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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-05-2017, 09:03 PM Thread Starter
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18 months with my 2016 6 iGT

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-...rds=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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Last edited by ocramida; 01-06-2017 at 11:28 AM. Reason: Improve readability
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-05-2017, 09:17 PM
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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-05-2017, 09:18 PM
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I'm just joking around, good review!


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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-05-2017, 09:28 PM Thread Starter
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I'm just joking around, good review!


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No offense taken. It actually made me laugh. Didn't realize it was THAT large.


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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-05-2017, 11:54 PM
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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.

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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-06-2017, 12:01 AM
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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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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-06-2017, 08:26 AM
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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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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-06-2017, 09:27 AM
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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.)

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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-06-2017, 10:07 AM
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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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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-06-2017, 10:22 AM
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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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