I think it was the winter of 2011 when I had to visit Las Vegas for a conference. The rental car agency had a choice of Elantra and Mazda 3 for me. I had never driven a Mazda in my life, so I chose the Mazda. The interiors were typical hard plastic econobox, and everything I touched and felt seemed rough and hard. Then as I pulled out of the rental car parking and on to the streets of vegas, I immediately noticed how quick the steering rack was. It was almost sports car like, every minute steering input evoked an instant reaction from the car. I just loved it !
A couple of days later we made a trip to the mojave desert. I don’t exactly recall what roads we took, but it was windy, twisty with plenty of elevation changes and miles of no traffic ! I distinctly remember driving through the desert roads at pretty ridiculous speeds and i thought more than once i was going to lose control of the car, but no matter what speed i carried into a corner, the car came out of it with minimal drama ! How hard was i on the car ? With 80% highway driving I was averaging teens to low 20s gas mileage >
Usually I am relieved when i turn over the keys of a rental car, but this time i was actually quite sad that my holiday romance with Mazda was coming to an end. I have since driven a 2011-2012 Mazda 3s on 4 different occasions only to confirm that it was indeed a good handling car with ample feedback and not just my imagination.
Fast forward 5 years when it was time to change cars, i just knew it had to be a Mazda. I am not a fan boy, so i did drive the competitors cars, and each one of them had their strong points and none of them were bad. But the Mazda 6 was that 1% car in the segment. Meaning 99% of the time there is little difference between the 6 and competition, but it is when you go for that last 1% that the Mazda 6 shines. It drives stiff, the steering is heavy and has feel (*more of it later), the body has better control and the interiors are more sophisticated ( not calling it superior because i think both the Accord and Fusion in highest trims have equally good quality materials and finish).
So in Jan 2016 I turned my holiday fling into a marriage when I bought a 2016 M6 GT. And as I get to know the car better, there are things that i love and there are things about the car i wish were different. But it still stands out of the crowd, and it still puts a smile on my face each time i take an exit at a higher speed than what the limit suggests. I love the interiors, some of my friends with Audis and Lexus have complimented how good the car looks and feels inside.
That said when i look compare my experience with 2012 Mazda 3, I feel the gen 3.5 Mazda 6 lacks some "feel" . The steering though heavy, isn’t as quick nor precise as the old Mazda 3. But it’s the overall feedback from the car which i think is lacking compared to the 3 which is a tad disappointing. I recently had a chance to drive on some rural twisties of Pennsylvania, and even at pretty sane speeds of <50 mph, the car has plenty of understeer. Then there are the brakes, all it takes is few miles of hard driving for the brakes to fade. I just couldn’t push the car without feeling uncomfortable. The front feels like it is trying to wash away under braking. Then ofcourse there is the known lack of power below 3000 rpm and a pretty thin torque band, so you constantly need to keep the revs up if you have to carry some speed.
Maybe I am expecting too much from what Is an economy car, but I constantly compare my experience with the last generation Mazda3 and somehow set my expectation much higher. I don’t regret my decision one bit, I still think it is the best car in its segment. I have plans for strut braces and better tires soon ( the 19in dunlops are rubbish for more reasons than one! ), and hopefully better brakes in future. Overall, it is still a fantastic car, but it has thought me a very important lesson, if you need a performance car that can be a daily driver, then get a Golf R/GTI/FocusST or RS, but if you need a daily driver that is economical to buy and own but has a little oomph, then keep your expectations in check and buy a Mazda. Zoom Zoom !