After a couple long trips in the Mazda, I’ve finally gotten a good amount of driving time in. Many of the miles are highway miles, but several things about the Mazda struck me as distinctly superior in a class of mundane sedans trying to cater to everyone. After a few drives, I even convinced my Dad to give it a test drive. Being a long-time Honda and Toyota driver, he was skeptical. But after a drive, both my Mom and Dad came away impressed, whereas they made almost no positive comments about my Passat. What makes the Mazda so special?
For starters, the Mazda was test driven immediately following a test drive in a 2014 Honda Accord Sport CVT. The Accord didn’t leave a great impression – it was a bit loud, light on torque, and the CVT was all over the place. In an attempt to make a CVT act like a normal geared transmission, Honda basically created Hyper-Drive, where the engine never settled. In contrast, the Mazda had butter smooth shifts and was quieter than expected on the highway, despite the 19″ wheels. You’d think the low profile tires would equate to a firm ride, but I felt our long-term car has actually smoothed out a bit over the miles. Jerry hasn’t noticed it, but since I only get to drive it on occasion, I notice a step change where he would be exposed to only gradual changes.
The joyful steering is light and accurate, never becoming a burden. In the city, it gives enough feedback while still being light enough to flick around. On the highway, it settles in and makes sure the car tracks straight. Also helping the driver to keep the car straight is the Commander controller. It’s a great feature with just a short learning curve. Within a couple hours, I was instantly comfortable with it. The most amazing part is that I’ve never forgotten how to use it – once I learned, it just stayed with me. That’s a testament to the sweet simplicity of the entire infotainment setup in the car. The final amazing feature for highway drivers are the seats. They are well bolstered and firm enough to support you for hours on end, but have some suppleness on the surface to prevent soreness. It’s a feature I wish the Passat TDI had. However, I wonder if the soft and coddling Mazda upholstery will stand up to the test of time.
The engine and drivetrain are well matched, as previously mentioned. Around town, the transmission lets the engine pull from extremely low RPM’s. The engine mounts are a serious technical masterpiece – generally, high load and low RPM means lots of vibrations and noise. No such thing in the 6 – it will pull from low RPM with better NVH characteristics than the turbodiesel Passat. When more horsepower is needed, the transmission won’t hesitate to drop a couple of gears on the highway. I was surprised to find that the car required over 3000RPM going up Grapevine southbound, but I guess everything has its limitation. At least 4th gear is well matched for highway driving – it brings the engine right into its peak torque range.
Gripes? Just a few, the biggest being audio quality. We don’t know how the Bose system sounds, but it seems the standard audio is tuned to force you to pay for an upgrade. It has muddy mids and playing with the bass and treble just exacerbates it. A better equalizer or simple speaker upgrades should cure the problem, but something like this shouldn’t be a problem in this day and age. Another problem that should have been solved – windshield reflections. There is an assortment of reflections on the windshield, and they are very distracting. Better dash design would have went a long way here. Finally, there is a button on the steering wheel for controlling the information display in the instrument panel. The display is to the right of the airbag, but the button is on the left. Isn’t that a little counterintuitive?
Summing up the two Long-Term sedans in our fleet is easy, because as a matter of luck, both the Passat and 6 are driven over many of the same roads. The Passat feels distinctly German, driving like a heavy car. It has a lot more torque available and the steering is much heavier. The suspension is softer, making the car feel weighted down on the highway. The Mazda is built around a light and nimble philosophy – more playful engine, stiffer (though never harsh) ride but better handling, easier to toss and definitely looks great.