda gives you the option to use touchscreen at a stop.

Room for improvement:
About the only complain I have with Mazda Connect is related to the disabled traffic alert system. Supposedly Mazda’s contract with a third party fell through. However, I heard they secured another contractor to complete the work. A shame since it is another feature that is common on premium cars.

Steering wheel, while MUCH better than the one on my 2010 6, is still behind the pack in terms of rim thickness and leather (vinyl) quality. Mazda’s marketing literature once ranted about how they scoured Japan for the best leather for this wheel. HA! Whatever the wheel is covered with it isn’t leather. Also the gear selector knob is covered with a cheap feeling vinyl as well. By comparison my VW Golf R had the absolutely BEST steering wheel I’ve ever laid my large hands on. Perfect flat-bottomed shape, thoughtful variable thickness and high quality leather wrap made it an absolutely joy to hold.

I did solve my beef with the leather steering wheel by installing the Xuji leather wheel cover. Really nice quality, appearance and feel for $60. Again amazing what a difference high quality materials makes at touch points.
https://www.amazon.com/Sewing-Black-Genuine-Leather-Steering/dp/B00QKHWSF2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476916109&sr=8-1&keywords=Xuji+Mazda

To be fair, and despite still being on the thin side, Mazda is using what appears to be a better quality wheel on the ’17 with upgraded leather on the premium package. Also glad to hear Mazda is FINALLY fixing the lack of a black headliner with the ’17. This sporty car definitely feels less common and more exclusive with a black headliner.

Shift paddles. I’m enjoying the option and use them often, but not so in love with the small surface area. So I grabbed some of these:
https://www.amazon.com/Areyourshop-Atenza-Steering-Extended-Shifter/dp/B01COS7SCS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1476916084&sr=8-5&keywords=Shift+paddles

A nicely finished pair of aluminum extensions for $32 that increased my shift paddle usage a 100%. I may go for the better Kenstyle versions if I decide to keep this car after the lease.
HUD, while a nice feature is looking cheaper and cheaper as each day goes by. I wish I could just close the sail. Although I have grown fond of this feature, I'm not so fond of the implementation. It is the one feature that cheapens the entire interior. It’s also easy to lean slightly off center and have the readout fall off the edge of the sail- e.g. as you’re taking a corner or relaxing in your seat. I understand Mazda was probably trying to balance cost with an attractive safety feature, but would have waited for the 2017 CX9's implementation. If I were a betting man my guess is that they may upgrade to the CX9 version for the final model year of the 3rd gen.

The center console gives me mixed feelings. While I liked the roll-top concealing the cup holders, the center-placed holders do make it a pain to drive with large bottles. Luckily Mazda did a nice job finishing off the center armrest and flanking trim with good quality padded pleather. At my height, I’m able to place my elbow comfortably on the armrest.

Very happy Mazda chose to use a floor mounted gas pedal. The free floating versions always get uncomfortable over long trips.

As always Mazda gets the manual gate shifting action right: pull back to move up a gear and push forward to downshift. Just like physics intended. J

Another HUGE change from the Ford days is the lack of interior rattles. All my Ford-influenced Mazdas developed buzzes and rattles over time. Some I could live with, while some had me tearing apart the interior like a raging lunatic. The new Skyactiv designs seem to have done a nice job preventing noises caused by poor interior trim tolerances and mediocre wiring harness management. No doubt due to better parts fabrication and tolerances as well as using higher quality materials less sensitive to temperature cycling. I’ve driven a few of the newer Skyactiv products- mostly beat on rentals and have experienced similar levels of solidity and lack of rattles.

The only rattle that comes and goes appears to be coming from the rear seat area parcel shelf. Initially I thought it may be either the center seat belt mechanism or the rather lightweight latches for the folding seats. I finally took about 4 hours to remove all the trim and found that the actual parcel shelf may have been the culprit; rattling against the car’s metal frame. I have not heard the rattle since removing then reinstalling the parcel shelf trim.


Chassis:
I’ve owned Mazdas because of their responsive and composed chassis. Even my 2010 CX9, despite weighing in at over 4500lbs, feels athletic and connected to the road. The 6's lightweight and rigid skyactiv chassis contributes to a very tossable large car. Like all my other Mazdas, the car “shrinks” around you as you drive it harder. This phenomena makes my daily commute very enjoyable and reminds me of why it’s fun to drive a slow car FAST.

NVH and ride quality are also several steps up from previous Mazdas, while replacing the factory Dunlops with Michelin Pilot A/S3’s made a HUGE difference both in road holding and also road noise. The body structure is definitely better than the Ford-influenced Mazdas of old.


Engine:
OK, so here’s the area where the majority of people find fault with the 6. 185 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque is pretty “lame” for a car with sporting pretensions. And the lack of a more powerful option makes me scratch my head. While I understand Mazda has limited resources I also wonder why Mazda doesn’t simply do what they did with the 2016 Miata and 2017 CX9 and offer a higher octane tune. Based on what I’ve read, the Skyactiv engine and tranny are pretty stout, with forged internals and conservative tunes. I also understand that Mazda is tuning these cars for “less enthusiastic and attentive drivers” but the addition of a higher octane mode feels like it would an easy solution for giving enthusiasts the option of higher performance by simply paying for premium fuel- I know I would. I’m not talk about turning the 6 into a V8 fire breather. That would kill the overall balance of the chassis as well as a few people who don’t know how to drive. As a “momentum” car responsiveness is more important than straight-line power. You want enough power to pull you out of a turn, but no so much that the chassis feels muscle-bound. The 87 pump tune is OK, but the damn hesitation at 2000 rpm (which is supposedly VVT behavior) drives me NUTS. The sport button and manual mode do make a difference, and the engine does wake up a bit when the temp drops, but I think getting a 91-93 tune that brings power to around 200 hp and a red line closer to 7K, would give this car some nice punch and spine-tingling sounds. Again nothing crazy. I know that there are aftermarket tunes for the Skyactiv engine (OVT being one notable option that I keep considering), but having a factory warranty for our “family” cars would be less stressful.

Lastly, I think dropping the CX9 Turbo engine (or the torque-rich diesel) into the 6 would be a mistake without AWD. Throwing crazy hp at the 6 without AWD will both upset the wonderfully balanced chassis and eat through front tires- seriously this car EATS front tires. I had a MS3 and learned about what happens when too much power is pushed through the front wheels. Who knows though, maybe G-Vectoring would help better manage power through the front wheels?



Final thoughts:
So…I REALLY love the direction Mazda is going in. Skyactiv’s clean sheet of paper approach has given Mazda a great platform on which to build their future. One aspect that alluded me with my old Mazdas was that pride of ownership that I felt with the Golf R. Those details that took hold every time I opened the door, buckled up and drove. Much of it has to do with touch points. Why Mazda has taken so much time to place high quality materials at every touch point boggles my mind. No doubt cost is a concern. But Mazda puts so much effort into the sexy and upscale look of their cars that letting it down with cost-cutting in those areas drivers and passengers interface with most seems like penny wise and pound foolish behavior. My comments about door handles, steering wheels and hood props may seem like nitpicks, but they really do add to the experience and emotional connection with the car, while amplifying regret or pride every time you interface with them. This is an area where Europeans excel. My Golf R was built on a Golf chassis (an economy car) yet the little touches and details they included like a high quality steering wheel- and even the Torx tool with a lug nut wrench cast into the handle- just confirms to the user, every time they interface with the car, that their money was well-spent. Truth be told, had it not been for the excellent relationship I have with my Mazda dealer, and my personal need to support the underdog, I would have kept my Golf R.

My 6 is on a lease and we’ll have to see how Mazda progresses. If I’m honest, my bond with the 6 is growing with time. All signs also strong suggest that Mazda is going in the right direction. The new 2017 CX9 and CX5 look fabulous. I drove the CX9 and was very impressed with how it drove and how it felt driving it through those touch points I mentioned above. However Mazda has never had any problem building great-looking and great driving cars. Now they just need to continue injecting more of that little something that makes them a pleasure to own through those details that reinforce to the owner that they spent their money wisely.
 

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Great review. I agree on many parts of your review, especially the plasticy hollow door handles.. Every time I open the door I feel there should be more substance.

Sent from my SM-G935V using Tapatalk
 

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Thanks very much for a well-considered, well-written, and informative post.

I considered the 2016 GT for a long time before deciding to go with the 2016 Touring so I could get the stick-shift manual transmission. For areas where our cars have the same equipment, you're totally on the mark with your comments. (Except, at 6'1", I find the headrests force me to stare at the steering wheel and the driving position comfort is far from what I hoped for.)

This is my tenth Mazda, though since I'm stepping up from a 2002 Protege5 five-speed nearly anything would have a lot more technology and creature comforts.

From my view, the clutch on the stick-shift is so horrible for feel and feedback that it almost drove me to the automatic. What kept me out of the automatic was the very 'rental car' feeling motor. To me, the automatic was buzzy while the stick-shift lets me delude myself that I'm in a more sporty car.

I look forward to your next posts and thank you for this one.
 

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Great review, I've come from the Seventh Generation Honda Accord (2003-2007) manual transmission models. Honda pretty much sold out on the manual transmision in the Accord except for the LX and Sport. I looked at the Sport model and was put off by the pricing compared to the deal I recieved on the 6. The ideal Mazda6 for me would be the GT manual sold most everyehere but here in the US; even Canada gets a manual GT!
 

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Nice write up OP, thanks. I recently purchased my '17 GT after a 13 year relationship with an Infiniti G35. Automotive design and technology advanced quite a lot in that time frame, but even in 2003 Infiniti was using the auto-lock fuel door, which is about the only thing I am not "in love" with on my 6. Having to fumble around for the release is already getting old, but I'll get used to it of course.
 

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Great review.

I got my '16 M6 Touring based almost exclusively on that 'balance' that you mention...and, the manual transmission option. I needed/could afford a mid-size sedan, but desperately wanted one with some (any) real 'sporting' capabilities. I took a leap of faith, having zero experience with any Mazda products. (OK, not completely correct, my wife owns an NB Miata that I'm allowed to drive infrequently.) I feel like that faith has been rewarded.

Yes, it would be nice to have 200+ hp on tap, but I agree with you - a bigger motor (or even too much hp) would upset that beautiful 'balance' of chassis/steering/engine. I'm old enough to remember when 184 hp would have been a pretty impressive output for an up-market German sedan, let alone an inexpensive family mid-sizer.

Whats that old saying? "Its more fun to drive 'slow' cars fast, than it is to drive 'fast' cars slow."
 

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Manual GT - but station wagon with nice turbodiesel! (or, as Ocramida wrote, 200-240 hp like so much of the competition.)
Ok, bend my arm on a manual GT diesel sedan or wagon!
 

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
Thanks for all the positive feedback guys. Took a while to pull all the details together, but I figured it was worth it if I could persuade more people to look at the 6 (and other Mazda Skyactiv models) and/or any Mazda Corp onlookers to benefit from some of my constructive criticisms. There is sooooo much potential in Mazda right now to really give the Germans a run for their money. But based on all the Dave Coleman video's I've watched much of the changes we ask for are really driven by the product planners. I get the sense that Dave, being the car guy he is, would agree with most of our asks- especially the requests for more "power" (I mean the guy admitted that he'd love to drop the 2.5 turbo in a CX3, so he hassss to sympathize with us. :smile2: FWIW
 

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Before the M6, I owned a modestly priced mid-sized German sedan, recently revised to appeal to the American market. While that car had many virtues, I found it's vehicle dynamics and handling to be less than I had hoped for. (That car also resisted all my attempts to revise this deficit using the usual aftermarket parts.) I finally realized that while I had hoped for a "poor man's Audi," I had ended up with a " German 'Camry.'" (And I actually mean no disrespect to the Toyota product because the Camry has improved tremendously in terms of handling in the last few years.)

I feel like this makes Mazda's design choices with the 6 even more laudatory. As the midsize car market contracts, most manufacturers seem to be choosing to take fewer risks and to design towards the typical car buyer's indifferent attitude to vehicle dynamics and handling. Nice work Mazda! Hope you continue to "fight the good fight."
 

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Discussion Starter #14
An update to my original review.

I'm over 2 years in and I have to say, I'm a believer in Mazda's approach!
- Engine loves to be wrung out.
- Shift paddles and Xuji wheel wrap are great upgrades. Make me feel more connected and engaged with the car. Now using manual mode 95% of time. Mazda should offer better paddles like the Kenstyle or what's currently available on Alfa Giulia. Paddles really made a difference in how I drive the car and ultimately what unlocked the magic of this car. Driving this car in full auto really doesn't do it justice. I only use auto in traffic or on highway and with the excellent intelligent cruise system. Makes for a great highway cruiser.
- Fuel economy be damned (I'm averaging 25mpg but don't care), this car wants to be beaten and it rewards you. I put 93 in it during summer months and 87 once it gets cold. I believe 93 makes a difference when its warm to hot out. Still an annoying hesitation around 2K rpm, but when you keep it between 2.8 and 5.8K it's a freaking blast.
- Gearing in manual mode is perfectly suited for this engine. And the transmission is quick and knows when to slip just enough to make a shift jarring and exciting.
- Exhaust maybe quiet but induction noise is intoxicating when your in the 2.8-5.8K sweet spot.
- This chassis is wonderful. Really, really freaking wonderful. Between the very willing engine and agile chassis, the 6 sticks to Mazda's philosophy of the fun of Driving, and not just smashing the throttle in a straight line. It's been said countless times before, this is not a car you buy for horsepower but BALANCE!!
- New Yokohama Advan S-Drive are a perfect match to the 6. Tried Michelin Pilot AS3s but they were too stiff-riding. Felt every pothole. The Michelins also wore out within 15K miles. Yokos really complement the 6 chassis with excellent road holding, steering response, along with a quiet and a supple ride over less than perfect roads.
- Interior continues to impress me. Even more since I figured out how to disable ADD (i.e. HUD). Without that cheap sail sticking up, the lines of the dashboard really pop. And the majority of plastics feel good.
- This continues to be the most comfortable and ergonomically satisfying car I've owned. Seats are fantastic after they break in. Thigh support is excellent for my 6'2", 205lb frame.
- And after 25K there are zero rattles and creaks across temperature extremes in New England.

My gripes still hold from my initial review.
- Cheap feeling doors and handles.
- Cost cutting in areas that you interact with like steering wheel and paddles (which I fixed)
- HUD which I fixed.
- Inability to vent hot car by lowering windows with key fob.
- Poor attention to some details. For instance car allows windows to close 30 seconds after ignition is off, however sunroof doesn't follow this rule. Have to turn car on again if you forget to close sunroof.
- "Leaving Home" doesn't work when lights are in "Auto" mode (which I believe was fixed with 2017).
- Give me back the super cool sensor on the door handle instead of that cheap black button for keyless entry! This is your flagship sedan!
- Black headliner option (fixed with 2017)
- Better NVH (improved for 2017)

I'm no longer going to complain about power or lack of AWD. Like I said, I've grown into a big believer in what the 6 is and this car just gets better as the miles increase. Over 25K miles and everything about the steering/engine/performance has improved. Mazda's focus on real world performance like throttle response and chassis dynamics really come together to make this a extremely fun daily driver. Keeping the engine in its sweet spot and hearing the intake noise along with the crisp and fast tranny is incredibly involving. But you got to drive the snot out of it to appreciate the brilliant sum of the 6's parts. In hindsight, the 6's character Isn't surprising in light of what I experienced with every other Mazda I've owned. All of those cars had the same dual personality: competent daily that felt underpowered and a little meh until you whipped it. The difference now is that the Skyactiv architecture has laser focus on Mazda DNA while smoothing out all the rough edges that were a side-effect of Ford parts and their partnership.

Bottom line I'll probably get a 2017.5 Machine Gray/black interior with Premium when my current lease is up early next year. That will give me just enough time until the redesigned 6 comes out and has a couple of years of bug-fixing and refinement.

I also recently test drove an Acura TLX A-spec. It was a nice car. Solidly built with nice tech and a lot of the features I always wanted in the 6 (e.g. 6 cylinder and AWD). Arguably Acura also paid attention to more of the details like higher quality door handles with capacitive touch in the handle for keyless entry and controlling windows from the key fob to vent a hot car.

But Acura also got some things wrong in the context of a sports sedan that is suppose to be engaging to drive. The new push button tranny is something I could get used to if Acura didn't cheap out on the shift paddles. They no longer use the EXCELLENT column mounted aluminum paddles but cheap plastic parts that come across as an afterthought. The car also doesn't feel as tossable or (believe it or not) as quick as the 6. I think the quickness is more related to throttle response and overall engagement. You get into a car like the TLX and you realize why Mazda chooses to build cars the way they do. The TLX may have better NVH and "feel" more solidly built. But this characteristic as executed by Acura makes the car feel bloated and uninvolving. Oh and for all their adjustability, the seats aren't as comfortable and supportive as the 6. Interior also feels cramped. Jumping back in my 6 I felt at home. Comfortable, supported and behind the wheel of a subjectively more engaging-to-drive car.
If Mazda can get a bit more "premium" into the 6 without killing the feel, they will give Acura a run for its money from enthusiasts point of view. Especially when the TLX is over 10K more.

Overall I'm a happy camper and feel like Mazda really has a package that will steal premium brand sales. I can't wait until the new design, but won't mind waiting with a 2017.5. And if I find that I can't rationalize buying the new design. I'll be happy driving the wheels off the 2017.5.

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