Although it’s now the oldest product in the Mazda lineup, the 6 family sedan is hardly on its last legs, blending style, driving grace, and value in a way few contemporary sedans do. While some newer models offer an even more premium experience than the older 6, Mazda’s family-car-turned-sports sedan has held up well since its last full redesign in 2014. Despite the fact that it no longer can be had with a manual transmission, it continues to offer a level of driver engagement that’s rare in its class.
In recent years, Mazda has incrementally increased the 6’s likeability, introducing posh Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims in 2018, both powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes a whopping 63 more horsepower than the standard naturally aspirated engine. Now, as the next-generation 6 waits in the wings, the third-gen car is ending its run with a special Carbon Edition model that’s new for 2021.
Throwing black wheels and darkened trim on an existing model and calling it a special edition is a tired trend. Mazda is the latest automaker to buy into this gimmick, offering a Carbon Edition on 2021 6, CX-5, and CX-9 models. For the 6, that means black 19-inch wheels, a black spoiler, and black side-mirror caps. The Carbon Edition’s red leather seats stand out, and the Polymetal Gray Metallic paint does look handsome in a wet-cement kind of way.
Based on the well-equipped Grand Touring Reserve model, the Carbon Edition comes standard with enough features to justify its $34,245 price tag. The equipment roster includes heated and ventilated front seats, a head-up display, an 11-speaker Bose stereo system, a sunroof, and wireless Apple CarPlay. (Android Auto is also standard but requires a wired connection.) Sadly, the 6 makes do with Mazda’s previous-generation infotainment interface, which is both visually dated and noticeably laggy. Most of the rest of the lineup has moved on to a more modern system with larger displays and snappier operation.
The Mazda 6’s cabin is a stylish and fairly upscale place for both driver and passengers. Tasteful chrome trim, grained soft-touch plastics, and thoughtfully designed controls wouldn’t feel out of place in an Audi or a Volvo. Class-above cabins aren’t exactly a rarity in the family sedan segment, though, as high-end versions of the Honda Accord and the Hyundai Sonata both offer similarly upscale appointments. But the 6’s interior manages to be more stylish than the Accord’s and less flashy than the Sonata’s, striking a tasteful balance.
Delightful to Drive
From behind the wheel, the Carbon Edition delivers the same fluid handling and perky acceleration we’ve come to expect of the turbocharged variants of the Mazda 6. At our test track, it dashed to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.7 seconds at 97 mph. Quicker family sedans are available, though. For example, an Accord Touring delivered a 5.4-second zero-to-60-mph time in our hands and the Sonata N Line snapped off a 5.0-second time.
While the 6 can’t match the lateral limits of the N Line’s optional summer rubber, its responsive and feel-good steering simply begs to be twirled in and out of corners, taunting the driver to use a little more throttle than everyday driving might normally require. Our one critique is the turbo engine’s gruff demeanor. Compared to the silky-smooth turbo engine in the Accord, the Mazda’s 2.5-liter mill sounds downright unrefined, grumbling at lower revs. The 2.5-liter does, however, compensate for its low-rpm cantankerousness with a bounty of torque—320 pound-feet at 2500 rpm, assuming it’s running 93-octane fuel. Run 87 octane, and the output numbers drop to 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet.
For a car company that prides itself on being different, the Carbon Edition treatment of the Mazda 6 feels lazy. Fortunately, the 6’s fundamental ingredients—great design and entertaining driving dynamics—already exceed our expectations for a normal family sedan, so it’s not as if a trendy appearance package is going to make or break the 6’s fortunes. More sedan buyers should be considering the Mazda, with or without the contrived exterior treatment.
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