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DRIVEN: 2018 Mazda6 GS-L offers lots for less

Our 2018 Mazda6 GS-L tester was powered by its 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, 187-horsepower engine.
Our 2018 Mazda6 GS-L tester was powered by its 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, 187-horsepower engine. - Richard Russell

Car sales are tanking as utility vehicles become the vehicle-de-jour. Ford has announced it will be dropping several of its sedans and GM and FCA (Fiat/Chrysler) are broadly hinting they may do the same.

But Mazda is flying in the face of this new convention with a serious update to the mid-size Mazda6.

The outgoing Mazda6 failed to set the sales charts afire. That was a complete puzzle to me and others who regularly drive a variety of new vehicles.

The “6” has the looks, performance, fuel economy, reliability and value to go head-to-head with anything in the class.

But, it also has a spirit, a level of driving dynamics the others lack, with no sacrifice in ride quality or comfort. And yet consumers stayed away in droves.

The bright light at the end of this tunnel is the fact that Mazda6 sales, while small in comparison to big players, have actually been on the increase, especially at the upper trim levels.

Mazda thus took the mid-cycle redo of the Mazda6 as an opportunity to cater to this market.

Thus the 2018 Mazda6 has a new look inside and at both ends. It also gets a pair of new engines and revisions to the suspension and standard feature list.

A couple of months back, we told you about the Signature Edition, a new premium trim level aimed at entry-level luxury car buyers. There have also been significant upgrades to the standard equipment level at the other trim levels.

The base GX trim level has been dropped, and the entry-level model is now an extremely well equipped and finished GS.

Standard equipment at the lowest trim level now includes all the usual power assists, plus: automatic levelling LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front and rear seats, automatic dual zone climate control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, low-speed automatic brake application, 20-cm infotainment screen, USB ports front and rear and an electric parking brake. The price? $27,000 (base GX trim).

The next step up the trim ladder is the GS-L, the subject of this review and the model Mazda figures to be the best seller of the line. To the above list of standard equipment you can add a power sunroof, power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, an element built into the windshield where the wiper rests, to de-ice it in winter, a suite of safety features that include radar-controlled cruise control with full-stop and start capability, collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, front obstruction warning and automatic high beams.

The top trim levels have a new 250-horsepower, turbocharged engine. Powering the GS-L is a heavily revised version of the normally aspirated 2.5-litre four used previously.

It now boasts cylinder deactivation, the first four-cylinder on the market to do so.

Under low load conditions, cylinder numbers one and four are shut off to save fuel, seamlessly and immediately coming back into play as needed. I was unable to detect the transition during a week of driving in both highway and city conditions.

A six-speed automatic transmission is paired with either engine, but the ratios for five of the six gears and the final drive ratio are unique to each engine.

The result is quite remarkable fuel economy. This is a big family-size four-door with a big trunk. Yet, I witnessed fuel economy expected from a tiny little fuel-sipper.

On the open road, I saw numbers as low as 7.1 litres/100 km and in the city, they dropped into single digits — impressive to say the least for a vehicle with this much space.

But this does not come at the cost of performance. The engine is more than adequate and class competitive.

The ride is pleasantly compliant over the rough stuff, without being too soft. Should you chose to tackle the turns with some verve or encounter an off-ramp a bit to quickly, you will discover the development team’s revision to the springs, shocks, bushings, and suspension geometry have improved the already-impressive driving dynamics.

The 2018 Mazda6 GS-L is a lot of car for the money. For those who enjoy driving and prefer a good-looking car rather than a tall box on wheels, it is worthy of your consideration.

THE SPECS Model: 2018 Mazda6 GS-L

  • Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, 187 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
  • Transmission: six-speed automatic
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 9.1 / 6.7
  • Length: 4,895 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,830 mm
  • Weight: 1,551 kg
  • Price:$31,600, base GS-L; $33,695 as tested, including freight

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